By Lynn Burkhead
OSG Senior Digital Editor
The Bassmaster Classic is a can’t miss event, it would seem, especially after a year of COVID-19 lockdowns and delays.
That much seemed obvious on Friday morning at the 51st edition of the event kicked off on rain-swollen Lake Ray Roberts as a crowd numbering well over 1,000 people watched the event’s 54 competitors blast off into bass fishing’s unknown.
Perhaps the most recognizable face in the day-1 crowd was Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who delivered the opening invocation at Friday morning’s Classic blast-off at the flooded boat launch facilities found at Ray Roberts State Park Isle du Bois Unit near Pilot Point.
Afterwards, Cruz took a few moments to talk about why he came to North Texas for the occasion.
“Well, look, it’s good people and it’s a chance to be in God’s great outdoors to celebrate nature, but also just to be with people who love family (and) who love America,” said Cruz.
Cruz, who went fishing on Ray Roberts later in the day, noted that he grew up in Houston and has enjoyed the sport his whole life.
“There are few more peaceful things than to be out on a lake, a river, the ocean, and (to go) fishing in the majesty of God’s creation.”
The Bassmaster Classic has certainly attracted its share of politicians through the years, including then-Vice President George H. Bush as he appeared alongside 1984 Classic winner Rick Clunn in Pine Bluff, Ark.
Bush was an enthusiastic angler who fished for everything from bass to tarpon, with many of his angling trips taking place in his home state of Texas as well as at the family’s summer home in Maine.
Bush was especially fond of largemouth bass, something shown by a photo of the 41st President as he walked with a Secret Service escort and held up copies of Bassmaster magazine with a big smile. The elder Bush is also seen in a variety of photos with his son George W. Bush, the former Texas governor who went on to become the nation’s 43rd President. The father and son fished on more than one occasion with B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott on a private lake that Scott owned in Alabama, a water body he dubbed President’s Lake.
The elder Bush, who was known by many Texans as “41” while his son is referred to as “W” or “43”m was a lifetime member of B.A.S.S. and a 2016 inductee into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame due to his love of the sport and his influence on conservation.
But he’s hardly the lone politician who has stepped to the stage for a photo op on one of the sport’s biggest stages, as well as understanding the potential votes that wait in the crowd.
Bill Clinton, the Arkansas governor who became Bush’s successor in the White House in 1992, was also on stage in Arkansas back in '84 when Clunn captured the third of his four Classic crowns. The presence of Scott, two future U.S. presidents and a convention center packed with fans led Clunn to give an impromptu speech with a highly memorable line.
"Only in America can we follow our dream of chasing little green fish," he is reported to have said as a huge crowd of B.A.S.S. fans roared their approval and applauded a photo op for the ages.
Cruz, who some speculate could be a part of the 2024 presidential race, certainly understands the value of being at a Bassmaster Classic among people who share political values similar to his own. But he was also in attendance on Friday because the last few months have been anything but easy in the state that he represents, from the deadly cold wave in February to the year-long coronavirus scourge that has cost the lives of more than 52,000 Texans.
The latter forced B.A.S.S. officials and representatives with host city Fort Worth to postpone the Classic from its original mid-March dates to the current spot on the June calendar.
“Obviously, they had to postpone this event and that was unfortunate,” said Cruz. “It’s been a tough year for Texas, a tough year for our country. We saw everything shut down, we saw too many people whose lives were lost, and millions of small businesses (affected), people whose livelihoods were destroyed.
“I’m encouraged to see the world opening up again, people going back to work, to seeing kids going back to school – I think we need all the kids back in school.
“What’s great about this Classic is that you’re going back to normal life.”
Part of that return to normal – which has seen mask mandates lifted, businesses fully reopened and thoughts of social distancing beginning to wane in a state where millions of vaccinations have been given and coronavirus case numbers have dropped significantly – is seeing enthusiastic fans attend the Bassmaster Classic.
“I’ve joked that it’s pretty hard to catch a fish if you’ve got to stay 6 feet away from it,” said Cruz with a wry smile.
Overall, Cruz was happy to be part of an event that North Texas has eagerly anticipated for a quite some time.
“I think it’s terrific,” he said. “People came out to cheer the anglers on and it’s nice just seeing that we’ll get about 100,000 people that will come into North Texas (for the Classic) and that’s good for the local businesses, the small businesses, and it’s just good for the spirit.”