The first national bass tournament, part 1

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Courtesy Rick Osterholt
This early post card promotes what may be the first-ever 'national' bass competition.

Those of you following this column know that I have a keen interest in the history of our sport, especially when it involves vintage tackle. I love collecting and researching old lures, rods and reels. It’s an obsession, and it sometimes drives me in different directions — like vintage wooden boats and early outboards.

In fact, I have a library of books on these and other topics related to the beginnings of our sport. It’s my passion, and it helps relieve a lot of stress during downtime. 

Well, recently, my interests took a new direction … at least in the short term. 

While pondering this year’s Elite Series opener on the St. Johns River and the many tournaments I’ve fished there over my career, it made me wonder when and where the first-ever, organized national bass competition might have been held.

Was it on the St. Johns, or even in the State of Florida, or some other part of the country?

Like all good questions, it carried me down an interesting path.

Opportunity knocks 

In 1927, the city of Leesburg, Fla., hosted a month-long big bass competition for area residents. The event began on Nov. 1 and ended on Nov. 30. Various categories were open to men and women to compete for prizes, using both artificial and live bait.

Apparently, the event was quite popular, as it caught the eye of an enterprising city councilman named D.E. Bovines, who saw it as an opportunity to attract tourists to the area.

With Bovines’ leadership, the tournament format was changed to target non-state residents. It became the “National Fresh Water Bass Tournament.”