Over the course of a fishing season, the triumphs and trials of tournament anglers create hundreds of good stories. Which ones rank as the best stories of 2011 is always debatable, but few could argue that the following five stories are at the top of the Bassmaster list:
Win and you’re in: A new rule in 2011 awarded a 2012 Bassmaster Classic entry to winners of tournaments within the Bassmaster Elite Series and Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens. On Jan. 22, 2011 — before the 2011 Classic — Gerald Swindle became the first Open winner to lay claim to a 2012 Classic seat. His victory was all the sweeter because it was his first Bassmaster tournament win. To collect on a Classic entry, an event winner had to compete in all events within their chosen circuit, and Swindle went on to do just that.
KVD shines at 2011 Bassmaster Classic: On Feb. 20, 2011, on the Louisiana Delta, Kevin VanDam rewrote several records when he won the Classic for the fourth time. He not only tied Rick Clunn’s record for number of wins, VanDam also matched Clunn’s claim as the only angler to take back-to-back Classic wins (Clunn in 1976-1977, VanDam in 2010-2011). VanDam also busted the Classic weight record with his three-day haul of 69 pounds, 11 ounces; surpassed the $5 million mark in Bassmaster career earnings; and repeated his feat of holding the sport’s top two titles concurrently: Bassmaster Classic champ while being the reigning Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
Best friends go after one Bassmaster Classic berth: In July, Andrew Upshaw of Hemphill, Texas, became the first angler to claim the new Bassmaster Classic seat reserved for a collegiate champ in the College B.A.S.S. program. Upshaw’s accomplishment came with a gut-wrenching twist: To win, he had to beat out Ryan Watkins, his best friend and teammate from Stephen F. Austin University. They toiled together for the 2011 College B.A.S.S. National Championship trophy. The very next day, it was Upshaw vs. Watkins in a competition for the historic 2012 Classic entry. Upshaw bested his best friend.
Rookie Ott DeFoe comes out on top in unique postseason: Over two weeks in July on two Alabama fisheries, Bassmaster Elite Series rookie Ott DeFoe of Knoxville, Tenn., fished his way through a new bracketed format to emerge with the winner-take-all postseason prize. The then-25-year-old Elite rookie had experience in other circuits before the 2011 season, but he’d never competed before on the tough postseason playing fields of Lake Jordan and the Alabama River. It was DeFoe’s first Bassmaster victory.
A woman gets close to the Elite Series: In October, Janet Parker of Little Elm, Texas, was one tournament away from qualifying for the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series, but Table Rock Lake in Missouri stumped her. She had led the points race going into that final event of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open season. She vowed to try again in 2012 to become the first woman to compete at the sport’s top level.