Season at a Glance: The 1976 Bassmaster Trail – Part One

Bassmaster Tournament Trail advertisement from 1976. March/April Bassmaster Magazine.

Bassmaster Tournament Trail advertisement from 1976. March/April Bassmaster Magazine.

[Editor’s note: This is Part One of a three-part series on the 1976 Bassmaster tournament trail. Part One will cover the first half of the season, Part Two will cover the second half and Part Three will cover the 1976 Bassmaster Classic. Also to be included are the 1976 Federation Championship and a look into the Classic contenders.]

The announcement of the 1976 Bassmaster Tournament Trail was given first in the November/December issue of Bassmaster Magazine and was touted as being the biggest ever with over $400,000 in prizes – the biggest payout in B.A.S.S. history. To start out, there would be six qualifying tournaments that would feature $50,000 in prizes and money paid out plus another $50,000 dedicated to the Federation and another $50,000 towards the year-end Bassmaster Classic. Extra money would be put towards the Bass Research Foundation to take to 1976 total over the $400K mark.

Ray Scott revealed the 1976 Tournament Trail in the 1975 November/December issue of Bassmaster Magazine touting it as the biggest payout ever - which it was.

Ray Scott revealed the 1976 Tournament Trail in the 1975 November/December issue of Bassmaster Magazine touting it as the biggest payout ever – which it was.

The 1975 season added a new concept in bass tournament fishing – a one-day fly rod tournament that anglers could choose to participate in or not. The advantage that the fly rod event gave was an extra day of practice and also much needed points towards Classic qualification. Because of this, most anglers grudgingly fished the fly rod events. For the 1976 season, though, the fly rod competition was discontinued, probably due to complaints from the anglers.

The ’76 season would feature six qualifying events throughout the south. As with the past four years, the trail would start out in Florida on the St. Johns River. Here’s the list of events:

  • Florida Invitational: January 28-30, St. Johns River, Welatka, FL
  • Louisiana Invitational: February 25-27, Toledo Bend, Zwolle, LA
  • South Carolina Invitational: May 12-14, Santee-Cooper, Summerton, SC
  • Virginia Invitational: June 9-11, Buggs Island, Clarksville, VA
  • Tennessee Invitational: July 21-23, Cordell Hull, Gainesboro, TN
  • All-American: September 22-24, Bull Shoals, AR

Also included in the schedule were the Bassmaster Chapter Championship slated to be fished September 8-10 at a place to be determined and the Bassmaster Classic October 20-22 that would be announced on October 18th.

From the schedule it seemed as if the folks at B.A.S.S. had become somewhat happy with prior years’ event locations. Five of the events were to be held on previous Bassmaster tournament venues with only one new venue – Cordell Hull in Tennessee.

Manuel Spencer hugs his wife and his 1st-place trophy for winning the Florida Invitational. Photo 1976 May/June issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

Manuel Spencer hugs his wife and his 1st-place trophy for winning the Florida Invitational. Photo 1976 May/June issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

Florida Invitational – Finesse Wins but not Westmorland

For the two prior years that B.A.S.S. opened the year in Florida, Billy Westmorland won the St. Johns River events. This year would be a change or pace, though.

A cold front took air temperatures down below the freezing mark on the final practice day and scattered many of the fish that had moved shallow to begin their yearly ritual. Also hampering the anglers was the weed growth that had taken over the Rodman Pool.

Although most of the 250 anglers found the Florida Invitational difficult at best, as usual, one angler was able to figure out the tactics needed to win. That angler was Manuel Spencer a local from Palatka.

Spencer not only won the event he ran away with it on the first day of competition. His first-day nine bass totaled 30-13, six ounces more than second-place angler Bill Ward would weigh in three days.

On the second day Spencer had nothing in the livewell until noon when he found a 10-yard stretch of water and boated six fish that went 18-06 in “10 or 15 minutes.” The last day of competition wouldn’t be as easy, though.

Spencer dipping his long spinning rod rigged with a crappie jig in the Rodman Pool weeds. Photo 1976 May/June issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

Spencer dipping his long spinning rod rigged with a crappie jig in the Rodman Pool weeds. Photo 1976 May/June issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

Spencer had two fish in the well when he was approached by the camera boat. After a while with no action he offered to hook one of his a fish, a 2-pounder, on his line so they could film him. As he hoked the fish to his line and swung it over the gunwale, the line broke. That left him with only one 3-pound fish to weigh. To add insult to injury, Spencer missed the Rodman lock and was docked another 10 ounces for being late. His lone 3-pounder was all he weighed on the final day.

Spencer caught all of his fish for the event fishing what would be considered finesse tactics, but with a twist. He used a long spinning rod with a spinning reel and 10-pound line to dip a 1/6-ounce crappie jig into the floating weed mats. It was the second time a B.A.S.S. event had been won on a long rod without utilizing the reel to cast. The first, of course, was the 1975 event at Bull Shoals where Dee Thomas had introduced the world to his Flipping technique.

Bass Buster Lures General Manager Bill Ward received 2nd-place honors by fishing the cuts adjacent to the Rodman lock. His pattern involved waiting for the lock to open and then concentrated on current breaks with a black or purple Bass Buster Slinky worm. He weighed 21 fish (30-7) over the course of three days.

Third place went to Missouri angler Roger Moore with 29-06 (11 fish) and 4th place was taken by Bo Dowden (LA) with 27-04 (18 fish). Rounding out the top 5 was Bill Dance with 11 bass that weighed 26-06.

The event totals were 900 bass that weighed 1609-14 – half of what was weighed the previous year. Only two ten-bass limits were weighed. To give an idea how tough the event was Roland Martin and Tom Mann finished below 50th place and didn’t receive any AOY points.

Big fish for the event went to Connie Baker (SC) with a 9-05 largemouth.

Below is the top-35 list from the event.

1976 Florida Invitational St Johns River Final Standings
Place
Angler, State
Weight, lbs-oz
1
Manuel Spencer. FL
51-04
2
Bill Ward, MO
30-07
3
Roger Moore, MO
29-06
4
Bo Dowden, LA
27-04
5
Bill Dance, TN
26-06
6
Billy Primos, MS
26-03
7
Billy Westmorland, TN
24-15
8
Don Norton, MS
24-07
9
Jack Hains, LA
24-02
10
Jimmy Houston, OK
23-15
11
Pat Jeffries, IA
20-06
12
Don Mann, AL
20-02
13
Tommy Martin, TX
18-15
14
Jimmy Harris, MS
18-14
15
Greg Ward, MO
18-06
16
Jerry Rhoton, OK
18-04
17
Forrest Wood, AR
17-12
18
James Bryce, TX
17-11
19
Bobby Wilson, SC
17-10
20
Mike Moore, FL
17-09
21
George Hoffman, MI
17-06
22
Glin Wells, TN
17-05
23
Bill Beardon, GA
17-00
24
Jim Bryan, AR
16-11
25
Gary Wade, NC
16-09
26
Dan Muckler, MO
16-07
27
Willard Moore, LA
16-06
28
Bill Vanderford, GA
15-10
29
Jimmy Harshaw, GA
15-08
30
Tournay Edwards, AL
15-05
31
Rayo Breckenridge, AR
14-10
32
Ernest Neil, MS
14-07
33
Jack Patterson, TX
14-06
34
Arnold Libby, MN
14-04
35
Al Lindner, MN
14-03
Jim McKay explains how he won the Louisiana Invitational as Ray Scott holds his 1st-place trophy.

Jim McKay explains how he won the Louisiana Invitational as Ray Scott holds his 1st-place trophy.

Louisiana Invitational – Science Takes Top Two Places

For the second time in two events a full field of 250 anglers would fish for cash, prizes and points towards the year-end Bassmaster Classic. After coming off a less-then-stellar Florida opener, anglers were excited to fish the Louisiana/Texas border lake and slap down some redemption on the fish. This time, the bass cooperated.

The second stop not only provided top-notch bass fishing but also a new total weight record for a B.A.S.S.-sanctioned tournament. A total of 3,482 bass were weighed in over the course of three days that dropped the scales to a record-breaking 6,257-01 – 500 pounds more than the previous record of 5,725-09 weighed in 1974 at nearby Sam Rayburn. It’s no wonder that the Texas lakes were gaining such notoriety with bass anglers nationwide.

The phenomenal catches weren’t the only thing that garnered attention, though. Science and technology was given as the reason for the first and second place spots and the world would soon hear about it.

Although the winning weight wasn’t close to the 3-day 10-fish limit record the way in which it was caught was of great interest. Jim McKay (MS), who led the event after two days, relied on crankbaits, a Deep Humper and a Balsa B. His second-day limit that weighed 25-06 was caught in less than 90 minutes. He told B.A.S.S. staff at the weigh-in that, “I moved off the hole early, and I hope saved enough fish to win it tomorrow.”

Even though he moved off, one of the worst things in tournament fishing happened. Here’s how it was reported in the 1976 May/June issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

“The hole had yielded over 58 pounds in two days, when McKay made his last tie-up in the finals. For a few minutes, it was a repeat of the previous stops. McKay boated four nice largemouths. Then, the action stopped. This wasn’t unusual. McKay reasoned the fish had moved up the road bed and would return.“He kept casting into the hotspot without a tap. Then a boat approached. Two local anglers – not entered in the tournament – came into the area and stopped. They remarked to McKay, ‘Say buddy, you sure got a good fishin’ hole here. After you left yesterday, we caught 29 bass up to 7 -1/2-pounds.’”

McKay’s hole had been seined dry.

This left him with only one thing to do – go find fish elsewhere.

His partner for the day, Bill Cook a local who was in the 14th spot, took him to a couple places. The first spot didn’t pan out and by the time they settled at the second place, McKay knew it had to happen there or he’d lose. Instead of picking up his crankbait rod, he picked up his worm rod rigged with the newly designed Rebel Ringworm. In short time he put four more bass in the boat including fish that weighed 6, 5 and 4 1/2 pounds. His total weight for the day would end up being 20-07 giving him a total of 78-09 (28 fish) and his first Bassmaster win.

Although he’d caught over 58 pounds of bass with a crankbait, it was his worm choice that got all the credit for his win. The new Rebel Ringworm offered something no other worm at the time could offer. Here are some of the comments made in Bassmaster Magazine.

“And for plastic worm fishermen a completely new concept in soft artificial wigglers is only beginning. Until the new ‘Sonic’ worm’s introduction, the predominant design changes in squirm baits have been concentrated in the tail-section. This new worm, however, features a drastically-modified body composed of a series of discs beginning immediately behind the head and tapering to just in front of the tail.

“When pulled through the water, the thin and highly flexible rings, which are spaced about 1/8-inch apart, generate sound frequencies within a bass’ hearing range. This auditory characteristic was verified recently by scientists at two major universities. Their findings further indicated that several other well-known worms create no noise when dragged underwater.”

Second-place angler and veteran Bassmaster from Tennessee, Dave Hilton, was also in the limelight for what he caught his fish with. In his case, though, it wasn’t his lure but his rod. Hilton, who wasn’t even in the top 20 prior to the final day, credited his day-3 limit of 40-09 to a graphite rod.

By 1976 graphite fishing rod technology had been around for only about 2 years. There were only two companies making the composite rods at the time and they were quite costly. Still Hilton was using them and thankfully so.

“My partner (Kenny Dyess) had a fiberglass rod and couldn’t sense the light bites,” said Hilton. All of Hilton’s fish were caught on a Roger’s black hair jig with a 3-inch plastic worm trailer. He caught his fish in 20 to 30 feet of water off of ledges. His total weight for three days was 70-14 (22 fish).

Dyess ended up weighing five bass for 20-05 alongside Hilton.

Third place went to defending champion Marvin Baker (TX) with 26 bass that weighed 65-10. The 4th-place spot went to Wesley Fredieu (LA) with 29 bass for 58-04 and Jimmy Houston (OK) rounded out the top 5 with 29 bass that tipped the scales to 57-02.

Ray Lloyd (LA) received big fish honers with an 8-12 largemouth caught an a black Rogers jig and eel combination.

The top 35 is presented below.

1976 Louisiana Invitational Final Standings
Place
Angler, State
Weight, lbs-oz
1
Jim McKay, MS
78-09
2
Dave Hilton, TN
70-14
3
Marvin Baker, TX
65-10
4
Wesley Fredieu, LA
58-04
5
Jimmy Houston, OK
57-02
6
Freddie Grant, TX
57-00
7
Roger Moore, MO
56-13
8
Tommy Martin, TX
55-06
9
Wayne McElveen, LA
54-12
10
Teemie Landry, LA
54-05
11
Al Lindner, MN
54-02
12
Loyd McEntire, IN
54-00
13
Jack Chancellor, AL
53-03
14
James Joy, KS
52-03
15
Sonny Viola, LA
51-06
16
Pat Bourdreaux, LA
51-02
17
Bill Dance, TN
51-00
18
Willard Moore, LA
51-00
19
Elroy Krueger, TX
49-09
20
Bobby Meador, LA
49-09
21
Bill Cook, TX
49-07
22
Ricky Green, AR
49-05
23
Jerry Brown, LA
48-07
24
Kenny Dyess, LA
48-06
25
Jeff Green, TX
48-04
26
Rick Clunn, TX
48-01
27
Jack Robertson, TX
47-12
28
Bill Ward, MO
46-11
29
Basil Bacon, AR
46-08
30
Bill Bailey, MO
46-06
31
Bevo Rome, LA
44-14
32
Wade Reed, LA
44-09
33
Jack Aubert, LA
44-01
34
Johnny Morris, MO
42-10
35
Jim Brackin, LA
42-04
Jimmy Houston is all smiles after winning his first Bassmaster event at Santee-Cooper. Photo 1976 September/October issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

Jimmy Houston is all smiles after winning his first Bassmaster event at Santee-Cooper. Photo 1976 September/October issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

South Carolina Invitational – Houston and Redman Win

The 1976 Bassmaster Trail would be Jimmy Houston’s second full-time season after fishing only a few events between 1968 and 1974. Still, out of the 16 events Houston had fished, he’d placed in the top 10 an amazing six times, including a 5th-place finish at the ’76 Toledo Bend tournament a couple months earlier.

Although Houston had yet to lock a win on the Trail, he’d definitely made himself known to all those competing that he was to be taken seriously on the water. The Santee-Cooper tournament would prove to all involved that he could close a big tournament.

Santee-Cooper’s 171,000 surface acres provides a lot of different water to fish and as usual, anglers can get caught up in the old adage, the grass is always greener. This concept, though, fell on a pair of deaf ears when it came to Houston and his approach to winning the event. According to Bassmaster Magazine, Houston had told his wife Chris before they ever got to the lake that, “[T]he Cow Pasture area owed me a living. I was in eighth place until the final day last year, then almost bombed out in the same area that produced the winning fish this time.”

Houston weighed in a 30-fish 3-day limit that pulled the scales down to 67-05 – all caught on his trademark Redman spinnerbait.

“I catch about 60 percent of my bass on a spinnerbait (a lure called the ‘Redman’ he makes for his own use),” said Houston.

It wouldn’t be long before Houston sold the rights to Bill Norman Lures to manufacture and sell the now-famous spinnerbait.

Houston buzzed the spinnerbait two to three inches deep in water no deeper than 18 inches all week. He also noted that he used a trailer hook and caught nearly his entire final-round limit on the back hook.

Not much else is written on the other anglers other than Doug Odom, who finished in the second spot. Odom, who held the lead after the first day, caught his fish 30 miles away from the host ramp also using spinnerbaits. His 3-day total of 22 bass weighed in at 62-03. If he’d caught more than 2 fish on the final day he would have given Houston a run for his money.

Below is the top-35 after the final round of the South Carolina Invitational along with the top-30 for the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings after three events. For the Bassmaster AOY race, 5 extra points were given each angler for participating in each event they fished. These points do not reflect those bonus points. Also notice some pretty major names missing from the top-35 as of this time. Roland Martin hadn’t even finished in the points by the halfway point and Tom Mann was sitting in 42nd place with two paltry finishes that awarded him points. Rick Clunn was doing better on the bubble in 36th place but far from his standard. Other big sticks that were out of the race by this time were Charlie Campbell (35th), John Powell (48th), Rayo Breckenridge (52nd), Woo Daves (53rd), Johnny Morris (54th), Bobby Meador (55th) and Basil Bacon (73rd).

1976 Bassmaster South Carolina Invitational Santee Cooper
Final Standings
Place
Angler, State
Weight, lbs-oz
1
Jimmy Houston, OK
67-05
2
Doug Odom, SC
62-03
3
Bobby Wilson, SC
53-10
4
Hugh Massey, KY
50-09
5
Freddie Lester, SC
50-02
6
Don Mann, AL
49-09
7
Bill Dance, TN
47-12
8
Carl Harrington, SC
47-00
9
Charlie Campbell, MO
45-05
10
Jerry Rhyne, NC
44-07
11
Jack Hains, LA
44-05
12
Joe Avin, SC
43-06
13
Harold Wilcox, NC
42-15
14
Linwood Thornhill, SC
42-07
15
James Thomas, AL
41-15
16
John Powell, AL
40-12
17
Ricky Green, AR
40-11
18
Woo Daves, VA
40-07
19
Tom Mann, AL
40-01
20
Carey Dukes, SC
39-15
21
Billy Westmorland, TN
39-15
22
James Bryce, TX
39-10
23
Wade Reed, LA
39-02
24
Gary Wade, NC
38-07
25
Joe Pryor, NC
38-06
26
Jack Moore, SC
37-14
27
Willard Moore, LA
37-10
28
Harold Waynick, SC
37-07
29
Tom Shockley, OK
37-00
30
Jack Chancellor, AL
36-10
31
Jerry Rhoton, OK
36-10
32
Glin Wells, TN
36-00
33
Sonny Violo, LA
35-09
34
Rick Clunn, TX
35-05
35
Tommy Martin, TX
35-04
1976 Angler of the Year Race After Three Events
Place
Angler, State
Points
1
Jimmy Houston, OK
137
2
Bill Dance, TN
124
3
Tommy Martin, TX
97
4
Don Mann, AL
95
5
Roger Moore, MO
92
6
Bill Ward, MO
86
7
Jack Hains, LA
82
8
Willard Moore, LA
81
9
Bobby Wilson, SC
80
10
Billy Westmorland, TN
74
11
Bo Dowden, LA
68
12
Dave Hilton, TN
64
13
Ricky Green, AR
63
14
Jack Chancellor, AL
62
14
James Bryce, TX
62
16
Marvin Baker, TX
58
17
Al Lindner, MN
56
18
Jerry Rhoton, OK
55
19
Sonny Violo, LA
54
20
Gary Wade, NC
53
21
Wesley Fredieu, LA
51
22
Jim McKay, MS
50
22
Manuel Spencer, FL
50
24
Doug Odom, SC
49
25
Glin Wells, TN
48
25
Loyd McEntire, IN
48
27
Hugh Massey, KY
47
27
Wade Reed, LA
47
29
Freddie Lester, SC
46
29
Greg Ward, MO
46