History will be made at the 47th GEICO Bassmaster Classic on Lake Conroe, March 24-26, 2017. A world champion will be crowned, a trophy will be hoisted and a career will be changed forever. That much, we know with certainty; the rest is speculation.
The Classic record book has many legendary entries, and every fishing fan worth his salt-impregnated worms knows that Rick Clunn and Kevin VanDam have won the most Classics (four) and that Clunn has competed in the most (32). Serious fans know Preston Clark caught the biggest bass in Classic history (11 pounds, 10 ounces) and that Stanley Mitchell was the youngest champion ever (21).
What impact will Lake Conroe have on the record book?
Before They Launch
Even before the tournament begins, the record book has already seen some changes. For one, the State of Arkansas will not be represented for the first time in Classic history. It joins Texas and Oklahoma in having sent a qualifier to every Classic but one.
There are nine former Classic winners in this year’s championship — Casey Ashley (2015), Boyd Duckett (2007), Edwin Evers (2016), Randy Howell (2014), Michael Iaconelli (2003), Alton Jones (2008), Takahiro Omori (2004), Skeet Reese (2009) and Kevin VanDam (2001, 2005, 2010, 2011). That’s not a record (the record is 10), but the 12 Classics those anglers have won ties the mark. There were also 12 titles in the 1989, 2005, 2006 and 2016 fields.
As the anglers hit the water in 2017, they do so as the most experienced group in history. The average competitor has already fished 5.98 Classics. They are battle-tested.
Kevin VanDam is making his 26th appearance in the championship, moving him into sole possession of third place on the all-time list behind Rick Clunn (32) and Gary Klein (30) and out of a tie with Roland Martin and Larry Nixon (25).
Dave Lefebre and Wesley Strader share an unusual claim. Both are fishing their second Classic, and both previously competed in the 2003 championship on the Louisiana Delta. The 14-year gap between appearances is not the record (it’s 16), but it puts them high on the list.
Hopes soar for Lake Conroe and its record-breaking potential. Everyone agrees the fishery is strong and has enough big bass to rewrite the record books … if the weather’s right … if the anglers get dialed in … if the stars align. But a couple of landmarks seem almost certain.
Kevin VanDam has already weighed in more pounds of Classic bass than anyone. He needs just 7-13 to surpass 800 pounds for his legendary career.
Aaron Martens is currently fourth on the all-time weight list. He needs 24-8 to crack 600 pounds and 34 pounds to pass Gary Klein (who didn’t qualify for this year’s Classic) and move into third place behind Rick Clunn. Both those marks seem attainable.
It Could Happen
Then there are the legion marks that could fall if the fishing meets or exceeds the wildest expectations of fans, pundits and optimistic anglers.
Among Classic individual accomplishments, maybe the most important are the winning weight records. Clunn set the standard in 1984 with 75-9. There was a 7-bass limit then. VanDam set the mark for a 5-bass limit in 2011 with 69-11. Plenty of people are talking about Conroe breaking those records, but everything must go right for that to happen.
Similarly, Clunn’s 33-5 bag on Day 2 in 1976 (10-bass limit) and Paul Mueller’s 32-3 on Day 2 in 2014 (5-bass limit) could be bested, but that’s more optimism than expectation.
The biggest bass in Classic history — Preston Clark’s 11-10 from 2006 on the Kissimmee Chain in Florida — isn’t unassailable, but seems safe. Bigger bass have certainly been caught from Conroe, but it’s a challenge to do it on fishing’s biggest stage with all that pressure.
Then there are the champion age records. Stanley Mitchell was just 21 years, 5 months and 18 days old when he won in 1981. John Garrett is young enough to break the mark. (All he has to do is win!) Notably, it’s the first time since 1995 there’s been an angler in the Classic field younger than Mitchell in ‘81.
On the other side of the coin, there’s Woo Daves. He was 54 years, 2 months and 28 days old when he won in 2000. It’s extremely rare for a Classic field not to have at least one angler old enough to break that mark. This year, there are two. Shaw Grigsby at 60, and Boyd Duckett at 56.
And, of course, Edwin Evers could become the third angler to win back-to-back Classics. No one doubts his abilities, and you can be sure he’s not satisfied with just one win. If he can do it again this year, he’ll join Clunn (1976-77) and VanDam (2010-11) as the only champs to successfully defend their titles.
How will Lake Conroe stack up against other Classic fisheries through history? It certainly won’t have many excuses if it falls short. Going there in late March will give the reservoir every opportunity to strut its stuff.
The significant numbers that will tell us how Conroe fares are 3-10, 15.61 and 2,107-15. The first is the weight of the average bass from Lake Guntersville in 2014 — a full half pound better than the next best Classic fishery.
The second number — 15.61 pounds — is the average daily catch of an angler at the Guntersville Classic that year. And the last number is the cumulative weight from the field in 2014 (55 anglers).
Obviously, Conroe has its work cut out for it if it’s to rewrite the Bassmaster Classic record book in 2017. Whether or not you think it can do it may say as much about your optimism as the fishery itself.
The answers come in March.