Ross Barnett deep in B.A.S.S. history


Bobby Murray holds the 1978 Bassmaster Classic trophy at Ross Barnett Reservoir.

The idea for organizing professional bass tournaments came to Ray Scott’s mind during a rained out fishing trip in Jackson, Miss. The date was March 11, 1967, and five decades later the central Mississippi area continues a deep connection with B.A.S.S.

Scott was stuck in his hotel room on that fateful Saturday. With every flip of the TV dial a pro sports event appeared on the screen. Why not bass fishing, too? That night, Scott shared with a fishing buddy his crazy idea about inviting 100 anglers to pay a hundred bucks apiece to compete in a legit bass tournament. The idea worked and B.A.S.S. formed the next year.

This year, B.A.S.S. celebrates its 50th anniversary with a good chunk of the history occurring at Ross Barnett Reservoir, outside of Jackson. Ross Barnett hosted the third ever tournament in 1968 and more than a dozen since then. This week another event gets added to the list with the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open.

Here is a look back at notable events occurring in the area that shaped the future of B.A.S.S.

Sermon saving seminar

Pete Henson’s colossal winning weight of 124 pounds, 3 ounces, at the 1969 B.A.S.S. Rebel Invitational on Ross Barnett had the natives restless about the so-called pros raiding their fisheries. Scott sensed the unrest with another tournament set for April 1970.

He came up with another snap idea to ease the tension with a free bass fishing seminar in Jackson. The idea was draw in the skeptics, attract media attention, and preach the positive virtues of bass fishing to the captive audience. Henson, Bill Dance, Tom Mann and other rising pros were headline presenters.

Scott and his band nervously wondered if anyone would show up, angry or not. They arrived to find a standing room only crowd gathered on the steps of the War Memorial Building.

By show time all 500 seats were taken, the aisles were packed and local TV news crews were shut out, making a hot news story even better. For better or worse, bass fishing was the hot story.

Scott, still skittish about the mood of the crowd, spotted a piano off stage, and he summoned a volunteer to play “God Bless America.” Church service began with song and he thought the same idea would calm the crowd as he took the stage. It worked. The walls shook as 500 men sang the patriotic song. The revival mood carried over as each pro took the stage, sharing bass fishing wisdom with an eager to learn audience.

The response was so favorable that Scott took the idea to the next level. He charged a buck a head in Tulsa, Okla., where 1,800 filled the seminar room. Scott then bought a used RV, loaded up the group and went on to conduct 101 seminars over the next 10 months, from Bangor, Maine, to Los Angeles. The seminar tour was credited for adding 10,000 new B.A.S.S. members, and it all began in Jackson.

Clunn’s near miss

The four Bassmaster Classic titles won by Rick Clunn is legendary, including consecutive wins in 1976 and 1977. Little known is Clunn’s near miss at the 1978 Classic held on Ross Barnett, where he nearly made it three world titles in a row. Clunn lost that Classic by 2 pounds, 2 ounces, to the winning weight of 37-9, caught by Bobby Murray.

Clunn’s win the previous year marked another historical moment in B.A.S.S. history with the ending of the “mystery flights.” Until 1977, the Classic anglers, wives, media and sponsors boarded a chartered jetliner in Atlanta, destination unknown. That was revealed when Scott announced the location as the airplane reached cruising altitude.

The advanced notice and publicity worked. The final weigh-in attracted a crowd of 3,500, the largest ever at the time for a Classic. The finish also ranked as the most dramatic at the time, too.

Murray led with 29-11, followed by Tommy Martin with 20-6, and Jerry Rhyne in third with 24-2. Clunn followed with 22-2. He briefly took the lead with 31-10, lamenting over a miscue that prevented history being made.

“About 45 minutes ago, I had the chance,” he recalled in Bassmaster. “A good fish, about a six-pounder, jumped and threw the spoon.”

And with that, Murray won his second Classic title after winning the inaugural championship in 1971.

More trivia

Bill Dance won the first event held on Ross Barnett in 1968. His winning weight at the Rebel Invitational was 72-1. At Ross Barnett he won again in 1970.

Roland Martin won at Ross Barnett at the 1971 All-American with a winning weight of 54-13. He won again there in 1973. 

Dance and Martin have the most B.A.S.S. wins at Ross Barnett with two apiece.