[Editor’s Note: This is the fourth story on the 1975 Bassmaster Trail season. To read part one of the 1976 Season at a Glance click here, to read part two click here and to read about the Federation National event click here.]
The 1976 Bassmaster Classic and its contenders have a lot of interesting history packed into it. For one, there were four 5-time Classic contenders, one 4-time contenders, five 3-time contenders and seven 2-time contenders. To say the field was stacked would be an understatement. That’s 17 out of 25 anglers, or 68% of the 1976 Classic contenders had Classic experience.
As amazing it was for so many past-Classic anglers to qualify, it was just as amazing who didn’t qualify. For example, Roland Martin, who’d made every (5) Classic since its inception, missed qualification by 6 points and finished in the 26th spot. The other 5-time qualifier who didn’t make it was Tom Mann who finished in 38th place.
There were also two 4-time qualifiers who didn’t make the cut, those being John Powell (31st place) and Glin Wells 35th place. Other mutli-Classic qualifiers who didn’t make the show were Al Lindner, Don Norton, Hugh Massey and Forrest Wood, all 2-time qualifiers.
This year Bassmaster didn’t publish bios for the 1976 Classic contenders as they had in the past (or they published a Classic Report magazine that I don’t have) so we’ll have to make do with some older pictures and my words. Pictures are from Bassmaster Magazine unless noted otherwise.
In his second full-time season as a Bassmaster pro, Jimmy Houston made it known he was a contender. Although he and Roger Moore had a pretty decent battle for the AOY points race, it was Houston who made a run the last two events and garnered his first AOY trophy. 1976 would be his second Classic (1975 and ’76) and he would go on to fish 13 more in a career which hasn’t ended.
Hains, much like Houston, hit the trail running in 1975 and the 1976 tournament season was no different. Hains led the AOY race halfway through the season but in the fourth event fell behind Roger Moore. In the end, he’d acquire enough points to place second in the AOY race and also qualify for his second straight Bassmaster Classic.
Roger Moore was in the driver’s seat for the AOY award for about half of the ’76 season but his shot at the year-end crown would fall short. His not finishing in the point the last event of the season at Bull Shoals dashed his chance for the coveted award. Still he made his third Classic in a row, a feat held by only a handful of competitors at this time.
If not for missing the 1971 tournament year, Bill Dance would probably be fishing his sixth Classic at Lake Guntersville. Dance, at the time, was one of the hottest sticks in the sport continually duking it out with tom Mann and Roland Martin for the AOY trophy. Although TV would start to take over his number-one priority in the near future, Dance would still make three more Classics fropm 1977 to ’79, after which he hung up his competitive career to focus entirely on his television show, Bill Dance Outdoors.
(5) Doug Odom – Orangeburg, SC, First-time Classic Qualifier [No Picture]
Doug Odom only fished four events in the ’76 season but he made them count. At his first event at Santee-Cooper he placed second and that started his momentum to place fifth in the ’76 AOY standings. His other finishes were 9th at Buggs Island, 21st at Cordell Hull and 18th at Bull Shoals. This was his first Classic appearance and he would qualify again the following year.
Ricky Green was the second of four 5-time Classic qualifiers. Having not fished the ’71 season, there would have been no way for him to make this his sixth straight qualification yet it would make him tied for the most consecutive qualifications along with five other anglers, Roland Martin, Tom Mann, Bill Dance, Billy Westmorland and Johnny Morris. Green would go on to qualify for nine more Classic – all in a row.
This would be the second straight year Bill Ward, son of Virgil Ward, would qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. Not only that, it would be the second year in a row that he and his son Greg would fish the Super Bowl of professional fishing. Ward, mostly known as a lure manufacturer and son of famed Virgil Ward was quickly making a name for himself as a competitive bass angler.
(8) Tommy Martin – Hemphill, TX, 3-time Classic Qualifier
The year 1976 would mark Tommy Martin’s third Classic in a row but he was also the reigning 1974 Classic winner as a rookie. He’d fishing in the points four out of six events in ’76, and that gave him enough to qualify for the Classic in the 8th spot.
Rick Clunn, after committing to professional bass fishing, made it his number-one goal each year to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic each year. He felt that AOY was good but more important was to win the Classic early on in your career, as it was the event which could make or break an angler. It’s hard to argue with him as he made winning the Classic a career, having won four of them from 1976 through 1990. He holds the record for most Classic Qualified for in a row (28 from 1974 to 2001) and has fished a total of 32 Classics over his long career. In 1976, Clunn made the top-10 in three of six events.
(10) Gary Wade – Greensboro, NC, First-time Classic Qualifier [No Picture]
Gary Wade fished five of six events in the ’76 season and garnered enough points to finish 10th in the AOY race and qualify for his first Classic. Although he finished “middle of the pack” in points for three of those events, his second-place finish at Cordell Hull is what got him to the big show. Wade would go on to qualify for the 1978 Classic held at Ross Barnett.
Villis “Bo” Dowden let folks know early on that he was there to compete and by the end of the 1976 season, he’d qualified for his third straight Classic in only three years on the Trail. Dowden would go on to qualify for 11 more Classics through 1997 and win one in 1980 at the St. Lawrence River.
In 1976 Billy Westmorland would finish in the top-10 two times, his best finish being third at the Cordell Hull event in his home state of Tennessee. He would be one of the six Bassmaster anglers to have qualified for five Classics in a row – having only missed the 1971 Classic.
There’s a general rule out there that tackle shop owners catch all their fish in the tackle shop – not on the water. Johnny Morris, though, broke that mold into pieces. Morris could not only sell tackle but he could catch fish – and catch them when it counted. Also one of the six anglers to qualify for five straight Classics Morris placed in the top-15 in two of the ’76 seasons events.
Charlie Campbell made it to his first Classic via the Bassmaster Chapter Championship in 1974 and although he continued to fish the Federation, this year he qualified on Bassmaster Trail points alone. Known as the guy who brough the Zara Spook back from death, Campbell would go on to fish three more Classics.
Greg Ward, son of Bill Ward would be fishing his second straight Classic having qualified again with his father. Ward finished the year with one top-10 finish and two other top-20 finishes. It would also be the second time that a father and son duo would fish a Classic together. When he qualified for his first Classic in 1975 he was the youngest angler ever to qualify for the sport’s number-one event. That record still stands today.
Loyd McEntire proved that you don’t have to live in the south in order to know how to catch bass. 1976 would be his second straight Classic qualification and a chance to bring the bling home to Indianapolis, Indiana. He finished in the points five times in 1976 – his highest finish a 7th place at Buggs Island.
(17) Willard Moore – Shreveport, LA, First-time Classic Qualifier [No Picture]
This was Willard Moore’s second year on the Bassmaster Trail and it seems for him it was much better than his freshman year. Moore qualified for the Classic by finishing in the points five out of six events never finishing higher than 17th place. Still consistency always pays off.
(18) Jack Chancellor – Phenix City, LA, First-time Classic Qualifier [No Picture]
The 1976 tournament season was Jack Chancellor’s first crack at the Bassmaster Trail and he made the most of it by qualifying for the Classic his first year. Chancellor finished in the points in every event with his top finish a 13th place at Toledo Bend. Chancellor would fish six more Classics and also win one at the Arkansas River in 1985.
The year 1976 would mark the second year in a row that Don Mann would fish the Bassmaster Classic. If not for his brother’s (Tom) poor performance that same year, it would have been the second time the brother duo fished the Classic at the same time. Mann would go on to fish the ’77 season but after that his appearance on the trail was mnimal.
After winning his first Classic the first time he qualified in 1973, Rayo Breckenridge seemed to be a sure fit for the event every year. This year was no exception as he qualified for his fourth straight Classic. Breckenridge made the points in four of six events with his highest finish being sixth place at Buggs Island.
Wade Reed only fished four of the six qualifying event in the ’76 season but he made them all count – finishing in the points in each event and winning the fifth event at Cordell Hull. Unfortunately after that Reed would only fish two more Bassmaster events, both in 1977.
(22) Jerry Rhyne – Stanley, NC, First-time Classic Qualifier [No Picture]
Another Bassmaster rookie, Jerry Rhyne had only fished two other Bassmaster events prior to the 1976 season, both in 1974. The first event was the federation Chapter Championship held at Table Rock Lake and the second the 1974 All-American held on Clarks Hill Reservoir. This year, though, he fished four of the six events and put together enough points to make it to his first Classic. Over the following years, Rhyne would fish 10 more Classic and place in the top-10 17 times.
(23) Basil Bacon – Rolla, MO, First-time Classic Qualifier
Basil Bacon took a shot at fishing the Bassmaster Trail during the 1974 season, fishing 5 out of the six events possible. Un fortunately he finished in the points only one time. A star on the BCA and PSI tournament circuits, he decided to give it another shot in 1976 and made his first of nine Classic appearances. Over the ’76 season he made the points in three of six events but his highest finish was a second place at final event of the season at Bull Shoals. This season would start off a career that would span 4 decades and make him a household name with anyone who followed the sport.
From his first full year (1974) on the Bassmaster Trail, Paul Chamblee was a show-in to make the Classic. This year probably didn’t pan out the way he wanted, though, as Chamblee barely squeaked in to the event by finishing in the points in four of six tournaments. What really sealed his fate, though, was his 8th-place finish at Buggs Island. If not for that event, he would have succumbed to either Woo Daves or Roland Martin.
Billy Phillips would make the Classic via the B.A.S.S. Federation Chapter Championship and would become the fourth angler to do so. Phillips would qualify by being the number-one angler on the winning Tennessee team just a month earlier at Lake Texoma.
Part five of the 1976 Season at a Glance will give a breakdown of the 1976 Bassmaster Classic held on Lake Guntersville, AL. The event would become known for two reasons, who won it and how much weight the winner compiled over three days of competition.