In 1999, I was working for Angler’s Choice. At that time, the company was a mini B.A.S.S. They held tournaments and had a magazine (which I edited) that went to members of the organization. In July of that year, Johnny Davis, who owned Angler’s Choice and is responsible for the birth of my career, said we were going to the Bassmaster Classic. That was when Classics were still held in the summer, and that specific edition was taking place on the Louisiana Delta out of New Orleans. The weatherman was predicting “Africa hot,” as I remember. Still, I was ecstatic, but wondered why we were going, seeing we didn’t have a booth. “Because,” he stated bluntly, “if you are in the bass fishing industry and do not show up at the Classic, people think you are going out of business.”
So, all five employees of the company crammed in a suburban and headed to the Big Easy. I had never been to the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing, so I had no idea what to expect. If I’m being honest, I should say that I expected very little. It was a bass tournament, right? I had been to plenty of those, even participated in a few.
When we walked into the Classic Outdoors Expo, I realized this was not your normal fishing tournament. The aisles of booths seemed endless. The guys I read about in Bassmaster and saw on television on Saturday mornings were scattered throughout the displays, willing to talk shop, share stories and pose for a photo. I didn’t have a lot of money back then, but at the Classic Expo, you didn’t need much. The deals were amazing. I had an armful of gear in the first hour. I realized that was a mistake when I saw the majority of the crowd funneling out of this shopping mecca around 2 p.m.
“What gives?” I asked.
“Time to head to the weigh-in,” Davis answered. So, I followed, toting my bags. We stood in line for an hour, my arms going numb. The sea of angling fans wrapped around the Louisiana Superdome for what seemed like miles. Eventually, we entered the building and found seats in the upper deck. The stands were packed. If the expo opened my eyes to the grand scale of this event, the weigh-in was an awakening.
I vividly remember Denny Brauer on stage that first day. Brauer was the superstar of bass fishing at the time. He was fresh off winning not only the 1998 Classic, but a Top 150 event, as well. When his name was called, the Superdome exploded. The air was electric and chills went up my spine. It sounds so corny. I was not some crazy fanboy of Brauer, or any angler for that matter. It was more a moment of realization that a deep, parallel passion ran through every member of that audience at the same instance, and I was physically moved to be a part of the circuit.
The rest of that weekend was incredible. I met Bill Dance for the first time. I saw new products that wouldn’t be available in my local tackle store for months. And I saw Davy Hite best Brauer by almost 10 pounds to win his first Classic.
As our group of five headed back to Texas, I promised myself to never miss another Classic. As fate would have it, I landed a job with B.A.S.S. just three months later, which made keeping that promise a little easier.
The 2021 Classic in Fort Worth will mark my 22nd. Still, I get chills when the stage goes black just before the final weigh-in, where I can see nothing but feel the energy around me, through me, the circuit complete.