Many of the competitors weighing in at a benefit bass tournament on Missouri’s Table Rock Lake on a cold Saturday in December stopped and turned their attention 800 miles away to Lake Hartwell in South Carolina.
Huddled around phones, they watched one of their own, Josh Busby, of Rogersville, Mo., win the Bassmaster Classic Team Championship Fish-Off to secure the final spot in the 2020 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk.
“When he hoisted that trophy, there was probably 120 guys there, and half the guys just started clapping and whooping and hollering, because one of our friends made it,” said Ryan Butler, who experienced much of the same two years earlier. “Everybody knows how special it is to get to the Classic, and when a fellow competitor or friend makes it, we all feel like we get a piece of that. We’re not going to walk across the stage, but that’s a part of us — we’re represented on the biggest stage in the world.”
The Ozarks should be filled with pride. The region has now sent half of the Team Champion qualifiers to the Classic since the grass-roots avenue began in 2014. Teams qualify to the championship through local competitions, and the top three teams advance to the Classic Fish-Off where the six vie over two days for the berth.
With 25 pounds, 5 ounces, Busby edged Brock Reinkemeyer by 6 ounces on Dec. 14 to secure a spot in the 50th anniversary Classic on Lake Guntersville March 6-8. Butler, of Blue Eye, Mo., fished the 2018 Classic on Lake Hartwell, just a year after Team Fish-Off champion Scott Clift of Dadeville, Mo., competed in the Lake Conroe Classic.
“It’s a special to know that three guys from our area made it,” Butler said. “And I can tell you, we won’t be the last three. As long as the organization continues to provide this opportunity, I promise you there’ll be another one.”
Birthplace of tournament fishing
Busby lives just outside of Springfield, Mo., where he works as a food scientist. His expertise is butter fat and cheese for the Dairy Farmers of America, which has 43 manufacturing facilities across the United States. Bass Pro Shops, headquartered in Springfield with the White River Marine Group that manufacturers bass boats, is among the top 10 employers there.