“Overwhelming” and “incredible,” those are the words. First impressions of first-timers at a Bassmaster Classic are consistently in that beyond-words realm.
With record attendance at the 2019 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, nearly 154,000, it was overwhelming and incredible as ever for first-timers at the Knoxville Convention Center and World’s Fair Exposition Hall, and the Thompson-Boling Arena on the University of Tennessee campus.
“It’s so large it’s really overwhelming how many people are here. It’s pretty cool,” said Scott Barber of Jackson, Tenn., after his son, Jonathan, 13, spotted the Bassmaster Classic trophy at the Expo and had to get his photo taken with the famous trophy.
The teenager wasn’t too talkative, but his grin said it all.
A first time at the Classic, what’s it like?
He shrugged his shoulders, grinned some more. “It’s just cool,” he said.
“We met Gary Yamamoto and Hank Parker. You see these guys on TV and here they are and they’re so approachable,” Scott Barber said.
Nearby at the Expo, Nate and Jessica Kalpin found a central spot on the floor where a natural gap seemed to form between the throngs. They stopped with their wagon to rearrange their gear and seating arrangement for 15-month-old Knox Kalpin — and his blanket.
They drove 13 hours overnight Thursday from Rochester, N.Y., to reach Knoxville.
“It’s the closest it’s been, and it’s the big one,” Nate said. “It’s amazing how many people are here, but we’re having a great time.”
Jessica and Knox both landed a prize early in the day. They brought a toy bass that belongs to Knox, and brothers Matt and Jordan Lee both autographed the toy for him, and they got their photo taken with them.
“Jordan Lee is my favorite angler,” she said. “It was great to be able meet them.”
Think one child is a handful? Try three.
Jason and Tisha Hayes brought, Tiara, 15, Brianna Jae, 11, and Avery Johanna, 7 months, from Tuscaloosa, Ala. Five hours with an infant in the car and now they were at the Expo, meeting anglers, getting their photo taken with a huge bass and shopping.
“I’ve always wanted to come and just never had the chance,” Jason said. “I grew up fishing and here it is, it’s spring break so it’s a great time to do it, and it’s just a great experience.”
Matt and Teribeth Gower found freedom and room for their three kids, Fletcher, 4, Bow, 3 and Steyr, 2, at the Get Hooked on Fishing venue outside the Expo after their drive from Fairmont, W.V.
The boys all had new Shakespeare rod-and-reel combos and couldn’t wait to unwrap them.
“The oldest can use a spinning reel now and both the others have push-button, so now we have three more rods to enter into the chaos zone,” said Gower, who fishes in B.A.S.S. Nation tourneys at home.
“This is the closest it’s been to us so we had to come,” he said. “It’s been an amazing experience, even just to see how much is here and how many people are here. Hopefully (the kids) will remember it.”
Lake Chickamuaga fishing buddies Mark Keith of Soddy-Daisy, Tenn.; Tim Patterson of Rossville, Ga.; and Ken Hartman of Ringold, Ga., brought their own memories to the 2019 Classic. In the long line outside Thompson-Boling Arena, they waited to enter the weigh-in and experience what they’ve seen on TV for years.
Patterson is a four-time Classic veteran but the other two were first-timers, and all have been members of the B.A.S.S. Nation since the 1980s.
“In the old days you’d watch it a month later on TV, on The Bassmasters,” Hartman said.
“I remember one time Rick Clunn said, years ago, you come in and the crowd is screaming and he knew then why rock stars do what they do, because it’s addicting. It will be great to be a part of that experience.”
Mike and Jocelyn Findley, and son Tyler, 15, of Sevierville, Tenn., brought in-laws George and Cindy Hargrove of St. Augustine, Fla., to the weigh-in. Their wide-eyed scouting and weaving and looking here, then there, to find seats was the first hint they were first-timers to a weigh-in rush. They settled high in the second tier of Thompson-Boling, and the view was fine by them.
“It’s really overwhelming at first,” Jocelyn said. “But it’s exciting, and the Expo was great, to see all the choice you don’t always see in the stores, and we got some good deals.”
An avid bass angler, Mike Findley appreciated being in the middle of it all, especially the guy they follow, Knoxville local Ott DeFoe, leading the way on their home waters, in their home arena.
“It’s the fishing life,” he said. “It’s all about fishing and we love it and so, it’s just a great thing.”