There have been some unforgettable moments in nearly a half-century of Bassmaster Classics, from Bryan Kerchal winning the 1994 tournament as an amateur, to living legends Rick Clunn and Kevin VanDam each locking up four titles in the sport’s showcase event.
Arizona pro Steve Lund has only fished in one Classic. He finished third from last in that event held on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell in February 2015. Still, Lund is linked to the Classic brand after his boat froze to its trailer when he tried launching into Hartwell on a frigid morning to start the 45th Bassmaster Classic.
“Every time I’m in a B.A.S.S. tournament, it comes up,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a pretty funny story now, but that morning, it was no fun at all.”
Temperatures at Hartwell on Feb. 20, 2015, were in the single-digits when anglers gathered to begin the tournament. Some boats slid easily into the icy water, but when it was Lund’s turn to launch, his bass boat wouldn’t budge.
“Everyone was trying to rock the boat,” he said recently. “Then we were trying to back the boat down and slam on the breaks to try and break it free from the trailer. The nose kept holding, so we were checking to see if the nose hook was undone. The back of the boat was floating, but then I looked down and could tell the trailer and the boat were frozen together up front.
“The water temperature dropped from about 54 degrees when we showed up the week before to I think 39 degrees when we started the tournament. And the air temperature was like 8 degrees. I had heater pads in my shoes, warmers in my gloves. I had so much gear on, but I never got cold. I felt really bad for my Marshal, though, when we were going 72 miles an hour across the lake.”
Such cold-weather encounters are relatively new to the Bassmaster Classic, which has been held in the winter only since 2006 when the Elite Series began.
From its inaugural outing in 1971 until 1983, the Classic was held in the fall. It became a summer event in 1984, and the difference in the catch was immediately noticeable. Clunn won the third of his four Classics that year with a record 75-9 haul on the Arkansas River, though anglers could weigh seven bass per day at that time.
Finding bass that active in the throes of summer is a rarity, however, and the weights in summer Classics plummeted. In fact, only two of the next 21 champions caught more than 50 pounds, and the last of that bunch — VanDam in 2005 in Pittsburgh — set a record for the lowest winning weight in a Classic, 12-15 over three days.
By that point, B.A.S.S. was looking to hype its brand-new Elite Series and having its signature event kick off the season was part of the plan. It was a strategy similar to what NASCAR did when it made the Daytona 500 its season opener in 1982.
The first winter Classic was held in 2006 on Lake Tohopekaliga in central Florida and Luke Clausen sent the bar skyrocketing with a three-day winning total of 56-2. The limit was five bass per day by that point.