Four wishes for the 2016 Bassmaster Classic

From the ground, from the water and from the Expo, each Bassmaster Classic has its own feel. After a while, of course, they blend together a bit, but even a decade or two later, each one has a vignette or a memory that makes it stand out.

As I head into my 12th Classic as a member of the media and my seventh covering it from the water for B.A.S.S., I don’t have a vested stake in any one angler winning, but I do want it to be a memorable event, for all the right reasons. With that established, here are my four wishes for the upcoming rodeo at Grand Lake.

I hope that mechanical gremlins don’t seize the day.

This tournament means so much to every angler in it, whether it’s his first one, his only one, or if he’s already won several. They work hard to get there, and in an event where it often feels like second place is the first loser, the margin between winning and being an also-ran can be small. One wrong decision or one missed fish can be a game changer from which recovery is impossible.

That’s fine, because it’s part of the game in every tournament, but I hope that someone who “loses” by a pound or by 10 pounds can blame it on his own efforts and doesn’t have victory snatched from him because of something outside of his control. Last year, several anglers, including one who ultimately ended up in the Top 10, had mechanical issues throughout the tournament. It happens in one form or another every year, although maybe not to that extent. I can still hope that it doesn’t affect anyone who has a legit shot of winning this year.

I do not include the spectator boat factor as being within the category of “outside of his control.” While the ‘tators will be plentiful at Grand, I expect most of them to be courteous. Any professional angler, or student of Classic history, should know that spectators are going to be present in droves and should build his game plan accordingly.

I hope that technique becomes a focus.

I don’t think that there are many fans of professional fishing who don’t fish, at least occasionally. The reason we care is not just because we’re invested in the personalities but because we enjoy seeing the best of the best ply their trade in something that we care about so deeply. For that reason, the Classics that I enjoy most are the ones where a particular angler figures out a different presentation or utilizes some specific outside-the-ordinary tool to win the whole deal.

Kevin Van Dam winning at the Louisiana Delta in 2011 with the same general lures as everyone else is certainly impressive, but it’s not quite as memorable for me as Kevin Van Dam winning in Pittsburgh in 2005 with an out-of-production jerkbait while everyone else seemed to be casting small plastics and crankbaits or utilizing finesse tactics like dropshotting.

My favorite recent vintage Classic from this perspective occurred in 2004 on Lake Wylie, when Takahiro Omori won with a vintage Bagley’s Balsa crankbait and runner-up Aaron Martens utilized every oddball trick in his tackle box, most of which the others had never seen, to come close.

I hope that the winner does something with the title.

The Classic title is an amazing platform from which to spread a message. It can be in the interest of commerce, in the interest of personal faith, or in any one of a number of other arenas. Of course, once you’ve won the trophy, it’s yours to do as much or as little as you want with it. Want to retire and never be heard from again? That’s your business and your right. It just seems like a waste of a good opportunity to me, one that many others would kill for a chance to utilize.

I hope that it’s close.

A wire-to-wire winner isn’t necessary a bad thing, as long as there are contenders nipping at his heels. But as in any sporting event, the most memorable Classics are the ones whose storylines have twists and turns, hills and dips. Who would’ve foreseen Paul Mueller coming back from nowheresville on Day 1 at Guntersville with a monster bag on Day 2? Who bet the farm on Randy Howell making a last day pivot and taking the crown that same year?

I want the reduced field to go into Sunday with at least 10 anglers still in contention to win. I want the Super Six to show up at the arena on Sunday with butterflies in their stomachs, worrying about their fish barfing up a shad and thereby losing critical weight. I want the winner to be genuinely surprised and shaking when the confetti falls.

One final note: From a purely selfish perspective, I’d love for the weather to be a little more palatable than it was in 2013, when it snowed on practice day and tournament takeoff temps were in the teens. But I don’t wish for any particular weather pattern. There are some anglers who will benefit from inconsistency and others who want perfect, stable weather. It’s always a story in this sport, and what’s good for one may hurt another. While I don’t relish the thought of sitting out there in snow, rain or freezing temperatures, I’ll gladly do that if it means an amazing outcome.