So, you think you’re pretty well-versed in all things Bassmaster Classic? After all, you’re a fan. For years you’ve watched the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing.” Maybe you’ve even attended a couple of expos and Classic weigh-ins when the big show came close to home. Maybe you’ll be in Fort Worth when the 51st Classic rolls around, June 11-13.
Well, unless you’ve attended every championship and watched with unblinking eyes, unwavering attention and with a laptop at the ready, there’s a good chance that at least some of the information here will be new to you. Even Ray Scott and Bob Cobb — B.A.S.S.’s founder and the first true editor of Bassmaster Magazine, respectively — couldn’t possibly know everything about the tournament they created.
All captions: Ken Duke
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1. Let’s start with the name. Did you know that the Bassmaster Classic hasn’t always been the “Bassmaster Classic”? That’s right. In fact, the tournament is in its third iteration as names go. In its first year (1971), it was the “Bass Masters Classic.” Then, from 1972 through 2002, it was the “BASS Masters Classic.” Since then, it’s been the “Bassmaster Classic.”
Why the changes? Well, the first change came after Scott and Cobb realized they should leverage the B.A.S.S. acronym in the name of their biggest event. The second change came after sports media giant ESPN bought B.A.S.S. in 2001. It rebranded most of the company’s properties to “Bassmaster” this or that. That name has stuck, even through two subsequent ownership changes. Nevertheless, you’ll always be safe calling it “the Classic.”
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2. You probably know that the timing of the Classic has changed through the years, too. From 1971 through 1982, it was a fall event. It was held in the summer from 1983 to 2005. In 2006 it was moved to the late winter or early spring, where it would have been this year but for the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first time the Classic has been held in June.
But if the seasons weren’t news to you, did you know that the competition days have changed through the years? The first 10 Classics ran from Wednesday through Friday — no weekend fishing at all. That changed in 1981. From ’81 through 2002, competition days were Thursday through Saturday to accommodate the expos that have become so important to the event. It wasn’t until 2003 that the Classic moved to its current schedule of Friday through Sunday to better suit fans and expo exhibitors. As competition days moved into the weekend, attendance soared.
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3. I’ll bet you know that Texas has sent the most anglers to the Classic. In all, 78 individuals who called the Lone Star State home have claimed 328 Classic berths. No other state comes close. But do you know which city or town has produced the most qualifiers? If you’re a real historian of the sport, you probably do. It’s Hemphill, Texas, the little town near Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn reservoirs. In all, Hemphill has sent nine different anglers to the big dance, including three winners. The city with the second-most qualifiers is Hot Springs, Ark., with seven.
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4. The fishing and media coverage has changed, too. From the first Classic into the mid-1980s, members of the outdoors media were paired with the pros … and were permitted to fish! There were even cash prizes for the press anglers who caught the biggest bass. It’s hard to imagine today, but for half the Classic’s history, the competitors had to worry about the media in the back of their boats. The biggest bass ever caught by a Classic press angler weighed 7 pounds, 13 ounces and was taken by the late Larry Mayer of the Columbia Record in 1976 on Lake Guntersville.
Speaking of press, the reporter who has covered the most Classics for Bassmaster Magazine is the legendary Steve Price. He has written the coveted “game story” 40 times, beginning in 1976.
Because the championship has been held on 29 different fisheries and in eight different months, winning weights have fluctuated wildly, but most would be shocked to learn that nearly half the winners failed to catch a limit all three days. It happened most recently in 2017 when Jordan Lee weighed in just 12 of a possible 15 bass.
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5. What do Denny Brauer, Woo Daves, Bryan Kerchal, Michael Iaconelli, Skeet Reese and Jay Yelas have in common? If you answered that they are all Bassmaster Classic champions, you’re half right. The other half is that they have also finished dead last in the Classic … and Brauer finished last twice! The sport’s brightest stage has also been tough on Toyota Bassmaster Anglers of the Year. Tim Horton (2000) and Gerald Swindle (2017) were reigning AOYs when they took the bottom spots in those Classics.
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6. Even casual fans know that the great Rick Clunn holds the record for most Classic appearances with 32 and is tied with Kevin VanDam for the most wins with four, but few know the angler with the longest span of Classic appearances — from first to last. Hint: It’s not Clunn, who made his first championship in 1974 and his latest in 2009 — a span of 35 years. The correct answer is Paul Elias. The 1982 champ fished his first Classic in 1979 and his last in 2015 for a span one year longer than Clunn’s.
The record for longest gap between Classic appearances will be established this year when the field launches on Lake Ray Roberts. Clark Wendlandt is reigning AOY and will be high on the list of pretournament favorites. He last fished the Classic in 2001 — a gap of 20 years.
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7. We naturally think of achievement when discussing the Classic, but, of course, there’s also the agony of defeat. Most know the story of Dalton Bobo losing the 1997 title by one ounce, but what of the 31 competitors who failed to weigh in a single bass in one of their Classic appearances? Reaching the pinnacle of the sport and then coming up dry must be a special sort of frustration. Greg Ward, grandson of TV fishing superstar Virgil Ward, not only zeroed on the final two days of the 1975 event, but also on all three days of the ’76 Classic. That was back before the field was cut to the Top 25 anglers, and Ward suffered through five consecutive fishless days, a record for Classic futility.
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8. While we’re covering the Wards, you already know that Guido and Dion Hibdon are the only father-son combo to both win a Classic. Guido did it in 1988 and Dion in 1997. Unfortunately, the Wards are the other side of that coin. Father Bill and son Greg finished last in the Classic in 1978 and 1976, respectively.
But finishing last in a Classic can’t be as bad as being the first angler outside of the Classic cut, can it? Every year there’s a “bubble boy” — the angler who just fell a little short in points or pounds or whatever measure is in vogue that season. Woo Daves, Guy Eaker, Shorty Evans, Mark Menendez, Scott Rook and Jonathon VanDam have all been the bubble boy … twice!
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9. For the anglers fortunate enough to find ’em and catch ’em at the Classic, a handful of champs have the distinction of winning the sport’s grandest title but never collecting another B.A.S.S. win, either before or after. Rayo Breckenridge, Bo Dowden, Jack Chancellor, Charlie Reed, Robert Hamilton Jr., Bryan Kerchal, Dion Hibdon and Luke Clausen all came up big when it mattered most, but none won another B.A.S.S. event … at least not yet.
With all the pomp and circumstance surrounding fishing’s greatest tournament, it seems everyone likes to talk about comebacks — anglers who are down in the standings but bounce back in heroic fashion on the final day. Such turnarounds are exciting, but they are also extremely rare. In 50 years of the Bassmaster Classic, you should know that more than half of the eventual winners ranked in the Top 3 after the first day. Seventy-six percent of winners were among the Top 3 anglers after two days.
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10. So Classic heroics tend to come from dominance rather than surprise. Just look to the performances of Rick Clunn in 1984 on the Arkansas River, Jay Yelas in 2002 on Lay Lake and Hank Parker on Lake Texoma in 1979. In ’84, Clunn turned in the most dominant performance in Classic history, winning by more than 25 pounds. You probably knew that, but did you know he weighed in the heaviest bag all three days of the event? And what about Yelas in 2002? He not only won that tournament, but caught the biggest bass each day of competition. And in 1979, Parker’s lead going into the final day turned out to be enough that he could have slept in and still won. Those records might get tied one day, but they can never be broken.