Not so Bitter Anymore: The 1990 Golden Blend Championship

The cover of the January/February edition of Bass Fishing magazine, the publication of Operation Bass, had Jim Bitter front and center for his Golden Blend Championship win.

The cover of the January/February edition of Bass Fishing magazine, the publication of Operation Bass, had Jim Bitter front and center for his Golden Blend Championship win.

Back in November, we solicited information from readers about the history of the Operation Bass Golden Blend tournament series. We’d put together a basic outline of the circuit’s history, but we had little meat to put on those bones. Thanks to one of our great readers and supporters, Andy Williamson, we have a bit more to add.

In that original article, we mentioned Jim Bitter’s 1990 win on Lake Chickamauga. Specificially, we explained that “[t]he win marked a strong period in Bitter’s career, as he’d won MegaBucks IV on the Harris Chain two years earlier.” Left unsaid was the fact that it came on the heels of what is for many – fairly or unfairly – the defining moment of Bitter’s long career, his failure to win the 1989 Bassmaster Classic. As you may recall, Bitter had the winning fish in his hand, but when he went to re-measure it under the gaze of Tim Tucker’s camera, it slipped from his hand and back into the James River. Hank Parker ended up beating him by two ounces. Gone were not only the lasting glory of a Classic win, but also the $50,000 top prize. [Read more…]

Revisiting Lake Havasu – 1985

Rick in the Champions jacket, awaiting the signing of the check. photo by Rodney Boyd/FLW Outdoors.

Rick in the Champions jacket, awaiting the signing of the check. photo by Rodney Boyd/Operation Bass.

When the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers take off Thursday morning on Day 1 of the second arm of their Western series swing, this time on Lake Havasu, there will likely be some strong memories for several of the anglers. One of those will certainly be Rick Clunn. It was 30 years ago when Rick won the RedMan All-American, and the resulting $100,000 prize, his first such six-figure check. Back then, even the Bassmaster Classic only paid $50,000.

The magazine of Operation Bass at the time was called CAST Magazine, and they covered this event in their January/February 1986 issue at great length. Anglers took off each day from under the London Bridge – THE London Bridge from childhood song. The story of the bridge itself is rather fascinating. According to a Lake Havasu tourism website; [Read more…]

The First Season of the Red Man Trail

Red Man Tournament Trail Patch.

Red Man Tournament Trail Patch.

Many of us who immersed ourselves into the world of competitive bass fishing in the 1990s or after the turn of the century tend to assume that there were always stable nationwide organized circuits for the weekend angler. We may have known that what are now the BFLs were previously the Red Man circuit, but we don’t have a sense of when and where the Red Mans were born.

As Terry has detailed previously, old issues of CAST Magazine are a treasure trove of information about that era, and provide an incredible look back at the origins of the BFLs. [Read more…]

Monday Trivia – Carving up the St. Johns (January 12, 2015)

Kim Carver. Photo FLWOutdoors.com.

Kim Carver. Photo FLWOutdoors.com.

[Editor’s note: Remember, the rules have changed for the Monday trivia contest. You are now allowed to win three times per calendar year rather than three times only.]

Kim Carver may not be a household name to many of the more recent vintage of bass fishing fans, but the Georgia pro has had a solid career on the water. Among those who follow the sport closely, he’s probably best known for his $100,000 victory in the 1998 Red Man All-American on the Mississippi River out of Lacrosse, Wisconsin, where the leaderboard included a who’s-who list not only of Red Man superstars, but also current Elite Series pros Skeet Reese (6th), Jeff Kriet (13th), David Walker (17th), Steve Kennedy (23rd), Stephen Browning (24th) and John Murray (39th). He’d been the runner up in the prior year’s All-American in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Along the way, he’s notched six other Red-Man/BFL wins, including three Regionals, with the most recent victory coming on his home lake, Sinclair, in May of 2014. [Read more…]

Fish Tales – Florence, Alabama Part One

Tom Smith and Ray Gresham telling fish tales at the Florence/Lauderdale Visitors' Center. Photo Brenda Serrano.

Tom Smith (left) and Ray Gresham (right) telling fish tales at the Florence/Lauderdale Visitors’ Center. Photo Brenda Serrano.

Back in mid-November we had the opportunity to be a part of a really cool get-together sponsored by the Florence, Alabama Chamber of Commerce. The event, held at the new Florence/Lauderdale Tourism Center brought together three long-time Alabama anglers who’ve been involved with the bass fishing industry since its early days. Dubbed, Fish Tales, the two-hour affair featured Tennessee River legends Tom Smith, Ray Gresham and Bill Huntley, who told stories of how they got started bass fishing along with some pretty funny experiences along the way. [Read more…]

Looking for Operation Bass Golden Blend Info

Golden Blend was a title sponsor for Operation Bass' attempt to give B.A.S.S. some competition. Unfortunately the circuit didn't last long and there's little information out there regarding it.

Golden Blend was a title sponsor for Operation Bass’ attempt to give B.A.S.S. some competition. Unfortunately the circuit didn’t last long and there’s little information out there regarding it.

Many modern fans of professional fishing assume that the FLW Tour was the first major competitor to B.A.S.S. Of course, that is not quite correct – over time, there were several national trails that tried to make a run at being the dominant circuit, or at least supplementing it. The truth is that the FLW Tour, founded under the Operation Bass umbrella, wasn’t even the first attempt by that organization to create some competition for Ray Scott’s baby.

Starting in the late 1980s, and running into the early ‘90s, Operation Bass operated the Golden Blend series of tournaments. They built upon the success of the original Red Man events, which catered to the “working man” – one-day weekend tournaments with low entry fees and a chance to qualify for the high payout All-American. [Read more…]

Stephen Browning – 1996 Red Man All-American Win

Stephen Browning 1996 Red Man All-American winner.

Stephen Browning 1996 Red Man All-American winner.

In this video post, Elite Series angler Stephen Browning talks about his 1996 Red Man All-American win on the Arkansas River. He looks back on the event, one that was held essentially in his backyard.

Local knowledge has a history of killing locals in big events like the Bassmaster Classic or FLW Cup. But Browning used his history with the river and knowledge of a pattern that still works at that time of year today as well as it did back then and before. [Read more…]

Mark Menendez – How He Started

Mark Menendez topped a field of 137 anglers in the LBL division on Lake Barkley in 1988. Photo September/October 1988 issue of Bass Fishing magazine.

Mark Menendez topped a field of 137 anglers in the LBL division on Lake Barkley in 1988. Photo September/October 1988 issue of Bass Fishing magazine.

In today’s video feature Mark Menendez talks about how he got his start in competitive bass fishing on the Operation Bass circuit. He remembers the two gentlemen that got him started, how his entry fees the first year were partially paid, practicing out of a 16-foot aluminum boat then jumping into another angler’s glass boat – an angler usually a lot older than him – and having to convince them he was on fish. [Read more…]

Jay Yelas – Domination of the West in 1988

Jay Yelas in 1988, his rookie year of competitive bass fishing. Yelas would go on to win two AOY awards in the 88/89 season and cement himself in the professional bass angling world. Photo Novcember/December 1988 issue of Bass Fishing Magazine. Matt Vincent Author/Photographer.

Jay Yelas in 1988. Photo Nov/Dec 1988 issue of Bass Fishing Magazine. Matt Vincent Author/Photographer.

In 1987 Jay Yelas was a recent college graduate with little tournament experience under his belt. The fact is, though, by the end of 1988, he was not only an experienced tournament angler, he was an experienced winner.

His first big-time event took place in the summer of 1987 – the U.S. Bass U.S. Open held on Lake Mead. In that tournament he finished in 6th place and that launched his career. In the next 18 months he’d chock up five wins on four different western impoundments – including the 1988 Operation Bass Championship – and win two different Angler of the Year awards. Not too bad for a rookie.

I remember anglers coming into the shop at that time, the big sticks of the west, talking about this new kid who ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and slept in his van at the lakes for months on end. “He just showed up out of nowhere and now he’s taking our money,” they’d say. It wasn’t long after the name Jay Yelas became a standard in the southwestern tournament scene. [Read more…]

Jay Yelas – The 1988 Operation Bass Tournament of Champions

Jay Yelas talks about fishing the 1988 Operation Bass Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. Photo Brenda Serrano.

Jay Yelas talks about fishing the 1988 Operation Bass Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. Photo Brenda Serrano.

Not many anglers can say they’ve fished bass in Hawaii, let alone fished a bass tournament there. Jay Yelas, on the other hand, can say he’s done both and not only that, he won.

Yelas qualified to fish the 1988 Operation Bass Tournament of Champions – a year-end event that took the top anglers from each Operation Bass region and pitted them against each other to determine who the best of the best was. [Read more…]

Jay Yelas – From Cheeseballs to Classic Winner

Jay Yelas ICAST 2014. Photo Brenda Serrano.

Jay Yelas ICAST 2014. Photo Brenda Serrano.

Around the 1988 time frame I was still working at the tackle shop and going to college. Although I wasn’t fishing, I kept up on what was happening on the tournament scene from the anglers who came into the shop. What happened in ’88 seemed to be a changing of the guard. Long time western pros such as Don Iovino, Bobby Garland, Fred Ward and Larry Hopper had a new angler to contend with – a kid just out of college named Jay Yelas.

I vividly remember some of the local anglers coming into the shop who fished the Red Man circuit in the day – guys that knew “The River Lakes” like the back of their hand. They were donating entry fees to Yelas’ graduate studies – his field of study being professional bass fisherman. [Read more…]

How They Started – Tommy Biffle

Biffle wins the 1995 Bassmaster Illinois Top 100 on the Mississippi River. Photo 1995 July/August issue of  Bassmaster Magazine.

Biffle wins the 1995 Bassmaster Illinois Top 100 on the Mississippi River. Photo 1995 July/August issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for nearly 30 years there’s no doubt you’ve heard the name Tommy Biffle. Having made a living bass fishing since his first event on the St Lawrence River in New York, Biffle is one of the stalwarts of the sport – rarely out of contention rarely going home without a check.

As Classic XLIV approached, Tommy Biffle had made the big show 18 times – Guntersville was his 19th appearance in the sport’s most-heralded championship. That’s batting 660 folks – a darn good average.

After 305 Bassmaster events, 92 FLW tournaments, and countless other tournaments with other organizations, he’s finished in the money better than 60% of the time. A consistent angler without a doubt. [Read more…]