Back in the early days, anglers and the media would often debate as to which was more important: winning the Bassmaster Classic or Angler of Year (AOY).
I was one who insisted the Classic carried far more meaning, and I still believe that today, although changes have added significance to the AOY compared to yesteryear.
And honestly, you can make a case for either one and be right.
There are a few key reasons why I have always felt the Classic was more important.
First, there is the financial aspect. In those days, the AOY winner got a trophy and the Classic winner got $25,000.
Now, $25,000 is paltry compared to today’s payback. The money I received for winning all of my four Classics totals less than half of what today’s winner gets. But in those days, it was a lot of money to those of us who were trying to fish for a living.
Today the AOY champ gets $100,000, which is substantial, but it’s still one-third of what the Classic winner receives.
And let’s not forget the additional sponsorship attention and money the winner gets. I have to believe the financial reward is much greater than AOY.
Today’s AOY champ definitely earns the accolades he receives, but that wasn’t always the case. In the early days, there were no off limits or rules against receiving local information, so a lot of guys spent time practicing with fishing guides and local anglers. I never put a value on the AOY title because we weren’t fishing against the champ; we were fishing against all of the help he got.
The Classic was different. In those days, the site was a secret. We were told on the flight to the lake that we were forbidden to get help. That evened the playing field, and the winner deserved it because he had to do it on his own.
Of course, the sport has evolved and rules have been tightened by prohibiting outside help and off-limits periods.
With today’s rules, winning AOY better represents an angler’s ability.
Even so, it’s not nearly as appreciated by the fans the way winning a Classic is.
Winning the AOY Championship certainly earns the angler tremendous respect from his peers and that’s very important to those of us who compete. It’s meaningful to die-hard fans as well.
But if you ask the average fan to name the last five AOY and Classic champions, he’s more likely to remember the Classic winners.
It’s also my opinion that anglers seeking an AOY title, or even a Classic berth, often get caught up in fishing “safe” to gain points rather than going all-in to win.
That’s not my style. I’ve never been able to adjust mentally to where I can sacrifice gambling to win an event for the sake of catching enough fish to move up in the season standings.
We all have to build our careers around what drives us, and if an angler is driven to win AOY and gets it done, he deserves respect. It’s a very big deal.
Yet, in my opinion, becoming the Classic champion is the most important achievement in bass fishing. I believe that most anglers who dream of bass fishing were inspired by watching previous Classic winners hoist that big trophy over their heads and hearing the roar of the crowd.