Teams working toward the Classic

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Dalton Tumblin

ANDERSON, S.C. – If you want to play in the World Series, you’re gonna’ have to be able to hit a Major League fastball — or throw it, if pitching is your thing.

And if you want to play in the Super Bowl, you better be able to fling a football 80 yards, be fast enough to go catch that ball or strong enough to plow your way through a phalanx of 300-pound men and flatten the quarterback before he can throw that pass.

In other words, be great or buy a ticket like everyone else.

The pros who’ve already qualified for the 2020 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk are among the best in the world at their sport, too. They’ve undergone the many rigors of competition and displayed uncommon prowess when it comes to coaxing the biggest bass from impossibly complex fisheries.

The difference with Bassmaster events (and it’s a big one) is that anglers from five different levels of play can make their way onto the sport’s biggest stage, and that’s practically unheard of in professional sports.

The best of the Elite Series earn berths in the Classic, of course, and they're joined by winners of Bassmaster Open tournaments who fish each event of the season in the Open division of their choice.

Those guys are the pros.

The winner of the College Classic Bracket also gets a spot in the Classic, and more and more of the anglers from that series are beginning professional fishing careers.

Logical.

But the three Classic qualifiers from the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, which took place last month on Lake Hartwell, and one person from this week’s Bassmaster Team Championship, which is taking place on the same lake, are different. They all are great sticks, but chances are high they’re already professionals — but in something besides bass fishing.

Take, for instance, Kris Lockard and Michael Morse, who lead the Team Championship after Day 1. Lockard is an operations manager at a machine shop in Lakeland, Fla., and Morse is a saltwater fishing guide out of Tampa. Jayme Rampey and Adam Smith, who live only a few miles from Lake Hartwell and are in second place in the Team Championship, both are landscapers.

Would they trade their current jobs to be successful full-time anglers? Almost certainly so, but that’s not the point.

What’s important to note is as passionate as these fellows are about their bass fishing, they’re also everyday folks. The major exception, of course, is they’re only a couple good days away from fishing in the Classic where a $300,000 first prize, endorsements and publicity galore await the winner.

So is the Team Championship a unique opportunity? You bet.

“The Nation, the Team Championship, these are the grassroots of all the grassroots,” said B.A.S.S. Nation Director Jon Stewart. “You’ve got teams here from around the world … and we give those grassroots anglers a direct path to the Classic. There are other (fishing) organizations that have championships, but I know they don’t give their grassroots anglers a direct route to their championship. We do.”

That’s not lost on guys like Clay Samples and Tyler Purcell, who won the Bassmaster Team Championship last year on Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes, but missed out on the chance to fish in the 2019 Classic. That honor went to Matt Robertson, who won last year’s Classic Fish-Off.

Samples and Purcell wanted another crack at glory and worked hard to qualify for this year’s Team Championship. They’re in a tie for 41st of 165 teams with a Day 1 limit of 11 pounds, 2 ounces.

“For us to fish tournaments at home, to have our lives there, to not be away from our families, and still have that shot at the Classic is incredible,” Samples said.

“It’s the best opportunity out there,” Purcell said.

Chip Servant and Josh Cotier of the Massachusetts Team Trail are in sixth place after Day 1 in the Team Championship with a 14-7 limit. They agree that the opportunity is hard to beat, but Cotier said it’s key to not let pressure ruin the magic.

“You have to keep the nerves in control, not make mistakes and fish clean,” Cotier said. “When you do well one day, it almost makes it harder to go out and do it again. You have to get the pressure off your back and go fish like you know you can.”

Stewart said the allure of reaching the Classic drives anglers of all ages, too. He noted the wide-eyed 17 and 18 year olds with cross the Nation stage from time to time, as well as the 70- and 80-year-old anglers who still have the dream.

“The Classic means so much to so many people,” Stewart said. “Like I told them all on Tuesday (during the tournament briefing), ‘It’s the biggest fishing tournament in the universe. And this is their way in.’”

Day 2 of the Bassmaster Team Championship began at 7:15 a.m. Eastern. Weigh-in is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. at Green Pond Landing. The Top 3 tandems after Thursday’s competition will have their weights zeroed and those six anglers will fish individually in the Classic Fish-Off on Friday and Saturday.

Follow all the action on Bassmaster.com.