Classic Countdown: 22

This Countdown number — 22 — is all about the crazy "catches" in Bassmaster Classic history

In Joseph Heller's classic novel, Catch-22, an airman named Yosarian desperately wanted to get out of the Army-Air Force. He wanted out so bad that he told everyone he was crazy and needed to be discharged.

But there was a catch, Catch-22. If you were crazy and applied for a discharge you were entitled to get out, but if you applied for the discharge that proved you weren't crazy, so you had to stay.

Today's number — 22 — is all about the crazy "catches" in Bassmaster Classic history.

Let's start with the 1979 Classic on Lake Texoma. Most Classic fans know about the 10 pounds rule, but if you don't here it is: Each Classic competitor is allowed just 10 pounds of terminal tackle in the boat with him. That includes lures, sinkers, hooks and the like.

When Hank Parker showed up for the tacklebox weigh-in, his was too heavy by quite a bit. That's when Ray Scott and tournament director Harold Sharp started digging into his gear and pulling out baits at random until they had it down to 10 pounds even.

But Scott and Sharp went too far. They took out too much, and the needle on the scale dipped below 10 pounds. That's when Parker found his "catch."

He reasoned that if Scott and Sharp could pick what baits came out of his box when it was too heavy, he should be able to choose for himself what went back in when it was too light. His argument carried the day, and he was able to retrieve the very baits that he would later use to win the tournament.

In 1997 the "catch" was BASS' long-standing fish care penalty ... with a twist.

Ever since BASS initiated catch and release in its tournaments, there have been incentives for the anglers to keep their fish alive. Early on there was a bonus for each bass released alive. Eventually it became a penalty for every dead fish brought to the scales.

In the 1997 Classic on Alabama's Lake Logan Martin, the final round was shaping up to be a real showdown. Less than 3 pounds separated the top six anglers, and nearly everyone was catching a limit each day.

On Day 3, Dion Hibdon jumped from fourth place into the lead on the strength of a 5-bass limit weighing 11 pounds, 12 ounces. The only angler left with a chance to catch him was Federation Nation qualifier Dalton Bobo, who also had a limit.

Bobo needed 13-3 to pass Hibdon and become just the second Federation Nation qualifier to win fishing's biggest prize. When his catch was placed on the scales, they read 13-5 — more than enough for the title.

But there was a catch. One of the fish in Bobo's bag was dead, inexplicably dead. He had caught the fish late in the day and there was no damage to the fish associated with being caught, but it was dead nonetheless.

This brought BASS' fish care penalty into the mix. Tournament officials subtracted 4 ounces from Bobo's creel to get his final official weight. Instead of winning the Classic by two ounces, he had lost it by one in the closest Classic in history.

It gets worse. In 1997 BASS had increased its fish care penalty from 2 ounces to 4 ounces. Had the tournament been held a year earlier or the rule lasted a year longer, Bobo would have won the tournament by an ounce rather than losing it by an ounce.

Ouch!

A third Classic "catch" occurred in 2005 at the Three Rivers in Pittsburgh. It was the toughest Classic ever. The field of 47 anglers caught just 219 keeper bass over three days.

After the first day, Aaron Martens was in second place, a little over a pound out of the lead. When the leader zeroed on Day 2, Martens took the lead by about a pound. He was drop shotting around bridge pilings on the river and using extremely light line to combat the pressured waters — 5 and 7 pound test.

One the final day, Martens caught four keepers, but one of them just barely touched the 12-inch mark on his measuring board. In fact, unless he held the fish just right, Martens couldn't make the fish's tail touch the line — it was that close.

Martens had a decision to make. Should he take the marginal keeper to the scales or let it go? The "catch" was the penalty for bringing in a "short" fish (if it didn't measure according to BASS officials). A penalty would certainly cost Martens the tournament.

It was a tough decision, but Martens elected to release the fish and go to the weigh-in with his other three bass. They weighed 3 pounds, 8 ounces. Kevin VanDam brought five fish to the scale that day — one of only two limits in the final round — and they weighed 4-13, enough to push him six ounces ahead of Martens and earn his second Classic title.

Tomorrow's number, 21, is all about coming of age. That's significant because it was also the age of the youngest champion in Classic history.

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