As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bassmaster Classic, it is impossible to consider where our sport would be had Ray Scott not have dreamed up the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing. It is safe to say that the sport would not have reached its current level of participation and recognition without an event that attracted the attention of the world. So, here we look back at the most memorable moments that shaped the biggest stage of professional bass angling: the Bassmaster Classic.
All captions: Don Wirth
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B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott announces plans for the first “world championship” bass tournament, the Bassmaster Classic. Scheduled for late October, the Classic will be a winner-take-all event with entry limited to the Top 24 competitors in the B.A.S.S. Tournament Trail’s 1971 Angler of the Year point standings. To heighten media interest in the tournament, the Classic’s location is kept top secret, and members of the outdoor press are invited along to interview, photograph and fish alongside competitors. Classic competitors and press members board a chartered plane in Atlanta headed for the “mystery” lake. Once the plane reaches 10,000 feet, Scott opens an envelope revealing the Classic venue as Lake Mead, on the Nevada/Arizona border. The plane lands in nearby Las Vegas.
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Classic competitors fish from 24 identical Rebel Fastback boats equipped with 90-horsepower MerCruiser inboard engines (top speed: 37 mph). Anglers are limited to four rods and reels and 10 pounds of lures. Bobby Murray wins the three-day event with 43 pounds, 11 ounces and pockets $10,000. Murray catches his fish on a Zorro Aggravator spinnerbait manufactured by Stan Sloan, who won Scott’s very first bass tournament in 1967.
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The second Classic is held on newly formed Percy Priest Reservoir in Nashville, Tenn. Anglers fish from identical Ranger boats equipped with 85-horsepower Mercury outboards; Ranger would provide boats for many subsequent Classics. Don Butler wins the event with 38 pounds, 11 ounces caught on a spinnerbait of his own design.
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North Carolina’s Wendell Mann becomes the first B.A.S.S. Federation angler to qualify for the Classic, which is skyrocketing in popularity as the “bass explosion” of the ’70s is underway. Rayo Breckenridge wins the event, held at South Carolina’s Clarks Hill Reservoir, by throwing the gold-standard lure of the day: a spinnerbait.
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Rookies rule! At the Lake Wheeler, Alabama, Classic, Rick Clunn makes his first of 28 consecutive Classic appearances (a record for the event) and finishes 16th. Tommy Martin wins the tournament and becomes the first angler to win both a B.A.S.S. tournament and the Classic in his rookie season.
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Rookies continue to dominate the Classic as Jack Hains cops first place on North Carolina’s brackish Currituck Sound. For the first time, weather plays a dominant role in the Classic, as 40 mph winds blow bass out of the shallows and force tournament officials to put unsafe areas of the vast fishery off-limits.
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To cash in on the hottest pop culture trend of the day, B.A.S.S. teams with Radio Shack to furnish every Classic boat with a CB radio.
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Rick Clunn wins his first of four Classics and a check for $25,000 at Lake Guntersville, Alabama, by buzzing a spinnerbait across submerged milfoil beds. Early on Day 2 of the event, Clunn arrives at the launch area, then realizes he’s left his tacklebox in his hotel room. He races back to get it and finishes the day with 33 pounds, 5 ounces, the heaviest one-day Classic bag thus far.
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For the first time, B.A.S.S. gives advance notice of the Classic location: Lake Toho, Florida. Ray Scott spins the news as a benefit to fishing fans wishing to travel to the event; in reality, the Classic has become such a huge production that it’s now impossible to keep its location a secret.
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Rick Clunn repeats as Classic champ with 27 pounds, 7 ounces, the lowest winning weight for the event yet recorded.
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At Ross Barnett Reservoir, Mississippi, Bobby Murray uses a modified weedless spoon to catch 37 pounds, 9 ounces and claim his second Classic victory.
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With flippin’ the hottest presentation technique among B.A.S.S. pros, Basil Bacon bolts a carpeted platform to his Classic boat’s front deck to elevate him for more accurate short-line presentations — the first bass boat “flippin’ deck.” Hank Parker makes a final-day rush to beat Bacon to the Classic crown, prompting one of the outdoor journalists covering the Lake Texoma, Oklahoma event to pen the memorable headline, “Parker Sizzles While Bacon Burns.”
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Flippin’ is cemented as the go-to tactic among tournament anglers as Bo Dowden flips a jig to win the Classic at Thousand Islands, New York. Upon reading about Dowden’s Classic victory in Bassmaster, thousands of B.A.S.S. members stand on chairs in their backyards with a newly purchased flippin’ stick in hand and struggle to master the short-line technique.
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Twenty-one-year-old Stanley Mitchell employs a jigging spoon on Lake Montgomery, Alabama, to become the youngest angler to win the Classic. To accommodate huge crowds — and to provide a weatherproof venue for manufacturers of fishing-related products eager to show off their wares — the Classic weigh-in moves indoors, to the Montgomery Civic Center, and the “weigh-in spectacle” is born.
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The Classic returns to Montgomery, this year on the Alabama River. Here, Paul Elias uses diving crankbaits on a submerged ridge to whack 32 1/2 pounds. His signature “kneel and reel” tactic gets the lure down deeper to trigger reaction strikes.
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Is it possible to weigh in only 18 pounds, yet still win the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing? Larry Nixon does it at the first summertime Classic, held in August on the Ohio River out of Cincinnati.
Alfred Williams of Mississippi becomes the first African-American to qualify for the Classic.
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Rick Clunn bags a record-breaking 75 pounds, 9 ounces on the Arkansas River to win his third Classic. The Bassmasters, a 30-minute film about the event, debuts later on cable TV.
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The Classic returns to Arkansas, where Jack Chancellor drags his Do-Nothing Worm to victory on the Arkansas River.
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Adjoining Tennessee reservoirs Chickamauga and Nickajack (aka “Chickajack”) are super tough in summer, but Charlie Reed figures out how to catch 8 pounds a day to squeeze out a Classic victory.
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What? Stage a second Classic on the Ohio River? Afraid so, only this time the event is held out of Louisville, Ky. Many competitors run 100 miles one way searching for bass, but George Cochran sticks close to “Derby town” and manages to catch a three-day total of 15 pounds, 5 ounces — normally nothing to brag about, but on the Ohio, it’s a Classic-winning sack.
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Virginia’s historic James River hosts the Classic, and veteran Guido Hibdon weighs in 28 1/2 pounds to beat local favorite Woo Daves by 6 ounces. The champ’s main bait: a Stanley jig dressed with — what else? — a Guido Bug.
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Hank Parker captures Classic gold with his James River catch totaling 31-6, but it’s runner-up Jim Bitter’s misfortune on the final day of competition that proves to be this Classic’s most memorable event. Bitter leads through the first two days of competition, then on Day 3, he accidently drops what should be the Classic-winning fish after unhooking it. The bass bounces off his tacklebox and flops back into the river, indelibly etching Jim Bitter’s name in the Bass Fishing Book of Misery.
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It’s back to the James River! Rick Clunn, sitting in 10th place going into the final day, dredges up five fish weighing 18 pounds, 7 ounces, with a shallow-running crankbait of his own design — thereby winning his fourth Classic and prompting a run on crankbaits at tackle outlets nationwide.
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On Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, Ken Cook beats local favorite Randall Romig by a mere 3 ounces for a Classic win.
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Robert Hamilton Jr. blasts into the Classic spotlight with his second-day catch of 23-4 from Alabama’s Logan Martin Lake. Hamilton ends up with 59 pounds 6 ounces, beating second-place finisher Denny Brauer by almost 8 pounds.
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David Fritts takes deep structure cranking to a new level with his Logan Martin Classic catch totaling over 48 pounds.
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Bryan Kerchal, 23, becomes the first amateur to win the Classic. The B.A.S.S. Nation angler pitches a worm to docks to rule High Rock Lake, North Carolina, with 36 pounds, 7 ounces. Months later, Kerchal is killed in a plane crash. The B.A.S.S. Nation Championship trophy is named after him.
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With his victory on High Rock Lake, Mark Davis becomes the first angler to win both Angler of the Year and the Classic in the same season.
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George Cochran cops his second Classic crown on Lay Lake, Alabama, by chunking a spinnerbait and a worm.
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Like father, like son: Dion Hibdon follows in his dad Guido’s footsteps by winning the Classic. In the closest Classic ever, the younger Hibdon skips a skirted grub beneath docks on Logan Martin Lake, Alabama, to catch 34 pounds, 13 ounces, beating runner-up Dalton Bobo by 1 ounce!
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After qualifying for the Classic 15 times and cracking the Top 10 twice, Denny Brauer finally puts it all together on High Rock Lake. He begins Day 1 by flipping his signature lure, a jig, but quickly downsizes to a 3-inch tube. The adjustment pays off with 29 pounds, 15 ounces, and his first Classic trophy.
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The Louisiana Delta hosts the hottest Classic yet, with 100-degree air temperatures and water simmering in the 90s. But the bayou heat doesn’t slow down Davy Hite, who crushes his competition with a stunning 55-pound, 10-ounce weight total.
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The Classic hits Chicago! By downsizing to 6-pound line, fan favorite Woo Daves overcomes a tough Lake Michigan smallmouth bite to win big at the Windy City.
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The Big Show moves to the Big Easy, where Kevin VanDam totes 32 pounds, 5 ounces, to the scales inside the New Orleans Superdome to capture his first Classic crown.
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Fishing river current, Jay Yelas boats the Classic’s big bass three days in a row, sealing his victory on Lay Lake, Alabama.
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The largest field in Classic history — 61 anglers — battles for the crown at New Orleans. Mike Iaconelli screams his way to victory with 37 pounds, 14 ounces.
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Lake Wylie, North Carolina: Takahiro Omori becomes the first foreign-born angler to win the Classic.
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Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers proves to be even stingier about giving up bass. But somebody’s going to win, and KVD claims his second Classic victory with 11 bass weighing a scant 12 pounds, 15 ounces — the lowest winning weight in Classic history.
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B.A.S.S. caps off its inaugural Elite Series season by staging the Classic at Lake Toho. Anglers fish with their own boats, each “wrapped” with graphics promoting their sponsors.
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Preston Clark weighs in the biggest-ever Classic lunker — an 11 pound, 10-ounce monster — but it’s Luke Clausen who pockets the biggest-ever Classic paycheck — half a million bucks — with his winning weight of 56 pounds, 2 ounces.
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At Lay Lake, Alabama pro Boyd Duckett becomes the first angler to win the Classic in his home state.
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Alton Jones drags a jig to victory at Lake Hartwell, South Carolina, and then receives an invitation from President George W. Bush to celebrate his victory at the White House.
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Skeet Reese edges out Mike Iaconelli by 11 ounces to garner Classic gold at the Red River, Louisiana.
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Australia native Kim Bain-Moore becomes the first woman to fish the Classic.
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It’s KVD in the winner’s circle again! The Michigan Marvel claims his third Classic crown on Lay Lake.
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At the Louisiana Delta, KVD wins his second consecutive Classic. That makes four notches on his Classic belt, tying him with Rick Clunn for most Big Show victories.
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Chris Lane rules the Red River Classic, beating 48 other competitors to the $500,000 first prize with his 51-6 total caught on tubes and creatures.
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In 2012 Andrew Upshaw from Stephen F. Austin University becomes the first collegiate angler to earn a berth in the Classic.
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At chilly Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, Oklahoma, Cliff Pace dominates his competition with 54 pounds, 12 ounces.
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Home-state angler Randy Howell charges from 11th place to win the Classic on Lake Guntersville. His Day 3 five-fish limit weighs 29 pounds, 2 ounces, giving him a total weight of 67-8.
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Runner-up Paul Mueller’s Day 2 sack of five fish weighing 32 pounds, 2 ounces is the heaviest single-day catch in Classic history.
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In the coldest Classic ever (10-degree air temps), local pro Casey Ashley uses a homemade underspin jig to target suspended bass on Lake Hartwell, his home waters.
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Edwin Evers continues the trend of local favorites winning the Classic with his victory on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees. His 60-pound, 7-ounce tally exceeds that of runner-up and fellow Okie Jason Christie by over 10 pounds.
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Twenty-five-year-old Jordan Lee, a former member of the Auburn University (Alabama) bass fishing team, skyrockets to the pinnacle of professional angling with his 56-pound, 10-ounce Classic catch from Lake Conroe, Texas.
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Jordan Lee won back-to-back Classics with his impressive win in South Carolina.
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A look back at some of the biggest Bassmaster Classic milestones in the 50-year history of B.A.S.S.