The Bassmaster Classic – 1981 through 1990

In 1981 Stanley Mitchell became the youngest angler to win a Bassmaster Classic. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

In 1981 Stanley Mitchell became the youngest angler to win a Bassmaster Classic. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

Yesterday we posted the first piece of this look back in Bassmaster Classic history – starting with the very first Classic held on Lake Mead, NV and ending with Classic X on the St. Lawrence River, NY. Today we continue with Classic XI and will move through Classic XX held in 1990.

1981: Bassmaster Classic XI – Lake Montgomery, AL

The second decade of the Bassmaster Classic started off in the hometown of B.A.S.S., Montgomery, AL. Forty-two anglers, including five from the Federation, would vie for the championship, including 21-year-old Stanley Mitchell of Fitzgerald, GA. Mitchell, the youngest angler to compete in Classic XI would not only claim that fact, he’d also become the youngest angler to ever win a Bassmaster Classic.

Although Mitchell won the event wire-to-wire, the third time in the event’s history, it wasn’t an easy go for the young pro. On his heals all three days were anglers such as Rick Clunn, Harold Allen and Jack Chancellor.

Mitchell weighed a total of 15 fish over the course of three days for a total of 35-02, beating out 2nd-place angler Allen who weighed in 34-03. Jack Chancellor and Rick Clunn took 3rd and 4th places respectively with 29-02 and 21-11. Ray Meredith finished out the top 5 with a total of 20-06.

Mitchell primarily relied on a Bomber Model A crankbait (clear with black back) for his win but also used a 5/8-ounce Krocodile spoon for a number of his fish. He would throw the crankbait up shallow on main-lake points and the fish would eat it when it hit about the 10-foot depth. He fished the spoon in the same manner.

Paul Elias introduced his kneeling and reeling technique with his 1982 Classic win. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

Paul Elias introduced his kneeling and reeling technique with his 1982 Classic win. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

1982: Bassmaster Classic XII – Alabama River, AL

For the second year in a row the Bassmaster Classic would be held in the hometown of B.A.S.S., Montgomery, AL. But in this installment the playing field was widened beyond that of Lake Montgomery to include more of the river.

Classic XII would become known as the event that opened the bass fishing world’s eyes to kneeing and reeling – a la Paul Elias. Although Elias won the event, there were different leaders each day – Billy Noah (day 1) and 1980 Classic winner Bo Dowden (day 2).

Dowden and Elias actually found the same fish in practice and worked out an agreement for the tournament – Dowden would fish the ridge on upper end of a trot-line snagged turtle, Elias on the downstream side.

The final day of the event, Elias had a first-flight draw and by the time Dowden (third flight) got down there, Elias already had four fish in the well. Dowden relinquished the water and went on to find greener pastures.

Elias won the event with a total of 32-08, beating out 2nd-place Jack Chancellor who weighed a total of 24-08. Dowden, who never found those greener pastures, placed third with 23-03 and Ronnie Young took the fourth spot with 22-14. Bill Ward, son of the famous Virgil Ward, placed 5th with 21-08.
Elias relied on the Norman Deep Little N and Bagley’s Diving B IIs and IIIs for his win.

in 1983, Larry Nixon not only took home the Classic trophy but also the lowest winning weight in the history of the Bassmaster Classic. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

in 1983, Larry Nixon not only took home the Classic trophy but also the lowest winning weight in the history of the Bassmaster Classic. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

1983: Bassmaster Classic XIII – The Ohio River, OH

Those anglers who fished the 1977 Classic on Lake Toho thought they knew what a tough event was, including Larry Nixon who placed second with 25-11. But if someone had asked Nixon if he could imagine winning a Classic with 18-01, I bet his answer would have been a little more than, “no.”

That’s exactly what happened in August of 1983 when B.A.S.S. switched the Classic schedule from an autumn (October) event to a late summer (August) event. But the switch from autumn to summer wasn’t the only reason for the low weights posted – the other variable in the mix was an awful fishery, the Ohio River out of Cincinnati.

Nixon started the event off in third place with 6 fish (a limit) that weighed 7 pounds. He trailed leaders Ricky Green (8-04) and Harold Allen (7-09). On the second day, though, Nixon took the lead and never looked back. His 3-day total ended up being 18-01, beating out Ricky Green (17-07) by 10 ounces. Randy Fite placed third with 16-05 and Kenneth Walker (11-09) and Harold Allen (11-03) finished in fourth and fifth respectively.

Nixon caught his fish on a white spinnerbait and a 5-inch black/blue Gatortail worm rigged with 14-pound line and a 3/16-ounce worm weight.

Rick Clunn moved to the head of the Classic Winner pack when he won his third Classic in 1984. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

Rick Clunn moved to the head of the Classic Winner pack when he won his third Classic in 1984. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

1984: Bassmaster Classic XIV – Arkansas River, AR

When it came down to the Classic in the first two decades of the event, there weren’t any equivalents to Rick Clunn. He dominated the event and in the first 10 Classic he fished, he’d won two, and finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th in others. In fact, Clunn’s nickname had become Mr. October (for the month the Classic was normally held). In 1984, though, he’d prove that he was also Mr. August.

Classic XIV would be Clunn’s third Classic win, this time on the Arkansas River out of Pine Bluff, AR. He would not only become the angler with the most Classic wins, he’d break his own Classic weight record with a 3-day total of 75-09.

Not only was the record 3-day weight limit broken, the record for the total weight and number of fish weighed overall was broken, 462 bass weighing 930-04.

Clunn did his damage averaging 25 pounds a day for three straight days, He found the glory hole in Slack Water Harbor three miles from the launch and liked what it had to offer, but more so what it didn’t appear to offer.

The most well-known creeks and bays all had the same thing going for them – visible cover and a reputation. Slack Water, on the other hand, was a known water ski harbor and had limited, at best, visible cover. The biggest thing is had going for it was big fish.

Clunn caught all his fish that week on Bomber Model 6A and 7A crankbaits along with a Rapala Shad Rap and Ditto worm.

Greg South was the only angler to give him any sort of competition and weighed in 50-01 for second place. Hank Parker, came in 3rd place with 43-02 and Denny Brauer finished in fourth with 35-13. Larry Lazoen finished out the top 5 with 34-08.

Jack Chancellor finally won at the 1985 Classic after a couple close calls. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

Jack Chancellor finally won at the 1985 Classic after a couple close calls. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

1985: Bassmaster Classic XV – Arkansas River, AR

After the record-breaking 1984 Classic out of Pine Bluff, AR, high hopes were held for the 1985 version, also to be fished on the same venue. Eyes would again be on Rick Clunn for another repeat, which probably helped eventual winner, Jack Chancellor.

Chancellor, who weighed in 45-pound of fish for the win, wasn’t even a blip on the Vegas odds card prior to the event, even though he nearly won the ’81 Classic on the Alabama River and was a known river expert. In fact, Chancellor would utilize the same technique and bait on the Arkansas River that nearly netted him the win a few years earlier.

The opening round found Gary Klein in the lead with Chancellor in second. By the second day Klein’s fish had dried up and Chancellor took over the lead by more than 11 pounds. Chancellor’s third day, although not as fruitful as his 19-10 second-day bag, brought in five more bass for 8-08 and the win over Tommy Martin by 5-01.

Martin’s 3-day total was 39-15, which was more than five pounds heavier than George Cochran’s 34-06 total for 3rd place. Steve Daniel placed fourth with 33-04 and Gary Klein rounded out the top 5 with 32-10.

Chancellor’s fish all came on his now famous Do-Nothing worm fished off of river points. He’d cast his bait up into four feet of water and hop it down the ledge that fell into 30 feet of water.

Charlie Reed outlasted 41 other anglers to win in 1986. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

Charlie Reed outlasted 41 other anglers to win in 1986. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

1986: Bassmaster Classic XVI – Chickamauga and Nickajack Lakes, TN

Schedule a Classic and odds are you’re in for a tough event (look at the weather this week for example). Historically if an angler can average 15 pounds a day, they’re pretty much guaranteed a Classic win. Anglers in Classic XVI would have been all in to have just 8 pounds per day – Chicka-Jack was that bad.

But the oldest, and maybe the wisest, angler, Charlie Reed, in the Classic XVI field didn’t let the low weights pull him down. Instead, he concentrated on what he knew was working and amassed a 3-day limit (21 fish) of 23-13 to pull off the Classic win.

In second place was Federation angler Danny Correia who weighed in 22-12. Correia was the first Federation angler to make a run at the Classic title. Woo Daves took the third position with 22-08 and Gary Klein held down the fourth spot with 22-01. David Yarbrough rounded out the top 5 with 20-14.

Reed found his winning fish relating to a channel edge that held grass earlier in the year. He fished a 6-mich Toledo Tackle worm all three days and on the final day, with 7 fish in the well, he took some advice from fellow competitor and Federation angler Harold Sanders and culled up his limit with a Bagley’s DB3 crankbait.

In 1987, George Cochran won the title and took the record for lowest winning Classic weight away from Larry Nixon. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

In 1987, George Cochran won the title and took the record for lowest winning Classic weight away from Larry Nixon. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

1987: Bassmaster Classic XVII – Ohio River, KY

After the 1983 and ‘86 Classics no one would think Classic fishing could be worse. That was until B.A.S.S. rescheduled the 17th Classic back on the Ohio River, this time out of Louisville, KY. Record keepers should have known to sharpen their pencils and take notes as not only was the 3-day low weight record smashed, the boat-gas consumption record for anglers would also be shattered with many anglers traveling over 100 miles one way to fish their water.

Still, no matter how little weight it takes, someone wins, and this year George Cochran would claim the title with 15-05. The 2nd-place angler was none other than Rick Clunn who weighed 12-13. This finish would give him seven top-5 finishes in 14 Classic appearances. Guy Eaker, the first-round leader, ended up in the 3rd spot with 12-02. Larry Nixon and Paul Elias took the 4th and 5th spots with 11-07 and 10-14, respectively.

Cochran, unlike many of the others, decided it best to stay put and concentrate on fishing more hours rather than chance the run. His gamble paid off. The baits that garnered him the win were a Strike Kind Diamondback spinnerbait and 5-inch Gatortail worm in black grape.

Corchran’s record for the lightest 3-day total Classic winning weight would stand until 2005 when Bassmaster headed to the Three Rivers, which, you guessed it, also included the Ohio River.

Guido Hibdon won the first James River Classic in 1988. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

Guido Hibdon won the first James River Classic in 1988. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

1988: Bassmaster Classic XVIII – James River, VA

Another Classic another river – this time hopefully it would fare better for the anglers than the Ohio. Classic XVIII held on the James River would have 42 of the best anglers in the nation competing for the only spot valued in Classic competition – number-1.

But the bass of the James would also prove to be elusive. After three days of competition, Guido Hibdon would be crowned the winner with a total of 28-08. He beat out James River local, Woo Daves by six ounces. Ken Cook finished in 3rd place with a total of 27-04 and Paul Elias finished in 4th place with 26-01. Tommy Martin, fishing in his 14th Classic, took the fifth spot with 25-07.

Hibdon led the first day of competition but fell to 5th place on the second day. But at the end of that day he saw something, fish slashing bait as he was heading to the weigh-in, that would help him seal the deal. On the final day of competition Hibdon went back to the same area and proceeded to win the event. His main bait the first two days was a Guido Bug fished on a Stanley jig. All his fish on the last day came on a spinnerbait.

Hank Parker won a bittersweet victory in his second Classic title at James River II. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

Hank Parker won a bittersweet victory in his second Classic title at James River II. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

1989: Bassmaster Classic XIX – James River, VA

Although Hank Parker will always be the winner of Classic XIX, most people will remember it as the Classic that Jim Bitter lost. On the last day of competition, Bitter had the winning fish in the boat but after unhooking it he dropped the fish, it hit his tackle box and bounced back in the water. Bitter lost to Parker by a mere 2 ounces. We’ve all seen the video on Bassmaster TV – it hurts to watch it to this day.

Bitter led the first two days of the event with10 fish that pushed the scales to 24-13 and gave him a 5-pound lead over Rob Kilby. Parker sat in the 8th position 16-14.

On the final day Parker caught a 14-pound limit that could put him in contention for the win – assuming Bitter’s day wasn’t as good as the prior days – it wasn’t by a longshot.

Parker fished Hawg Caller spinnerbaits along laydowns in Gunns Run for the win while Bitter fished blades, worms and cranks.

Parker’s 3-day total was 31-06 while Bitter weighed in a total of 31-04. Rob Kilby finished in 3rd place with 30-10 and Guido Hibdon took fourth with 27-13. Woo Daves, again the favorite, placed 5th with 26-10.

Rick Clunn proves he's super human by winning his fourth Classic at James River III in 1990. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

Rick Clunn proves he’s super human by winning his fourth Classic at James River III in 1990. Photo Bassmaster Magazine.

1990: Bassmaster Classic XX – James River, VA

If you’re thinking this is becoming like the movie Ground Hog Day, you’re partly right. B.A.S.S. went to the James River three times in three years but the only déjà vu here is with the venue – and the eventual winner.

After the first day had come to a close, Tommy Biffle was in the lead with 15-09, nearly 4 pounds more than 2nd-place angler Guido Hibdon. Biffle maintained his lead through the second day with a total of 25-08 and now 6 pounds over Hibdon. But the third day will always be remembered as a record setter – in more than one way.

Rick Clunn, who started the event in 14th place, began the last day in the 10th spot with a total of 15-14. What would happen on day three would become legend – part of Rick Clunn’s legend.

At the 1988 Classic on the James, Clunn had discovered a crank bite in the lower James. The problem was the crank he was using, a Poe’s RC3, fished too deep and would dig into the bottom on low tide, when the fish were most active. After that event, he went back to Poe’s and started designing what would become the RC1 – the shallow version of the RC3.

In 1989, due to weather, Clunn couldn’t reach his area until the final day, when he brought in a huge sack of fish. Classic XX would give him another chance.

Sitting in 10th, Clunn made the run to his fish and summarily culled up a limit of five bass that tipped the scales to 18-07, by far the biggest weight ever weighed on the James in a Classic. That limit took his 3-day total to 34-05, beating Biffle by a little under 7 pounds.

Biffle ended the event with 27-06, while George Cochran finished in 3rd-place with 26-08. Woo Daves and John Hale rounded out the top 5 with 25-13 and 24-06, respectively.

Tomorrow we’ll end this series with a look back on Classics XXI through XXX. We hope you’ve enjoyed the series and also the ramp up to Classic XLV.