The Big Question: The Classic or the AOY Award?

1979 AOY Winner Roland Martin. Photo BASSMaster Feb. 1980

You don’t hear it discussed quite as much these days, but over the years, there’s been a lot of discussion over which is more important to a B.A.S.S. pro angler; winning “The Classic” or winning the AOY title. The Classic has always paid better, but many believe the AOY title is more impressive. Pete’s post about Roland’s 3 back-to-back-to-back victories reminded me of a particular incident that occurred back in 1979, and was documented in the pages of the Feb. 1980 BASS Master magazine.

At the time, the author (Owen Taylor) referred to the incident thusly: “Forty or 50 years from now, if they’re still holding THE Classic, pros will sit around after hot days on the lake and tell the cherished tale of Roland Martin and THE bet nobody would take.” Well, here we are more than 3 decades later, and I’m guessing there’s only a handful of guys around who even remember what went down. Here are the details.

Classic press conference time, and Roland Martin was at the microphone answering questions. That’s when writer Bill Tippit, a reporter from Dallas, Texas asked the big question, “which is more important, winning AOY or winning the Classic?” Thus began the big debate. At the time, and as Bill prefaced in his comments before asking the question, Roland had never won the Classic, but he had already amassed 6 AOY titles, was the all-time money winner on the trail (1980), had 8 BASS Masters Classics under his belt, and had a hit with his syndicated and popular fishing show, Fishing With Roland Martin.

Martin’s answer was that Angler-of-the-Year was most important because you had to beat 250 guys over the course of an entire season on numerous lakes across the country. The Classic, on the other hand, was a one-shot deal against 25 guys. Where he really struck a nerve was when he continued on, saying that, “[T]o win a Classic, there’s got to be an element of luck. And to win Angler-of-the-Year, you eliminate that factor.” The key word there was the term “luck”, and rumor has it that, Bobby Murray and Rick Clunn didn’t take too kindly with that assessment – and rightfully so. At that time there were only two 2-time Classic winners – one Bobby Murray (‘71 and ’78) and the other was Rick Clunn who had not only won two but won them back-to-back in ’76 and ’77. They of all anglers would question “luck” as a factor in their Classic successes.

Later at the podium themselves, Murray stated that he “didn’t have the time to pre-fish all the qualifying tournaments like Roland does. Sure, he wins Bass Angler-of-the-Year. He works for that title when the rest of us can’t.” Clunn expressed very similar sentiments.

Then it got interesting at the dinner banquet.

The award for winning Angler-of-the-Year back then was a check for $1,000. When Roland got up and accepted the check for winning that year, he challenged Murray and Clunn to that $1,000 with a bet, announcing, “We’ll see who the best fisherman is.” Word is neither took up the challenge, and by the next day, Roland laughed his comments off, joking that he made them in jest, and that perhaps he should lower the stakes.

Roland never did end up winning a Classic, though he’d go on to win 3 more AOY titles before retiring from the full-time trail in 2006. Bobby Murray never won another one either, retiring from the trail after the 1981 Classic. Rick Clunn would go on to win 2 more Classics (1984, 1990), has now fished in 32 Classics, including a stretch where he qualified for 28 in a row, and won the AOY title in 1988. He’s threatening to make this year’s Classic with just one event remaining…and anglers and writers will continue to debate which is more important (or impressive), winning The Classic, or winning Angler-of-the-Year.

So what do you think is more important?

  • Chad Keogh

    They are both very different. AOY is important to the angler who wins it and the anglers they competed against, but the Classic is a lot more money and will get you much more attention from potential sponsors.


  • There is a very obvious difference among ‘most difficult’, ‘most impressive’ and ‘most important’.

    The classic is more important in that it has the potential to do the most of an angler’s career. In this case, importance is a matter of public perception and sponsor reaction.

    Multiple AOY titles are most impressive, because they show consistent excellence over a number of years.

    Most difficult? Matter of opinion, I guess. The classic is more difficult for Roland, because as good as he is, he hasn’t won it. The AOY is more difficult for Rick because even with 4 classics, he’s only pulled off the aoy once.

  • paul wallace

    Would you rather be MVP of the season or have the Super Bowl ring?? Give me the ring….Or in KVD’s case, give me both. err.. I mean Payton Manning, now I digress…

  • Harold Sharp

    I’ve known Roland Martin for many years, traveled with him doing BASS Seminars for two years and fished with him many times. We had many discussions while traveling on our Bluebird bus and all were about Bass fishing because that’s all Roland would talk about, he did not do sports or politics, just Bass fishing.

    I’ve always believed that the reason Roland never won the BASS Classic was because it was a secret location in the early days and this kept Roland from being prepared for it as he was for all the other tournaments. Most anglers were happy with two or three good places to fish, Roland always wanted 10 to 12 and he could not prepare for the Classic as he could not fish it before the event. He came very close in 1986 when the Classic was on Lake Chickamauga in August because BASS had a regular tournament on Chickamauga in June 1986 and this gave Roland a chance to prepare for the Classic in August. He led the first day but TVA had a weed spraying crew on the lake and they sprayed Roland’s weed bed that afternoon and destroyed his best spot.

    The AOY was a year long tournament against 200 anglers and the Classic was a 3 day event against 25 to 30 anglers, so you could say some of it was luck as several anglers won the Classic, but no other tournaments. Bobby Murray won twice. I always thought Bobby was the best at establishing a pattern on new waters. If he had chosen a tournament career instead of a fishing industry career, he could have been one of the best. Rick Clunn was very good at locating bass quickly. Roland had to spend a lot of time preparing for an event, he wanted to know everything he could about the lake and he could not do that on the early secret Classics.

    Luck plays a big part in Bass Fishing, but you must be in the right place at the right time and know what to do with luck when it happens. The AOY and the Classic Winner must know what they are doing to achieve either title. You must qualify for the Classic and you must beat everyone at years end to be AOY.

  • erick prado

    I lean slightly toward AOY but ever so slight. you really cant compare it any sport like Baseball or footbal where the main goal is THE championship eg. World series, super bowl…in bass fishing to be consistant is a key to succes and for that reason alone is why i go for AOY…as for the classic stanly mitchell won a classic bet most guys now dont know who he is…same for jack chancler(sp) all the great have at least 1 AOY toward them and they all word ther butts off to do so..aint nothing easy about winning AOY when you competet aginst a full feild

  • Jeff Derrick

    Fishing is composed of Luck and Skill…..the more you have of one, the less you need of the other. (original quote) Jeff