Morgenthaler and Mansue take aim at Bassmaster Team Championship

Chad Morgenthaler

Just when you thought he was out, the possibility of qualifying for the 2024 Bassmaster Classic pulled Chad Morgenthaler back in.

The veteran of two decades of tour-level competition, who “retired” from Elite Series competition after the 2022 season, thought he’d closed the door as a veteran of seven Bassmaster Classic appearances. If things go right at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Team Championship on the Harris Chain this week, he could semi-unexpectedly find himself competing in an eighth just a few months from now. He and Dave Mansue, a friend, neighbor, business partner and past Bassmaster Open winner, will team up against more than 200 other teams in the hunt for the same top prize.

“We like to support the local team trails anytime we can,” said Morgenthaler, who lives across the street from Mansue in Reeds Spring, Mo., “We fished the ‘antique’ division of the Joe Bass Team Trail where you have to be over 50 to fish. We qualified for the championship on Stockton, and even though I’d never been there before, we did well enough to get this invite.” He’d had to turn down a similar opportunity in a prior season because as an active Elite he couldn’t qualify for the “amateur” crown.

“The next thing you know I’m packing my bags and heading to Leesburg,” he laughed. While he may no longer be in road warrior driving shape, the path to Florida is one he’s traveled numerous times and with great anticipation over the course of his professional career. Indeed, two of his past seven Classic berths were earned in the Sunshine State – first by winning the 2013 Wild Card event on Okeechobee, and second by winning a Southern Open on Kissimmee in 2015.

“I love Florida,” he said. “Any time you have vegetation involved I’m all in.”

He admitted that it would be “kind of bittersweet” to qualify this way, since he knows firsthand how much the Elites sacrifice and invest for a shot at the Classic, but the pathway exists. It’s hardly an easy one, as the field is jam packed with local and national talent.

Mansue, who is 70 but has the physique of someone much younger, thought his only plans this winter were to fish locally and attend a New York Yankees Fantasy Camp. Now he too will get another bite at the Classic apple. He won a 2009 Northern Open on the Upper Chesapeake Bay but unfortunately the “win and you’re in” deal hadn’t quite hatched.

“I wouldn’t trade anything for that win,” he said. “You don’t get many opportunities to do that at that level. But this is an unexpected opportunity for what might be one last shot. Somebody is going to make the Classic out of this tournament. Why not me?”

They both guide on Table Rock Lake and operate their educational Future Cast Academy together (with multiple other partners, including former Elite and fellow neighbor Brian Snowden), so they’ve spent plenty of time in the boat together and understand how each other like to fish. Even when they’re not fishing out of the same Phoenix, they tend to work together and talk through issues and scenarios.

Both anglers understand the best way to make the Classic through this tournament is to fish it like it’s a Classic – albeit with the help of another angler. In other words, just “cashing a check” doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.

“It’s an all-or-nothing deal for us,” Morgenthaler said. It will require some additional thought as compared to an Elite event of 100 or so boats, or even a Classic of about half that amount. With 200-plus teams on a relatively small fishery, staking a claim to an area and making the right rotation will prove to be critically important. Any effort on the Harris Chain is made additionally complicated by long idles, small locks and boat traffic. Practice for them has been not only about finding the right fish, but eliminating as many chances for disaster as possible.

The one final complication is, if they should find themselves so fortunate as to be in the hunt after the initial rounds of competition – when only three pairs progress – they will eventually be competing against one another. It brings new meaning to the term “winner take all” when you have to beat the partner who helped you climb the mountain. They’ll make a gentlemen’s agreement to split up their water and fish in a mutually agreeable fashion, and then reassess after the first day in several boats. No matter how it shakes out, they independently would cheer for the other.

“There will be no resentment if one of us makes it instead of the other,” Morgenthaler said. “It would make me happy to see Dave get to go, and I’m sure it would make him happy to see me get to go.”

Mansue made no bones that he’d be thrilled to be launching on Day 1 at Grand Lake in March, and if he does so, he expects that Morgenthaler would be “as happy for me as I’d be for him. It’s the goal of every bass fisherman to make the Classic. If he’s the one, he’s earned it.”