This is Part One of a three-part series on the 1972 Bassmaster Tournament Trail.
The 1972 Bassmaster Trail had a number of firsts and records associated with it. To begin with, Ray Scott instilled the “Don’t Kill Your Catch,” philosophy that changed the way bass anglers thought about their catch. Prior to ’72, bass anglers everywhere caught a fish, placed it on a stringer and drug it around the lake until they got off the water or weighed the fish in at a tournament. Scott knew that with the success he was having with the 5-year-old Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, if he didn’t do something with regards to fish care at the events, lakes, marinas and residents wouldn’t welcome them in the future.
It was pretty simple situation for Scott to solve. He made a decree at the beginning of ‘72 that all B.A.S.S. events would be “Catch and Release” events. He invested in the production of a 500-gallon aerated livewell, which he coined “Big Blue,” and each fish that came to the dock would be promptly weighed and placed into Big Blue so they could later be released.
The Fish and Game departments at the time made a guess that the live-release rate would never get above 50 percent. After the first three events that year, the live-release rate was just above 80 percent – an unimaginable feat considering there were few livewells in boats and most anglers still used a stringer for their catch.
Today we wouldn’t think twice about putting a bass on a stringer and fish care has become as important as catching fish. If one looks at the populations of fish in lakes around the country, it’s evident that they’re better than they were back in the 70s and 80s. A lot of this, in my opinion, has to do with Scott stepping up to the plate and making fish care mandatory. What’s even more impressive was he did this during a time when anglers went to a lake to catch dinner, not catch bass for sport.
So, on to the tournament season.
The Kissimmee Chain
The year started off with the anglers heading to the Kissimmee Chain in Florida. The Florida National, as it was called, was won by Alabama angler Tom Mann with 27 bass for a total weight of 47-15. Mann reported that he; “stalked the fish, making short underhand casts to keep a tight line in the 20-mph wind and waves.” He also reported that he; “located the bass building beds around the base of lily pads and over the grass.” All of his fish came on his famed Jelly Worm.
Roland Martin, the favorite to win going into competition, weighed in the only full limit of fish for the event (30) for a total 46-14 to take second place in the event. Shorty Evans weighed 43-00 to net third place and Bill Dance, after being away from professional bass fishing for 18 months, placed fourth with 39-02. Martin and Dance, the ’71 and ’70 AOYs respectively, also revealed their fish were caught bed fishing.
Big fish for the event was caught by early B.A.S.S. stalwart, Gerald Blanchard on a Johnny Reb spinnerbait. His 9-06 largemouth missed the record for biggest bass weighed in by only 3 ounces. Unfortunately for Martin, he caught a 10-02 in practice that would have eclipsed the record.
A record field of entrants showed up for this event with 315 anglers vying for the top position and points to qualify for the second Bass Master Classic to be held at the end of the year. Of the entrants, 1,422 bass were weighed (1,200 released live) for a total of 3,041 pounds 8 ounces. Only 13 limits were taken, Martin accounting for three of them.
Another interesting fact about this event was Tom Mann became the second angler in the history of B.A.S.S. to win an event “from first cast to last.” Who was the first angler to win wire-to-wire?
The South Carolina National was held in April on Keowee and judging from the practice session, the anglers felt this one was for the record books. There were reports of anglers catching double-digit fish and limits (10 fish) that went 40 pounds or more. Then the weather hit.
Out of the 156 anglers present for the event, 69 of them blanked on the first day and by the end, 28 still hadn’t weighed a fish. Tennessean, Glin Wells, ended up winning the event with 10 bass weighing a paltry 28-10 – at the time, a record for the lowest winning weight for any Bassmaster event. He reported catching all of his fish on a six-inch blue plastic worm.
Tom Mann weighed in 24-06 and took second-place honors while Bill Dance weighed in 23-03 for third place. Dance also had the only limit of the event, 10 fish for 12-07. Roland Martin finished in the fourth spot with 20-02.
Looking at the top four spots for the first two events we see some familiar names – Dance, Martin and Mann. The 1972 season was shaping up to be a three horse race.
Gerald Blanchard won big fish for the second event in a row, this time with an 8-11 largemouth.
In May the anglers headed to Arkansas for the Arkansas National held on Lake Ouachita. Of the 159 anglers present, 39 limits (10-fish) were scored. Bobby Murray, the 1971 Classic Champion, won the event by weighing his best limit for the event the last day (17-12) for a total of 48-06. His last-day heroics moved him from the third spot, just nudging out Roland Martin (46-13). The remainder of the top 5 were: Joe Wilson (44-09), Smallmouth legend Billy Westmorland (42-02) and Tom Mann. Missing from the Top 5 was Bill Dance who finished the event in 36th place – one spot out of the money and points for the first time in his career. At that time, Dance was the all-time leading money winner on the B.A.S.S. Trail having won 7 titles, including one in 1969 at Ouachita.
Most of the other contestants reported catching most of their fish on plastic worms and Murray said he caught his fish on 5-inch plastics and a Cotton Cordell “8-inch Boy Howdy” topwater bait.
Another interesting caveat that happened at the event is something tournament anglers today take for granted. Murray reported that a lot of his fellow competitors “wore out their fishing spots.”
Here’s what he said as written by Bob Cobb.
“I had fish located in five areas and didn’t wear any spot out. I believe this helped. Some of the guys just wore out their fishing spots, catching 30 to 40 fish a day. In the finals they ran out of fish.”
Today’s tournament angler would never think to stick so many fish in a single area during an event unless they had backup. Murray was a pretty savvy angler back then.
Another interesting thing about the Ouachita event was never before had a local angler won an event on his home water. Bobby Murray broke that “home waters jinx” as Bob Cobb put it back then.
“Fishing a national tournament on your home lake is just tougher, Murray said. “Nostalgia is your biggest problem in fishing a contest on your home lake. You tend to stop at spots where you’ve caught good string of fish in the past and often when the bass won’t hit there you stay too long, wasting valuable time.”
Nothing could be further from the truth still today.
Now, after three events of the 1972 season, Martin and Mann have finished in the Top 5 each event. Now it’s starting to look like a two-horse race for the Bassmaster AOY award.
The Top-10 results for each event are shown in the table below.
|1. Tom Mann, AL||1. Glin Wells, TN||1. Bobby Murray, AR|
|2. Roland Martin, OK||2. Tom Mann, AL||2. Roland Martin, OK|
|3. Shorty Evans, MO||3. Bill Dance, TN||3. Joe Wilson, AR|
|4. Bill Dance, TN||4. Roland Martin, OK||4. Billy Westmorland, TN|
|5. Hoyett Ingle, FL||5. George Milstead, AL||5. Tom Mann, AL|
|6. Dennis Demo, TN||6. Hubert Greene, NC||6. Carlos Mayo, AR|
|7. Ed Todtenbier, LA||7. John(ny) Morris, MO||7. Glin Wells, TN|
|8. Drew Reese||8. Billy Westmorland, TN||8. Billy J. Woods, TX|
|9. Clyde Didier, LA||9. Blake Honeycutt, NC||9. Forrest Wood, AR|
|10. Mike Ellsworth, FL||10. John Powell, AL||10. Pete Nosser, MS|
Part Two of this event will cover the following three events of the year while Part Three will cover the 1972 Bass Master Classic.