BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Here’s an interesting exercise: Ask any Bassmaster Classic qualifier to describe why being in this particular tournament is cool. Most will come up something like this: “Well, it’s the Classic, isn’t it?”
End of story, their tone of voice implies. And indeed, especially among anglers, nothing more needs to be said. When anglers talk about the Classic, it’s a given that “making the Classic” — qualifying, that is — is the No. 1 goal of any competitive bass angler. And that winning a Classic is an achievement of a lifetime.
But exactly why has this annual tournament become like a universal language among anglers? For starters, according to Classic qualifiers, consider these three key points:
1. Longevity. When the 2013 Bassmaster Classic presented by Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa comes to Tulsa, Okla., and Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees on Feb. 22-24, it will be the 43rd time that the world championship has taken place. That makes the Classic almost as time-proven as the Super Bowl. Every sport has its premier championship, and the Classic is professional fishing’s main event.
2. Winnings. The Classic’s first-place prize is $500,000, a life-changing amount. And because it’s a no-entry-fee competition, even the dead-last angler’s take of $10,000 is considered hefty.
3. Media coverage. The media attention that comes with being a Classic winner can solidify a pro’s career. This goes hand-in-hand with how sponsors cash in. Old sponsors are delighted, and new sponsors come knocking, especially if the champ is just getting started as a pro. But it’s not winner-take-all; almost every qualifier gets ink and air from their hometown media.
So how do the anglers feel about the championship of professional fishing? Four of the 53 qualifiers share their perspectives on the 2013 competition. The four are nicknamed “freshman, sophomore, junior, senior” — a measure of their experience as competitive anglers in big-name tournaments.
The freshman, Albert Collins: As a first-time Classic qualifier, and as the qualifier from the Toyota Bassmaster Weekend Series operated by American Bass Anglers, Collins is as rookie as they come. But he gets the prestige thing.
“Even when I was a little kid, the Classic was the most prestigious tournament to be in,” said Collins, a 48-year-old plumber from Nacogdoches, Texas. “It’s always been the biggest show, the one everybody wanted to get to. There are other big tournaments out there, but the Bassmaster Classic is the one that you want to get to.”
Collins tried three times for a Classic qualification through the B.A.S.S. Nation. He was even in the 2012 B.A.S.S. Nation championship, but he missed out on being one of the six anglers to win a Classic spot. He has also been competing in the Weekend Series. His ace in the hole was that the 2012 Weekend Series national championship was scheduled for his home lake of Sam Rayburn Reservoir. He won, earning the Classic entry awarded with the Weekend Series win.
“Qualifying for the Classic is probably the biggest accomplishment of your fishing life,” Collins said.
The sophomore, Casey Scanlon: He’s headed to his first Classic, but with his 2012 debut in the Bassmaster Elite Series behind him, this pro from Lenexa, Kan., has lost his rookie label.
For Scanlon, 28, a Classic qualification isn’t just an accomplishment, it’s a boost to the business of being a pro angler.
“They say they’re expecting 90,000-plus in Tulsa, so it’s a big show, and important for your sponsors. It’s probably the best publicity you’re going to get. It’s the most coverage any fishing event will get on ESPN all year,” he said.
The Grand Lake Classic will be Scanlon’s first chance to fulfill a goal that began to take shape when he was a child watching The Bassmasters on TV.
“Growing up, watching guys like Denny Brauer and Rick Clunn on TV, made me aspire to win the Bassmaster Classic. I never aspired to win (any other championship), but I think everyone wants to win the Classic. That’s the tournament. B.A.S.S. and the Classic have set the standard in the industry.”
Scanlon nailed his qualification by winning a 2012 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open Series event on Table Rock Lake.
“It’s almost hard to believe that I made it in,” he added.
The junior, Mark Dove: He qualified through the B.A.S.S. Nation, but do not mistake Dove for a Classic rookie or for an inexperienced angler.
A trial attorney in southern Indiana, Dove qualified for his second Classic by winning the 2012 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship (and thus the Northern Division’s spot in the Classic). His first Classic was in 1997, an entry also gained through the labyrinth of Nation competitions. He took a few years off, then got back into B.A.S.S. Nation competition, an eye on returning to the Classic.
“I think the Classic is probably the most prestigious — wait, there’s no ‘probably’ about it, it is the most prestigious bass tournament in the world,” Dove said.
The event’s roots are especially meaningful to a B.A.S.S. Nation competitor, he added.
“It’s the crown jewel of the founding father, of B.A.S.S. — Ray Scott. He got the whole concept of tournament bass fishing together, and of B.A.S.S., the biggest fishing organization,” Dove said.
The senior, Chris Lane: As the most recent Classic winner, Lane of Guntersville, Ala., has a fresh perspective on how a Bassmaster Classic crown can define a career.
“The Classic is so prestigious because it is the Super Bowl of our sport. It is the Daytona 500, the Masters, of fishing — and it’s a worldwide event. So many people in many countries want to know about it. Like me with football — I don’t watch a lot of football, but I will watch the Super Bowl. The Classic is like that, reaching people who wouldn’t normally follow fishing.”
Lane said the 2012 crown, his first, has reshaped his life in many ways beyond fame.
“I’ve been able to give back to my family. They’ve supported me for years; this is a team sport for us. And I’ve been able to give back to sponsors who stuck with me for so long,” he said.
The title also has brought renewed confidence in his competitiveness as a Bassmaster Elite Series pro, he said. Not to mention financial security and stability in his career. But the impact of a Classic isn’t limited to just the winner, he pointed out.
“Just qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic — you’ve fulfilled the dream of most fishermen. When I was a kid, I always thought, ‘To make the Bassmaster Classic, how cool is that?’ It never entered my mind how cool it would be to win it,” he said.