By Alan McGuckin
Twenty-seven days before the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, on a cold Friday afternoon in Tulsa, Okla., Gary Klein is walking down memory lane inside a warm, sunlit room that serves as The Zebco Brands museum.
“This is the spinning reel I used to win the U.S. Open in 1988,” said Klein. “Notice how the drag adjustment was on the rear of the reel. It was one of the first spinning reels Quantum ever made."
The 56-year-old was studying a wall full of Quantum reels displayed in chronological order by year of their introduction, and reflecting on how particular models had a direct hand in creating a career that’s made the Oroville, Calif. native a living legend.
This year's Classic on Alabama's Lake Guntersville will be Klein’s 30th, making him one of only two men in the history of the sport (Rick Clunn is the other) to compete in pro bass fishing’s biggest event that many times.
Business climates are dynamic. Sponsorships come and go like the Oklahoma wind. So perhaps nearly as impressive as Klein competing in 30 Classics is the fact that he’s fished with Quantum since the brand’s birth 30 years ago.
“In the mid '80s we were restricted by engineering and materials, not to mention we simply lacked experience in producing high-end casting and spinning reels,” remembered Klein in reference to Zebco’s primary focus on spincast reels until Quantum’s launch in 1984.
“They gave me the best they had to offer back then, but they were young in the market and still learning. We had issues, but those issues weren’t just the company’s issues. Our pro team took ownership of them too, and when we gave constructive input, the company did their best to listen and get better.”
Like Klein, current VP of marketing, Bob Bagby is a pillar of stability and longevity for the Quantum brand, too. Bagby started his career with The Zebco Brands 27 years ago – barely after the Quantum brand was born – and today reflects with gratitude over Klein’s loyalty.
“I think Gary, not unlike Shaw Grigsby and a few others, stuck with us and believed in where we were going because of his character and the commitment of the folks he worked with here,” said Bagby. “Gary talks often these days about how far our products have come, and frankly, we had a long way to go back then."
Just before Klein headed down the hall for a discussion with long-time PT Test Lab technician Bob Hickson about the new, incredibly lightweight TourMg, he moved a little farther down the museum wall to 1993 and picked up a candy apple red Quantum Pro2c.
“This is the reel I used to win the 1993 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year title. I thought, please don’t change this reel. Let’s just use this one forever. It can’t possibly get any better.
“I’m a guy that hates to change something that’s working. But over 30 years, the product managers here have taught me to trust them, and in recent years they’ve amazed me with how they’re able to build lighter, smoother and tougher reels.”
“Look at the bail wire on our PT spinning reels,” Klein continued. “Bail wires are famous for bending, so our guys started building them with bend-resistant nickel titanium wire that’s exclusive to us, and we forever fixed that issue."
Trust is a two-way street, and Bagby says Klein’s input has long been trusted by Quantum engineers.
“If you ask Gary a product-related question, you can tell his answer is carefully considered and he genuinely wants to provide input that helps with whatever we’re trying to figure out."
Klein added: “I swore the last couple of products couldn’t be improved, but our engineers continue to amaze me. The EXO series is great example of that. Heck, I wouldn’t trade my 200 series EXO when I’m fishing swimbaits for anything.”
“Honestly, I’ll put our reels up against anything in the market. I couldn’t do that 30 years ago, but I proudly can now.”