(Editor's Note: Joe Mosby is the former Outdoors Editor of the Arkansas Gazette. He held that position for more than 30 years. In that time, he covered 26 Bassmaster Classics from 1974 to 1999. And is one of the longest, surviving members of the Classic Press Corps.)
From its beginning, the Bassmaster Classic has been a combination of intense competition, fishing innovation and fun, sometimes quirky, episodes.Founder Ray Scott was never timid about trying something new, a possible angle to heightened interest and attention to competitive fishing's showcase event.
In the 1976 Classic on Lake Guntersville in northeast Alabama, each of the Classic bass boats was equipped with a CB radio. A media person accompanied each fisherman each day, and the media brigade was given detailed instruction on the use of the radios. They were to provide hourly reports to Classic headquarters. But the plan included the use of boat numbers, not angler names.Rick Clunn was fishing his third Classic and had taken the lead with good catches in the first days of competition. But his lead was slight. When time for the first hourly radio checks came, several boats sent reports:"Boat Number Five, no fish,"
"Boat Number 20, one fish, two pounds."
Then, "Boat Number 14, 10 fish, 30 pounds."
This was Clunn's boat, and the writers and anglers knew it.
The Classic in effect was over with that 8 o'clock radio report, and Clunn won the first of his four Classics.
Almost a three-peat
Rick Clunn repeated as Classic champion in 1977 on Lake Tohopekaliga in Florida, solidifying his place as a bassing great. Virtually lost was the Clunn performance in the 1978 Classic on Ross Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi.
Clunn came within a whisker of winning a third consecutive Classic. He finished as runner-up to winner Bobby Murray of Hot Springs, Ark., himself a repeat winner. Murray had won the 1971 Classic.
The '78 Classic on Ross Barnett had a new wrinkle in that each boat was equipped with a push pole.
Much of the fishing was in shallow backwaters and feeder creeks. This was before rules were created to keep anglers from getting help from their media partners.So, the back-of-the-boat media participants used the push poles while the fishermen worked trolling motors mounted on the bows. Aching shoulders and arms were common with the writers and broadcasters.
Getting a bit crabby
A long-standing Classic rule is competitors cannot receive information or advice from outside sources in a cutoff period before the Classic and during the event.But the general public isn't aware of this, and suggesting to someone how to fish is just a natural instinct.John Powell of Montgomery, Ala., was fishing along a row of seawalls in front of houses on Currituck Sound in the 1975 Classic.A resident strolled down to the wall, watched a few minutes then told Powell, "You aren't going to catch anything with that plastic worm. Just hook on a medium-size live minnow, and you'll catch 'em."Powell merely said thanks and didn't tell the citizen that live bait was against the rules.
His media partner in the back of the boat had seen Powell frustrated by crabs pinching off his plastic worms, so the writer threaded plastic wrapping from a lunch-time bologna sandwich on a lure hook, dropped it in the shallow water and promptly pulled up a nice blue crab.
"What are you doing"? Powell yelled. "This is a bass tournament."
Almost overrun by RussiansThe first "northern" Classic was in 1980 on the wide St. Lawrence River separating upstate New York from Ontario. Ray Scott theorized the event close to the populous Northeast would increase is exposure and recognition.Pre-fishing instructions including cautions about steering well clear of ocean-going ships on the river. This was during the Cold War, and Russian freighters commonly called at Montreal and other Canadian ports though they didn't come to the United States.Classic angler George Bowman of Dumas, Ark., tried a couple of spots on the Ontario side of the river then headed back to the New York side. His boat stalled in the main channel. He cranked, and the outboard coughed.He and his media partner looked up and 200 yards away was an extremely large black freighter. Flying from its mast was a hammer and sickle flag, red and yellow. Russian. Bowman's boat was directly in its path."George, that Russian thing can't turn," his media partner said. Bowman cranked some more, and finally the motor caught. He quickly moved out of the freighter's path.He and the media fellow looked at the freighter's deck. Not a person was in sight, and with most vessels, at least a few sailors line the rails or walk the decks looking at the passing scenery.