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.
“The aim of the Golden Blend trail is to fill a market void,” Operation Bass spokesman Brian Sayner told the Orlando Sentinel. “For a long time, there was only one circuit for the Larry Nixons and Denny Brauers – now they’ve got another.”
The circuit was short-lived, and despite having a stellar cast of competitors, there is little information out there today about the particulars. The following is a partial timeline that we were able to compile but we’re hoping to flesh it out and compile a more comprehensive history before the evidence and the memories dissolve. Accordingly, we hope that our readers will be able to help us to fill in the blanks.
- Operation Bass was founded in 1979.
- The 1989 Golden Blend series consisted of six tournaments – in Florida, Nevada, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas and New York. At the time, Operation Bass tournament director Charlie Evans told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel: “This trail is supposed to be an experiment. But we already know it’s going to be a huge success because of the tremendous response. This field (Okeechobee) was filled almost three months ago.”
- David Parsons of Dothan, Alabama, won a March 1989 Golden Blend tournament on Lake Eufaula with two six-fish limits that totaled 42-13, beating his nearest competitor by just under 10 pounds. The Orlando Sentinel characterized the tournament as “hampered by high winds, cold temperatures and five inches of rain on the first day of the tournament.”
- The 1990 tour consisted of 10 tournaments, “each with a $100,000 purse and a first-place cash prize of $20,160 based on a 360-man field. The Golden Blend Diamond Invitational ring is also awarded to the winner of each event. The invitational will offer a 70-percent payback to the top 15 percent of the field, which will increase paychecks over the 1990 events.”
- Bernie Schultz won a tournament in New York in 1990. The last of the Golden Blend Invitationals of 1990 was held out of French Creek Marina in Clayton, NY in late September.
- The 1990 Championship on Lake Chickamauga was won by Florida’s Jim Bitter, who claimed a top prize of $50,000 and a Chevrolet pickup truck. Shaw Grigsby led Day One before ultimately falling to 29th. Bernie Schultz, who traveled with Bitter at the time, finished 2nd. The field consisted of 120 anglers over the first two days, at which point the field was cut to 30.The weight from the qualifying rounds did not carry over and Bitter caught 23-15 over the final two days for the win – 9-13 on the first day and four bass for 14-02 on the final day. The win marked a strong period in Bitter’s career, as he’d won MegaBucks IV on the Harris Chain two years earlier.
- In late 1990, Operation Bass announced that the following year’s championship would feature a $150,000 top prize in a no-entry fee event, eclipsing the MegaBucks payout of $100,000 to make it the top prize in bass fishing. “It’s the catalyst needed to give the sport a big boost and make Golden Blend a premier fishing circuit,” Rick Clunn told the Orlando Sentinel. Qualifiers would be the top 20 from both the eastern and western five-tournament circuits. At the time, tournament officials expected that the total purse would be more than $250,000.
- Future Bassmaster Classic and FLW Tour Championship winner David Fritts topped a field of 249 anglers to win in late February 1991 on Lake Okeechobee with 32-05. Jay Yelas finished 2nd and John McLeod was 3rd.
- In March of 1992, Operation Bass announced that the rest of the Golden Blend regular season tournaments would be canceled. According to the Albany Times Union, Operation Bass President Mike Whitaker said, “We are discontinuing the Golden Blend program due to the lack of fisherman support for the product. We will soon be announcing our interim plan for special events to be conducted during 1992, and thereafter, a very exciting program to be launched in 1993.”
- The cancellation did not affect the 1992 Golden Blend Championship, held on Lake Tuscaloosa in Alabama. Qualifiers from the 1991 events fished from March 30th through April 5th for a $150,000 top prize. Zell Rowland won the tournament, the final event in the circuit’s history.
- The 1992 Championship, which was canceled, was supposed to have been held in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
- Florida’s Mike Surman won the inaugural FLW Tour event on Lake Okeechobee in 1996.
Unfortunately, there’s not much more information about the Golden Blend events in the public domain. If you have access to Operation Bass literature from the time describing them, we’d love to see it. Even better, if you competed in any of the events and would like to tell your story, please contact us.