The differences between the Bassmaster Classic in 1971 and in 2009 will be profound. The man who won that first Classic, Bobby Murray, remembers the weigh-in taking place on the roof of a floating dock on Lake Mead — a lake that none of the competitors had fished before, nor knew, until they were in the air en route, that they were going to fish at all.
But it was fitting that Murray was at the Women's Bassmaster Tour Championship outside his hometown Hot Springs, Ark., last week when 28-year-old Kim Bain secured the Toyota Tundra WBT Angler of the Year points race. With that, she'll become the first woman to fish the Classic, to be held in February on the Red River in Louisiana.
"It was similar to the tournament that I won," said Murray, who these days promotes fishing and hunting products for Arkansas-based Pradco Outdoor Brands and, along with his brother, Billy, hosts "Rebel's People Who Fish" on the Outdoor Channel.
"This was a giant step here, no doubt about it," he continued. "Her being a Classic contender will mean more to her career than it will to the guys' career. She's already got a number one when she walks in on that stage. That will follow her all the way through her career. I was just tickled to be able to present."
Murray won that first Classic — along with its winner-take-all purse of $10,000 — by hitting on a big-fish pattern that allowed him to top the quantity of fish that Tom Mann was finding. And with that, he says now, a career was born.
"It was not a big deal at the time," he said. "But the next day, when all those writers filed all their stories across the country, damn, I wasn't home for six months." The Arkansas boy who had been working at a sporting goods store became the first angler to appear on "20/20." That's what being first will do for you.
So it was a treat for Murray to be on hand to help coronate Bain. He cited her grace on camera and her youth as strong marketing points for the women's sport and for bass fishing generally.
But furthermore he believes her talent could propel her to making a bigger impact than merely being a woman to fish the premiere tournament in her sport.
"This is not a sport on who's the strongest, who's got the biggest vertical leap, who can run the fastest," Murray said. "This is about putting together a puzzle, a mind game with another critter out there who you cannot physically see, for the most part. And she can do that."
Murray said he's seen three athletes who were so focused on the task at hand that they were "almost scary." One was the Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton; another, Jack Nicklaus. The other was Rick Clunn. "Ricky was the most intense person I've ever been around," Murray said.
Bain, he said, has that same quality.
"She's like a sponge," Murray said. "She's like a 5-year-old child — everything she sees, she remembers. She's that intense. She's lived it from a child, her parents were big-time anglers. She's been around. She's not having to learn about nature. She knows where they are, when they bite, what they do.
"Kim Bain hit the jackpot," he continued. "When she walks up on that stage in Shreveport, who do you think the fans will be for? Half will be for her, and half will be divided among the other anglers."