Stanley Mitchell didn't get a lot of attention coming into the 1981 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Montgomery in Alabama. After all, he was the youngest competitor in the field and had barely squeaked into the tournament as the 10th place finisher in the Western Division of the BASS Tournament Trail.
So when 42 anglers launched for the first day of Classic competition, the "smart money" was on Rick Clunn, Roland Martin, Larry Nixon, Hank Parker, Jimmy Houston and a handful of others with bigger names, stronger credentials and more experience than Mitchell.
Unfortunately for the frontrunners, no one told the bass about their superior résumés, and when Mitchell took the lead on the first day, he never looked back, going wire-to-wire and winning with a three-day catch totaling 35 pounds, 2 ounces. Mitchell used a Bomber Model A crankbait and Luhr Jensen Krocodile spoon to produce the winning catch, edging veteran pro Harold Allen by just 15 ounces.
At 21 years, 5 months and 19 days of age, Mitchell is not only the youngest Classic champion of all time, but the third youngest ever to win any BASS event. Only David Dudley and Gary Klein won tournaments when they were younger.
The Classic championship would not be Mitchell's last trip to the BASS winner's circle. He would go on to be part of the four-angler group that won the Bassmaster Team Championship in 1987, and he won the North Carolina Bassmaster Top 100 in 1992 on Lake Norman.
Though he would go on to qualify for 9 more Bassmaster Classics in his career, Mitchell would never come close to winning again. His best finishes were 7th in 1995 and 8th in 1989.
In addition to producing its youngest champion, the 1981 Classic was a landmark in other respects. It was the first Classic to be held indoors (anglers weighed in at the Montgomery Civic Center); it raised the first-place prize money from $30,000 to $40,000 and increased the total prize money to $101,000. It was also the closest Classic in history to that point.
One of the most memorable moments of the 1981 Classic was Mitchell's brief speech when he accepted the championship trophy and winner's check.
"This is certainly the greatest moment of my life," he said, "and the first thing I want to do is thank the good Lord for letting me be here. I also want to thank all the pros who helped me this year at the different tournaments. You have been my heroes for years, and you still are."