Giving credit where it’s due, a big shout-out to Bassmaster Magazine this month. I must admit, I’ve gotten away from the B.A.S.S. bible lately, as content just hasn’t been for me; subject matter seemed rehashed and trendy. I guess I’m a just little too old-school.
In any case, I doubt the magazine creators care, as they’ve got a half-million other readers to worry about. It’s hard to please everybody.
But this month they hit it out of the park. The Classic Preview edition is filled with legend and lore, industry insight and stories from the pros of yesteryear and today. Mixed in the middle, senior writer Mark Hicks gives a blow-by-blow account of the history of bass boat evolution. This piece, in particular, was certainly the result of unparalleled research and is perfectly written. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to devour it, as I did.
My favorite article, though, told the stories of Bill Dance, Hank Parker and Rick Clunn, their views on the growth of the Classic and how it helped cement their legendary careers. Much of their recollections sparked memories in me, too, as this time period was responsible for hooking me on bass fishing.
Richmond, Va. was the site for the 1988, '89 and '90 Classics. Parker won the 1989 edition in what may have been the most notable victory of all time. To this day – some 30 years later – I can recall Hank fishing a Mann’s spinnerbait, complete with an oversized Indiana blade (gold, of course), in a small backwater named Gunn’s Run. I can also recall exactly how Parker uncharacteristically held his short pistol grip rod up in front of the foregrip, how he slung short, underhand casts, and how he chose a 3/4-ounce bait for slow rolling.
That was also the Classic that Jim Bitter had in the bag. Longtime Classic fans still remember the heartbreaking course of events, when Bitter dropped the winning fish overboard after it squirmed out of his hands while being measured. The press attention alone would have killed a weaker man.
Fast forward, Parker came into the packed auditorium and took the crown by a couple ounces. Ray Scott, the best weighmaster in the history of the sport, pumped the crowd like never before. It was pure pandemonium.
As if that could never be topped, Clunn aimed to try with his own James River victory the following year. Using a custom-made RC-1 crankbait, the legendary power-fisherman caught the largest stringer of any Classic held on the James – an unheard of eigh18 pounds – to come from the back of the pack and take his fourth title.
This was when we first heard of “the Zone," Clunn’s quest to tap into the potential of the intuitive state of thinking. It was said that the energy of the Coliseum that day has never been breached in a bass fishing event since. It was truly rock-star status. Scott again laid it on thick, claiming nothing “short of God could have kept Clunn from the title."
In this month’s Bassmaster we learn even more of the infancy of Clunn’s career. How he gambled everything in the pursuit, and initially lost. How he hocked his family rifle for gas money just to get to the 1976 world championship, and how that same Classic solidified his career. It’s wonderful insight.
We hear what the Classic means to many new pros, as well. The impact of Casey Ashley’s hometown destiny, Takahiro’s “I knew it” and Mike Iaconelli’s “Never give up!” My goodness, who could ever forget Iaconelli? Personally, I still feel obligated to thank him, in some way, for the impact that moment had on this sport. It was the stuff of legend.
So we get a good taste of Classics past, and predictions for the future. I’m really fired up for this year’s edition, but I wonder how things will shake out with all the new faces. I always root for the old dogs, but this new class doesn’t have many.
I wonder if we’ll ever see Classics like those of the late '80s again. The type that sold millions of lures in an instant and put the winner on David Letterman. It was all the news in fishing at the time; it was everything, before bracket formats and YouTube celebrity anglers and everyone wearing a jersey and having a website.
Sometimes that old fashioned feel just fits. In the back of my mind, I can still hear Ray yell out “Come on, B Team”, while Hank begs “Put ‘em on the scale, Dewey.”
I miss those Classics, just like I missed my old Bassmaster. It sure was a nice to flip through the pages this month and find out old-school still matters.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)