[Editor’s Note: This is part 3 of a three-part series on the 1976 Bassmaster Trail season. To read Part 1 click here, to read Part 2 click here. To read about the 1976 Federation Chapter Championship, click here and to read about the Classic contenders, click here.]
Classic VI, as with all the prior five Bassmaster Classics, was a mystery lake and the venue wouldn’t be divulged until all participants were on the chartered DC-8 bound for the event. It was even stated in the Bassmaster Classic report that “even the pilot of the chartered jet didn’t know the final destination.” Once it was announced that Alabama’s Lake Guntersville would be the host of the ’76 event, the anglers began strategizing with maps provided by B.A.S.S.
As stated in the previous Season at a Glance piece, the 1976 Bassmaster Classic would kick off without a number of multi-Classic contenders. To lead the list of anglers that didn’t qualify was perennial Classic angler, all-time money leader and all-time Bassmaster winner Roland Martin. For him not to be in the ’76 event proved to everyone that a Classic qualification wasn’t something to be taken lightly – the competition was getting tougher.
The second shoe-in who didn’t make it was Tom Mann, another 5-time qualifier. Others who were missing who had qualified more than once before were John Powell, Glin Wells, Al Lindner, Don Norton, Hugh Massey and Forrest Wood. These eight anglers were all replaced by Classic rookies, Doug Odom, Gary Wade, Willard Moore, Jack Chancellor, Wade Reed, Jerry Rhyne, Basil Bacon and Billy Phillips.
An interesting twist in the 1976 Bassmaster Classic was the use of Radio Shack Two-way radios that were given to each press observer in the boats with the competitors. Much like today’s marshals, the press observers were to radio in catches as they happened to B.A.S.S. tournament headquarters.
Remember, this was the age of the CB radio and C. W. McCall’s song Convoy had made the electronic communications device as much a household/vehicle necessity as the fondue pot/seat belt.
Ray Scott had Ranger Boats rig each Classic boat with the Radio Shack One-Hander not only for up-to-the-minute fish counts, though, but also to relay missed fish and the ever-possible accident on the water. More so, Ray Scott enlisted the use of the CB radio in order to give the spectator an idea who was catching and who wasn’t. At times there were hundreds of onlookers at Classic Control waiting for updates. Scott was later heard saying, “The use of CBs in the 1976 Classic marked the beginning of competitive bass fishing as a spectator sport.”
It’s interesting to look back on this event in this way considering how the internet has changed the sport. Now we can monitor BassTrakk for up-to-the-minute updates and also watch the Live Leaderboard, Bass Cam, Live Blog and even the weigh-in live from the comfort of our homes. It’s amazing this idea of keeping the spectator involved started at the 1976 Bassmaster Classic.
Anyway, on to the 1976 Bassmaster Classic.
Day One – Dowden Leads
Lake Guntersville today is looked at as a place where you need at least 25 pounds a day for five fish to have a shot at winning. Back in 1976, that wasn’t the case. Be it the fish weren’t there or the anglers hadn’t yet figured out the needed techniques, a 2 ½-pound average was ample to take you to the winner’s circle. This was the strategy of Bo Dowden.
The first day Dowden was the only angler to weigh in a 10-fish limit (20-03). He was concentrating his efforts around milfoil using plastic worms (Crème or Rogers) and catching a fish every three to four casts. By mid-morning, he had eight keepers in the boat. And went on to fill his limit and take the first spot on day one.
Gary Reed (NC) was able to bring in seven bass for over 11 pounds to take the second position and Rick Clunn brought in six fish for 10-09 to round out the top 3.
Clunn reported that he’d lost a 5-pounder and other fish that would have helped. But those lost fish pointed Clunn to a pattern he’d not found in practice – one that would change not only his life but bass fishing in general.
Day Two – Clunn Breaks ‘Em
Clunn had found a spot up in Beech Creek that had number of keeper fish on it. He would rely on this spot to fill out limits. But the first day of the event, he’d stopped on a submerged hump with milfoil at the mouth of Brown’s Creek. Still in practice mode, he’d made some casts with a Fleck Weed-Wader spinnerbait and lost the 5-pounder. That tipped him off. He now had a secondary big-fish pattern to pursue.
The morning of the second day he started at the milfoil hump and before 8:00 AM he’d boated four fish that went over 20 pounds, anchored by a 7-13 largemouth. His other three fish weighed in at 6-05, 6-03 and 4-09. With over 24-14 in the boat, Clunn then went to his numbers spot to fill out his limit and save the milfoil hump for the last day. He ended up weighing a Classic record for a one-day catch of 33-05 that put him in 1st-place by three pounds.
Ricky Green (AR) made a run on the second day by weighing in an 8-09 largemouth that knocked Clunn’s 7-13 out of big fish for the event. Green weighed in 27-13 that day. There was no word on how Dowden did the second day but from looking at the final totals, he had to have been in second or third place.
Day Three – Clunn Wins
Clunn was in the third flight on the final day and by the time he and his press angler Homer Circle got to the milfoil hump it was too late in the day to make it happen. At 9:00 AM they moved back to the spot in Beech Creek and Clunn proceeded to fill out his limit in painstakingly slow fashion. He was able to fill his 10-fish limit with 16-01 and win the event with a total of 59-15 (26 fish).
Dowden, on the other hand, weighed in 29 fish for 56-04 and took second place. Ricky Green took 3rd place with 16 fish that totaled 42-07 and Federation angler Billy Phillips took 4th place with 23 fish for 38-13. 1974 Classic winner Tommy Martin rounded out the top 5 with 20 fish for 32-12.
Clunn’s Winning Baits and Tactics
Clunn reported that the weather played a significant role in his win. The November event was riddled with cold weather and the lake had also recently dropped over 2 feet. Knowing this, he first wanted to concentrate on vertical banks that would allow the fish good movement from shallow water to deep water. This was why he concentrated on the area in the back of Beech Creek first off. He concentrated on an area near the bridge that had an 8-foot hole – one that allowed the fish to have the comfort of deep water adjacent to shallow water. This is where he enlisted a Bagley’s Honey Bee in a crawfish pattern.
His second area, the milfoil hump, also played into the seasonal weather pattern. The hump, located in the middle of Brown’s Creek, had ample deep water right up to the milfoil where the bigger fish were staged to eat shad.
Clunn was fishing a Fleck Weed-Wader spinnerbait rigged with bronze size 7 and 8 blades. Although it wasn’t stated, from the looks of the Fleck ads adjoining the Classic report, it appears that the blades were Indiana blades. Also not stated in the report was the spinnerbait weight. Clunn did say that he added a weight to the hook shaft and that the overall weight of the bait was over 1-ounce.
This would be Rick Clunn’s first of four Bassmaster Classic wins and was the beginning of his reign of terror on the circuit. It was also the beginning of a career that would make him the winner of ESPN’s Greatest Angler Debate in 2005.
For the final standings of the 1976 Bassmaster Classic, see the table below.
|Rick Clunn, TX|
|Bo Dowden, LA|
|Ricky Green, AR|
|Billy Phillips, TN|
|Tommy Martin, TX|
|Paul Chamblee, NC|
|Bill Dance, TN|
|Jimmy Houston, OK|
|Billy Westmorland, TN|
|Gary Wade, NC|
|Doug Odom, SC|
|Charlie Campbell, MO|
|Basil Bacon, MO|
|Rayo Breckenridge, AR|
|Wade Reed, LA|
|Jerry Rhyne, NC|
|Willard Moore, LA|
|Don Mann, AL|
|Jack Chancellor, AL|
|Loyd McEntire, IN|
|Roger Moore, MO|
|Bill Ward, MO|
|Johnny Morris, MO|
|Jack Hains, LA|
|Greg Ward, MO|