The original prize for the Bassmaster Angler of the Year title seems criminally low compared to today's prestige and purse. Quite simply, there was none. The first few years there was no formal recognition, either. Today, the winner receives $200,000 and more media attention than he would like. Anglers who have been around a while and won an AOY title when the prize was small are somewhat put off by the mountain of cash today's win brings.
Today, the only thing bigger than the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year prize is the Bassmaster Classic purse. Skeet Reese cashed a $500,000 check for his win on the Red River this past February.
Gary Klein, two-time AOY winner, recognizes this and would like to propose a trade.
"When I won it (AOY) in 1989, I got $1,500. When I won in 1993, I got $5,000," he said. "If you ask anyone if they'd like to trade $6,500 for $500,000, that's a no-brainer."
Besides the money, the key difference between an AOY title and a Classic win is where the winner gets the most recognition from. A Classic win is more highly regarded outside the industry and can make an angler's career, while an AOY will earn you more respect from the competition.
"The Classic is the one thing that we fish for all year. Every fish, day and tournament is measured in terms of how much closer it gets you to qualifying to fish the Classic," he said. "Angler of the Year is a huge feather you can put in your cap, but the Classic will give you a lot more bang for your buck.
"Aside from the money, I'd give up my Angler of the Year titles for a Classic because it's sort of like, 'Been there, done that,'" he said. "If you asked me if I would be satisfied with just two Angler of the Year titles, I'd say, 'No, I want a Classic win.'"
Klein also keeps fishing in perspective. His competitive nature has come from necessity.
"At the end of the day, this is a source of revenue for me. Not to take away from the Angler of the Year accomplishment, because it's huge, but I would have no problem giving those titles back for a Classic win," he said.
Following the Elite event on Kentucky Lake, Klein is in fair position to meet all his goals. He is sixth in TTBAOY points and seems safely positioned both to qualify for the postseason and for his 28th Bassmaster Classic. The 2010 Classic will be contested next February on Alabama's Lay Lake.