Back in '81

I’ve been reading about some of the old Classics on the site lately and they made me think of one of the first winners I can remember. It was back in 1981 when I was just getting started with B.A.S.S. Stanley Mitchell won it with 35.2 pounds of Alabama River bass. For his efforts he earned $41,500, a serious chunk of change at the time.

Back then we didn’t have all the instant communication that we have today. Cell phones, e-mail and the Internet didn’t exist at the time, outside of high-end scientific labs anyway. There may have been a few cable channels around but I didn’t have access to any of them. I had no idea who won until my Bassmaster magazine arrived in the mail. I read the story over and over until I had most of it memorized.

I can still remember that he was the youngest winner ever and that he caught his fish on a Bomber Model A and a Krocodile spoon. (I checked with Ken Duke. For those of you who care it was a Model 7ASI and the spoon was a 5/8-ounce model. He was 21 years, 5 months and 19 days old when he won. He’s still the youngest Classic Champion ever. That’ll stand at least through this year because no one younger than that qualified for Tulsa.)

As soon as I could — I didn’t have much money at the time — I went out and bought several crankbaits and spoons just like his. My memory has faded over time so I can’t honestly say whether or not I ever caught any bass on them, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say I did. They were good baits back then and they’re good baits now.

I remember thinking that if he could do it at his age I could do it. That didn’t happen but it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the sport or for fishing B.A.S.S. sanctioned events. He was on my mind a lot in those early days, a positive force driving me forward when I got discouraged.

After his win, he divided the next 20 years between fishing and running the family business. The family business finally won. There’s no doubt that he would have been one of the legends if he’d devoted all his energy to fishing. That said, however, he never lost his interest in bass or B.A.S.S.

I remember we were fishing Amistad several years ago and I saw him at the ramp. He was in the area hunting. We had a cancelled day because of high winds. He came over to visit. He was the same guy he always was — serious about his fishing and hunting but with good humor and wanting nothing more than to talk fishing.

Our sport is full of men like that. They make all the hurt and disappointment worth it in the end. I never think of Stanley Mitchell without smiling, and remembering the exuberance of my youth as an angler.

Thanks, Stanley.