Big things happened on Lake Eufaula in the infancy of B.A.S.S., and the fishery’s resurgence has officials once again touting its moniker as “Big Bass Capital of the World.”
Jack Tibbs is the mayor of Eufaula and chief promoter. The owner of StrikeZone Lure Co. and a tournament angler, Tibbs helped bring B.A.S.S. back for its 18th pro event on the lake and can speak of its history as he’s “watched every episode of The Bassmasters that’s ever aired.”
“B.A.S.S. started back in the late 60s, and their fifth tournament was at Lake Eufaula,” Tibbs said. “It was a 15-fish limit, and they whacked them.”
Four of the first 17 B.A.S.S. events were on Eufaula, each with the winner totaling more than 100 pounds. While that much green won’t be seen, the Bassmaster Elite Series resumes its revised schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic with this week’s DEWALT Bassmaster Elite at Lake Eufaula.
“There’s been some great wins over the years with big-name guys,” Tibbs said. “I think this is going to be a great event. It’s a little later in the year, but the lake is fishing really well.”
The 45,000-acre fishery on the Alabama-Georgia border was an early staple venue for B.A.S.S., which held several events there in each decade before the latest hiatus of 14 years. The most recent tournament was a Southern Open in 2006.
John Powell won the 1968 Eufaula National with 132 pounds, and Blake Honeycutt topped that the next year with 138-6, which has not been eclipsed in 700 subsequent Bassmaster events. In a 1969 team event, Bill Dance, Bobby Murray, Bob Ponds and Forrest Wood totaled 120-6 in winning, and the following year saw Bill Adair win B.A.S.S. event No. 17 with 116-6.
“That was the heyday. The lake had only been impounded for about six years — there was so much structure, and offshore cover and debris,” Tibbs said.
In the 1969 National, Rip Nunnery brought in a ridiculous 15-fish limit weighing 98-15. His boat partner, Gerald Blanchard, who had won the second ever B.A.S.S. event on Smith Lake, caught 81-7. The two plied their one spot with worms for 180 pounds, however, Nunnery faltered the next two days and finished third in his only tournament entry.
It’s been well chronicled that Roland Martin was investigating Scott’s tour and was practically scared off from joining after seeing the weights. Martin noted that the boat paddle used to carry in Nunnery’s fish broke, breaking his spirit a bit as well. Scott, however, caught Martin in his car about to leave and convinced him it was just a fluky day and that he should come compete. Martin did, and he went on to win twice on Eufaula, in 1972 and in 1981.
Bassmaster TV host Davy Hite won the Alabama Invitational there in 1994, and he added to his good feelings about Eufaula in 2002. In a tight race for Bassmaster Angler of the Year, Hite finished third in the season-ending event to pull away for his second AOY title.
Denny Brauer was a double winner on Eufaula, taking titles in 2002 and 2004.
“There’s some really great tournaments over the years,” Tibbs said. “Denny Brauer just put on a flipping clinic when he won here both times, one time flipping the lily pads and the other time flipping way upriver in some of those backwaters.”
The most famed angling resident of Eufaula is Tom Mann, a Bass Fishing Hall of Famer who won two B.A.S.S. events and competed in seven Classics. In 2008, Tibbs and Scott dedicated a 12-foot statue of a leaping bass in Mann’s honor, naming it Manny.