By BassFan Staff

(Part 1 of a 3-part series.)

The second Bassmaster Classic to ever take place at Alabama's Lake Guntersville is less than 3 weeks away. By all indications, it could be a record-setting event.

As a big-sack factory, Guntersville peaked a few years ago and has declined a bit recently, but it's akin to former NFL wide receiver James Lofton in the early 1990s – when asked if he'd lost a step, Lofton deftly replied, "Maybe, but I had a step to lose."

Hordes of 5-pound-class bass still swim in Guntersville, and a bunch of them will be caught during the 44th edition of the sport's premier event, which takes place Feb. 21-23. Unless Mother Nature throws a big monkey wrench into the conditions, Kevin VanDam's Classic weight record for the five-fish limit era (69-11 from the Red River in 2011) will likely fall, and Rick Clunn's overall mark of 75-09 from the Arkansas River in 1984, back in the seven-fish days, could go down as well.

Nobody stands a chance this year of joining Clunn and VanDam as back-to-back Classic winners, as 2013 champion Cliff Pace will sit this one out due to a recent deer-stand mishap that left him with a badly injured leg. That reduces the field to 55 competitors.

Here's a brief look at each angler (they're listed alphabetically).

Casey Ashley – Donalds, S.C.
> Qualified through: Elite Series points
> Classics fished: 4
> Best Classic finish: 13th (2009)
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: 80th (2010), 54th (2009), 70th (2007)
> Current world rank: 90th
> Insight: He's fallen into a pattern of fishing the Classic only in even-numbered years, and then not catching much once he gets there (he was 46th in 2012 and 41st in 2010). He hasn't showed much of an affinity for Guntersville, either. Recent history keeps him off most observers' radar at this point.
> View his BassFan Angler Profile here.

Josh Bertrand – Gilbert, Ariz.
> Qualified through: Elite Series points
> Classics fished: 0
> Best Classic finish: N/A
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: N/A
> Current world rank: 177th
> Insight: The 2013 Elite Series rookie gained his berth with a strong finish to the campaign (18th at the Mississippi River, 8th at the St. Lawrence River and 26th at Lake St. Clair). He's primarily a deep-water guy with no championship experience at this level, so not many eyes will be on him. Could surprise if he gets on a strong reaction-bait bite.
> View his BassFan Angler Profile here.

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Tommy Biffle has two runner-up finishes in 18 Classic appearances.

Tommy Biffle – Wagoner, Okla.
> Qualified through: Mississippi River Elite winner
> Classics fished: 18
> Best Classic finish: 2nd (1994, 1990)
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: 22nd (2010), 40th (2009), 58th (2007), 68th (2006)
> Current world rank: 25th
> Insight: Biffle almost always makes it to the final day at the Classic, but it's been quite awhile since he's been a true factor (of his four finishes of 6th or better, none were more recent than 1998). He has the all-around skill set to get into the mix at Guntersville and could be a major threat if a lot of fish are shallow. Not a guy to dismiss in any case.
> View his BassFan Angler Profile here.

Patrick Bone – Cleveland, Ga.
> Qualified through: Douglas Lake Southern Open winner
> Classics fished: 0
> Best Classic finish: N/A
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: N/A
> Current world rank: N/A
> Insight: Bone has a some of tour-level experience and a championship event on his rιsumι, but all of it came as a co-angler on the FLW Tour, where he competed for 3 seasons from the back of the boat. He'll be fishing in his home region at Guntersville, but his skills repertoire is somewhat of an unknown since he used an umbrella rig to notch his Open win. Perhaps more will be known about him in a few weeks.

Stephen Browning – Hot Springs, Ark.
> Qualified through: Red River Central Open winner
> Classics fished: 8
> Best Classic finish: 7th (1997)
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: 11th (2010), 90th (2009), 36th (2007), 100th (2006)
> Current world rank: 143rd
> Insight: Browning logged a Top-10 finish in his first Classic at neighboring Logan Martin Lake, but hasn't broken that barrier since and has fared no better than 24th since the event moved to the late winter in 2006. He's become known as a river specialist and it would be somewhat of a surprise if he makes a lot of noise at this event.
> View his BassFan Angler Profile here.

Coby Carden – Shelby, Ala.
> Qualified through: B.A.S.S. Nation Southern Division champion
> Classics fished: 0
> Best Classic finish: N/A
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: N/A
> Current world rank: N/A
> Insight: This guy isn't your typical B.A.S.S. Nation qualifier. For one, he grew up in the area and has long been a terror in local regional events. For another, he spent several years on B.A.S.S.'s top circuit in the early 2000s, meaning he won't be awed by fishing against Kevin VanDan and other Elite Series luminaries because he's done it before. He bears watching.

Brent Chapman – Lake Quivira, Kan.
> Qualified through: Elite Series points
> Classics fished: 12
> Best Classic finish: 5th (2010, 2011)
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: 27th (2010), 26th (2009), 99th (2007), 58th (2006)
> Current world rank: 23rd
> Insight: The 2012 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year has become one of the game's most consistent performers and he's proven himself adaptable to just about any condition. If there's a good number of shallow fish at Guntersville, he'll be right in his element. If conditions are nasty, he's a known commodity under that scenario, as well. He should definitely be in the mix.
> View his BassFan Angler Profile here.

Hank Cherry – Maiden, N.C.
> Qualified through: Elite Series points
> Classics fished: 1
> Best Classic finish: 3rd (2013)
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: N/A
> Current world rank: 148th
> Insight: His initial Classic appearance was certainly a memorable one as he was right in the hunt for the title last year at Grand Lake until losing a couple of big fish late on the final day. He followed that up with a strong Elite Series season and has quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with. His fortι is throwing jerkbaits in cold water, and that tactic will definitely play at Guntersville.
> View his BassFan Angler Profile here.

Jason Christie – Park Hill, Okla.
> Qualified through: Bull Shoals Elite Series winner
> Classics fished: 1
> Best Classic finish: 7th (2013)
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: N/A
> Current world rank: 1st
> Insight: Christie has won so often recently (including three tour-level triumphs last year) that everybody will be looking over their shoulder for him at Guntersville, no matter the conditions. If he has a good first day, the buzz will only continue to build. He has all the attributes necessary to excel in this event and is a first-rate closer. There's little doubt that he'll win a tour-level championship before long, and no reason it can't happen this year.
> View his BassFan Angler Profile here.

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Keith Combs would love to have a Classic trophy to put alongside the two he's garnered from the Toyota Texas Bass Classic.

Keith Combs – Huntington, Texas
> Qualified through: Falcon Lake Elite Series winner
> Classics fished: 2
> Best Classic finish: 16th (2012)
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: N/A
> Current world rank: 11th
> Insight: Combs had a superb season in 2013 to establish himself as one of the top performers in the sport. He excels on big-fish venues, as evidenced by his two Toyota Texas Bass Classic wins and his Elite Series triumph at Falcon, and loves both shallow-cranking and offshore fishing. Just about any setup at Guntersville should suit him.
> View his BassFan Angler Profile here.

John Crews – Salem, Va.
> Qualified through: Elite Series points
> Classics fished: 7
> Best Classic finish: 16th (2008)
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: 3rd (2010), 80th (2009), 74th (2007), 25th (2006)
> Current world rank: 21st
> Insight: Crews' overall performance over the past several years has been rock solid, but he's yet to finish among the Top 15 in a Classic. He's bound to become a factor in one sooner or later and this could be the year. His proficiency with a crankbait should serve him well.
> View his BassFan Angler Profile here.

Cliff Crochet – Pierre Part, La.
> Qualified through: Elite Series points
> Classics fished: 1
> Best Classic finish: 13th (2010)
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: 34th (2010)
> Current world rank: 57th
> Insight: Crochet had a breakthrough year in 2013 to make the Classic for the first time via the Elite points list (his previous appearance had come through the Opens). To get into the mix at Guntersville, he'll probably have to connect with a heavy concentration of big fish in the shallows. It won't bode well for him if the strongest action is offshore.
> View his BassFan Angler Profile here.

Mark Davis – Mt. Ida, Ark.
> Qualified through: Elite Series points
> Classics fished: 16
> Best Classic finish: 1st (1995)
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: 8th (2010), 37th (2009)
> Current world rank: 49th
> Insight: It's been 19 years since Davis logged his Classic victory, and his last Top-10 finish in the event occurred just a year after that. His affection for Guntersville runs deep and this derby represents a great opportunity for him to re-establish himself as one of the game's best. If there's good action offshore, he'll probably be right in the middle of it.
> View his BassFan Angler Profile here.

Ott DeFoe – Knoxville, Tenn.
> Qualified through: Elite Series points
> Classics fished: 2
> Best Classic finish: 5th (2012)
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: N/A
> Current world rank: 19th
> Insight: He's yet to finish outside the Top 12 in a Classic – a record that's tempered a bit by the fact that he's competed in only two of them thus far. His strong showings are no fluke, however, as he's become one of the brightest starts in the game. He has a propensity for trying something different in an effort to separate himself from the pack, and that type of thinking could pay off at Guntersville.
> View his BassFan Angler Profile here.

Mark Dove – North Vernon, Ind.
> Qualified through: B.A.S.S. Nation Northern Division champion
> Classics fished: 2
> Best Classic finish: 26th (1997)
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: N/A
> Current world rank: N/A
> Insight: Dove has reached the game's most prestigious event for the third time (and second straight) via the B.A.S.S. Nation route. His home water is the Ohio River, so he's unaccustomed to catching the giant sacks that Guntersville is capable of producing, but he's a level-headed sort who won't be in awe of anyone or anything. Whether he fares well or poorly on the water, he'll relish the Classic experience once again.

Edwin Evers – Talala, Okla.
> Qualified through: Alabama River Elite Series winner
> Classics fished: 12
> Best Classic finish: 5th (2009)
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: 19th (2010), 36th (2009), 67th (2007), 7th (2006)
> Current world rank: 4th
> Insight: On any list of the most accomplished anglers who've never won a tour-level championship event or an Angler of the Year title, Evers resides very near the top. The AOY slipped through his grasp last year, which only increases his hunger to cop a major title. Whether it's jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, crankbaits or whatever, he's adept at offering what the Guntersville fish like best. It'll be surprising if he's not in the hunt.
> View his BassFan Angler Profile here.

Todd Faircloth – Jasper, Texas
> Qualified through: Sabine River Elite Series winner
> Classics fished: 11
> Best Classic finish: 3rd (2010)
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: 53rd (2010), 11th (2009), 21st (2007), 15th (2006)
> Current world rank: 5th
> Insight: The steady Texan is right there with Evers among the best anglers without major titles on the rιsumιs and he keeps putting himself in position to contend for them. He's finished 9th or better in four consecutive Classics. Yet another single-digit finish wouldn't surprise anyone, particularly if a bunch of big 'uns are near the shallows.
> View his BassFan Angler Profile here.

Randy Howell – Springville, Ala.
> Qualified through: James River Northern Open winner
> Classics fished: 11
> Best Classic finish: 10th (2013)
> Elite Series finishes at Guntersville: 51st (2010), 28th (2009), 76th (2007), 38th (2006)
> Current world rank: 35th
> Insight: Howell has yet to seriously contend in a Classic, and that alone keeps him off the list of favorites for this one. He's fishing in his adopted home state on a venue where he has a great deal of experience, however, and might make some noise with a crankbait.
> View his BassFan Angler Profile here.

End part 1 (of 3)