It’s Bassmaster Classic week, and while I’d much rather be fishing it than working the Classic Outdoors Expo, we’ll all be back in Knoxville, Tenn., at the site of what was perhaps the most tense period in bass fishing. There were people publicly wondering if the 2019 event was going to be “The Last Great Classic.”
I’ll admit that there were some concerns that many of us had at the time. While we were getting ready for the 2019 Bassmaster Classic, there were questions about what the future of our sport would look like. Then, Knoxville set a new attendance record for a Bassmaster Classic, and while we said goodbye at the time to many who have competed in our field for a long time, we moved ahead and saw great things happen at B.A.S.S.
That B.A.S.S. shield did what it has done for decades now — it built new careers. Anglers went out onto the waterways, they made casts, caught fish and brought them back to the biggest stages in our sport. In doing that, new household names were born, and the Bassmaster Elite Series and the Bassmaster Classic continued to grow.
While there was reason to be concerned that the Knoxville Classic would be the last record attendance set, there have been more records since. The 2020 Classic in Birmingham set a record for the largest attendance at a Birmingham Classic and last year at Lake Hartwell, we set a new total attendance record for a Bassmaster Classic, beating the 2019 Classic.
The field is getting stronger, and new heroes are being made. Since the 2019 Classic, we’ve seen two new Bassmaster Classic Champions crowned in Hank Cherry 2020 and 2021 and Jason Christie in 2022. We’ve seen Scott Canterbury, Clark Wendlandt and Seth Feider win Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles, and we watched Brandon Palaniuk win his second AOY title last year.
Change can be a scary thing, but with the right leadership and some effort, change can be a good thing. B.A.S.S., under the leadership of Chase Anderson, Bruce Akin and his entire team, saw that they needed to focus on doing what B.A.S.S. does and provide big stages for big fish to be weighed and bigger dreams to be lived.
On the professional fishing side, B.A.S.S. listened to their anglers, worked to make our work environment better, enhanced our earning potential and supported us with more opportunity to do content to support our partners. B.A.S.S also worked hard on their relationships with their sponsors, and the number of companies getting behind the organization is growing as well.
They worked harder to provide more opportunities for anglers at all levels too. Look at what they did with the Bassmaster Opens Elite Qualifier circuit, and working to find ways to open up the B.A.S.S. Nation events to give more anglers a shot at getting to the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, and ultimately the Bassmaster Classic.
Over the past four years we’ve learned that the grass is pretty green over here and there is only one B.A.S.S., only one Bassmaster Classic. That association and those dreams are very strong with the fans and participants of this sport. As with other sports, as players retire or move on, new athletes are given an opportunity to build careers, and the results have been amazing.
So, we turn full circle back to the place where we were supposed to see the last “true” Classic. I bet that Knoxville and the entire state of Tennessee has a plan to show up in force to try and take back their attendance record that Anderson and Greenville, S.C., took last year. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they do.
Come see me at the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo at the Skeeter and Yamaha booths. We can talk fishing, and I’d love to sign autographs and take pictures with the most important people in our sport — the fans.