By 1991 the Bassmaster Classic had become the event anglers aspired to win – weekend warriors through tour-level pros. The event had grown from a small gathering of anglers and media huddled together at the ramp in 1971 at Lake Mead, NV to sold-out stadiums in 1990. Although the event was centered around the anglers who qualified and the eventual winner, it grew into what we now know as Classic week filled with fan days, media events and one of if not the biggest public tackle shows in the world.
Over the course of 20 years, though, the tournament itself was still considered one of the toughest events in the world of competitive fishing. The fact that the best anglers are fishing against each other is one thing, couple that with normally tough seasonal and weather conditions and the stress of having to win creates an experience not too many people can handle – although anyone would like to try it just once.
Prior to Classic XXI, it had taken an average of roughly 12 1/2 pounds a day to win the event with the highest daily average just over 25 pounds and the lowest just above 5 pounds. Three anglers had won the event multiple times, Bobby Murray (twice), Hank Parker (twice) and Rick Clunn (four times). A total of 15 anglers had won the world championship of bass fishing many of who are considered stars of the sport still today.
In this final installment looking back at past Classics we’re going to cover Classics XXI through XXX dating from 1991 to 2000. Over the course of this time we’ll see a bunch of faces from the prior 20 years and a bunch of new ones. Come and relive some of the sport’s most important history.
1991: Bassmaster Classic XXI – Chesapeake Bay, MD
Part of the determining factor for a Classic venue had become the fact that they needed a venue large enough to house The Classic and all of its moving parts. A venue that had a stadium and convention center for example, but also a city big enough to be able to pay for the event itself. These factors definitely played a part in choosing the Chesapeake Bay, MD for Classic XXI.
Ken Cook would eventually become the 16th angler to win a Classic beating out local favorite Randall Romig by three ounces. Cook’s 3-day total weighed 33-02 while Romig weighed in 32-15. Woo Daves placed third with 32-05 and made Classic XXI his fourth top-5 finish in his last five Classics. Zell Rowland and Carrol Hagood finished out the top 5 with 31-08 and 29-15, respectively.
Cook started off the event in 9th place trailing leader Zell Rowland. On the second day Cook brought in a 5-fish limit for 10-13 and moved up to the fourth position. Rowland’s fish seemed to fade away but he still held the lead with 21-14 – a little more than a pound ahead of Cook. The last day proved to be Rowland’s demise when he lost three good keepers in the last 30 minutes of the tournament. Cook would go on to win Classic XXI.
Cook used two baits to clinch the Classic, a Storm Short Wart and a Hart Throb spinnerbait. He fished rip-rap banks and grass for the win.
1992: Bassmaster Classic XXII – Logan Martin, AL
The 1992 Classic would bring the event back to the state of Alabama – this time on the Coosa River impoundment Logan Martin. The 22nd Classic would crown the 17th winner in its history – this time Robert Hamilton Jr, fishing his second Classic.
The fact that Hamilton wasn’t that well-known played to his advantage through the first day as Brauer (22-13) and Clunn (21-00) stole the show. Hamilton weighed in 18-11 (3rd place) and no one bothered the local – until day two.
The second day Hamilton couldn’t stay out of the limelight when he placed a 23-04 sack onto the scale and shot past Brauer by nearly 8 pounds. The third day proved to be stressful as Hamilton lost a number of good fish and didn’t fill his limit (17-07) until the final hour of the event. Still it was enough to beat Brauer by almost 8 pounds.
Hamilton relied on a number of baits to seal the win, which included a Bomber 9A, Cordell Super Spot, Norman’s DD22, a Stanley spinnerbait, a Stanley jig, and various trailers. He concentrated on humps, some of which had planted crappie brush on them.
1993: Bassmaster Classic XXIII – Logan Martin, AL
Looking back on what won the Classic one sees a lot of streaks. For example, spinnerbaits played a major role in the first 6 Classics. Then came the jig and finally, in the 80s and early ‘90s, crankbaits became the vogue bait. And one can’t talk about Classic win on crankbaits without talking about David Fritts’ 1993 win.
Fishing his third full season, Classic XXIII was Frits’ first time in the Big Show and he started it off by holding down the second spot behind Tommy Biffle. Biffle, who weighed 17-14 on day 1, caught his fish pitching and flipping while Fritts, who weighed 17-10 caught his fish on a variety of Poe’s crankbaits.
On day 2, though, Fritts took the lead with another limit of fish and a total of 32-03. Biffle, on the other hand, could only produce a limit that weighed 11-01 and dropped to second a little over 3 pounds behind the leader.
On the last day Fritts made it count as he brought in a 16-03 (48-06 total) limit of fish to win. Biffle dropped to 4th place with 38-07. Shaw Grigsby finished in the second spot with 40-10 while Jay Yelas took 3rd-place honors with 38-15. Kevin VanDam received his first top-5 Classic finish with 38-03 total.
Fritts’ pattern consisted of fishing drop-offs that had either brush of rock associated with them. Pinpoint casting was the key.
1994: Bassmaster Classic XXIV – High Rock Lake, NC
Classic XXIV would mark a first in the history of the event where an amateur from the Federation ranks would take the crown. That angler, Bryan Kerchal, is still the only Federation angler to win the event in its 44-year history.
Kerchal made the Classic for the second year in a row through the Federation ranks, the 1993 version not agreeing with him very well as he finished in the last spot. But perseverance pays off and he made his second trip to the Big Show count.
Kerchal would finish the first round of the event in 4th place with 11-02, 3 1/2 pounds behind the leader Fish Fishburn. Dion Hibdon held down second with 12-08 and Mickey Bruce was in third with 11-15.
Round two saw Kerchal come to the scales with a limit that weighed 14-01, increasing his total to 25-03, enough for the day 2 lead. Guido Hibdon landed in the second spot with 23-15. Fishburn, on the other hand, blanked and fell to the 22nd spot.
On the last day of the event, Kerchal could only scrounge up six fish on his dock pattern. But those six fish were enough to give him a total of 36-07 and the win, four ounces more than Tommy Biffle. Kerchal caught all of his fish pitching a 6-inch Culprit worm in a red shad pattern to a set of three docks.
Less than a year later, with his pro career starting to bloom, Kerchal was killed in a plane crash. In his memory, the Federation Championship trophy was named after him and his memory and influence live within every Federation angler today.
1995: Bassmaster Classic XXV – High Rock Lake, NC
The 25-year anniversary of the Bassmaster Classic was held again on North Carolina’s High Rock Lake, and Bassmaster Veteran Mark Davis would claim it his own. The 10-year veteran, who was fishing his 5th Classic, had broken the top-10 twice before but had never really made a run for the win.
Davis started out in the 7th position with 13-08, 4-plus pounds behind day-1 leader Mickey Bruce. Davis started out the morning fishing a Pop-R and then switched over to the new Pradco Fat Free Shad.
Day 2 brought on a new leader, Mark Hardin, who moved up from the second spot with an 18-10 bag of fish and a 36-00 2-day total. In second was Kevin VanDam who also brought in a limit that pushed the scales past 18 pounds for a total of 35-09. The third angler to weigh more than 18 pounds was Davis, who, in desperation, switched up his tactics and started slow rolling a spinnerbait through deep sunken brush piles. His effort found him in 3rd place going into the final round.
The final day saw the last change in the leader board, with Davis sticking a 16-04 bag and winning the event with 47-14. Mark Hardin ended up in second place with 46-00 and Mickey Bruce fell to third with 44-13. Mike Wurm and David Fritts finished out the top 5 with 42-08 and 39-10, respectively.
For the win Davis alternated between the Fat Free Shad and a 1-ounce Strike Kind Pro Model spinnerbait. He concentrated his efforts by using the crankbait to find sunken brush and if the fish didn’t eat that, he’d slow-roll the blade through it.
1996: Bassmaster Classic XXVI – Lay Lake, AL
The 26th Bassmaster Classic would crown the fourth multi-Classic winner in its history, this time George Cochran joining the coveted group. Cochran, who won in 1987 on the Ohio River and held the record for the lowest winning Classic weight, would better his ’87 weight by more than double to take the crown. But the win wouldn’t be easy.
ON the first day Kevin VanDam would take the early lead with a limit for 14-01, followed by Davy Hite (12-04). Cochran sat in the 5th-place spot with a limit of 10-14.
On day 2, though, VanDam was inundated by spectators and only caught one tiny bass for his efforts. This opened the door for day-1 4th-place angler Mickey Bruce, who brought in a limit weighing 11-12 (23-06 total). Cochran made his move on day 2 and jumped into the second spot with a total of 22-08.
The final day of competition was tight, only one pound separating the top two anglers. Cochran, who had been fishing a timber line in Blue Springs Creek, decided it was time to leave and headed for a shallow stump field in Bully Creek, a place that he’d been catching most of his bigger fish. Within an hour he’d culled four times bringing his final day weight up to 9-06. His final total was 31-14, exactly a pound more than runner-up Davy Hite.
Mickey Bruce fell to the third spot with a total of 26-15 and Bud Pruitt took fourth with 23-06. Ray Sedgwick finished the top 5 with 23-04.
Cochran caught his fish on a 3/4-ounce Strike King spinnerbait and a red Riverside Pro Rib worm.
1997: Bassmaster Classic XXVII – Logan Martin Lake, AL
Over its life, the Bassmaster Classic had been held in 14 different states but the state that hosted the event the most was B.A.S.S.’s home state of Alabama. By 1997 the Cotton State had hosted the event seven time. Classic XXVII would increase that number to eight, and for Logan Martin Lake alone it would be the third visit in six years.
Past winners at Logan Martin, Robert Hamilton Jr. (1992) and David Fritts (1993) won the event cranking offshore and that was probably the thought going into the event. But, as usual, things change.
Change was the theme of the event as each day brought a different leader to the board. On day 1, Gerry Jooste led with 14-9, on day two Ron Shuffield took over with 24-07 and in the end, Dion Hibdon would win with a total of 34-13.
The bite also changed dramatically from prior Classics as each angler who made it to the top caught their fish on plastics. Hibdon, who beat runner-up Dalton Bobo by one ounce due to a dead-fish penalty, caught his fish skipping docks with a skirted grub he called “Dion’s Secret” and a Luck-E-Strike G5 tube. Bobo caught his fish on an 8-inch V&M Needle Worm.
Others in the top 5 included David Fritts, 3rd with 34-06, Ron Shuffield, 4th with 33-15 and Denny Brauer, 5th with 33-03. All but Fritts caught their fish off of docks with jigs and/or spinnerbaits. Fritts, on the other hand, was about the only angler who could coax the fish to eat the crank, this time Risto Rap.
1998: Bassmaster Classic XXVIII – High Rock Lake, NC
By 1998 eight Classics would be fished in the decade but only three states had been visited along with four different bodies of water. Classic XXVIII would again be a repeat venue, this time they were going back to North Carolina’s High Rock Lake – the third time in five years.
Although the repeat venues may intuitively be boring, the event itself always seems to throw a curve ball at the prognosticators. Never has an angler repeated on the same body of water and it also seems patterns don’t hold true from year to year. Same was the case in 1998.
Classic XXVIII would finally become Denny Brauer’s event. He’d qualified for the event 15 times prior to 1998 and in his first 10 attempts had only cracked the top-10 twice. The ‘90s, though, would be his decade where he’d finish in the top-5 five times and the top-10 six times including the 1998 win.
High Rock had been won in ’94 by Bryan Kerchal who was throwing plastic worms at a series of docks while Mark Davis won in 1995 fishing offshore brush piles with a crank and spinnerbait. Brauer would win on another pattern, this time concentrating on shallow wood.
Brauer would start the event in 8th place, a little under 4 pounds behind George Cochran (1st), Alton Jones (2nd), Randall Romig (3rd), Tommy Biffle (4th) and Skeet Reese (5th). But Day 2 would prove that Brauer had the winning fish as he came in with a limit that pushed the scales down to 17-14 giving him a 2-day total of 29-15 – 14 ounces of 2nd-place Cochran.
The third day was all Brauer again as he brought in another limit weighing 16-04. His total weight for the tournament ended up being 46-03, nearly 10 pounds ahead of Cochran who weighed a total of 36-04. The rest of the top-5 was Randy Blaukat (35-02), Mike Reynolds (35-01) and Rick Clunn (30-04).
The most interesting fact about Brauer’s win was he did it on a bait no one would have imagined him using – a 3-inch tube. To that point, Brauer had made his name pitching and flipping a jig, and when that bait didn’t turn out to be what the fish wanted, he switched to the more discrete tube, and it paid off.
1999: Bassmaster Classic XXIX – Louisiana Delta
After four Classics in Alabama and three in North Carolina, B.A.S.S. decided to give the state of Louisiana a try – more specifically the Louisiana Delta. Prior to the first day of competition it seemed as if it would be another tough, low-weight tournament. The heat was in the low 100s and the water temperatures were in the 90s.
Jack Wade became the day-1 leader with a decent limit for 16-13, while Mickey Bruce brought in a limit for 16-10. Davy Hite took the 3rd spot with 16-09. All three anglers reported their fish were caught in less than 3 feet of water.
Day 2 of competition really showed what the Louisiana Delta could provide, despite the hot weather. Hite, fishing in Bayou Beouf all by himself, brought a 19-03 limit to the scales that put his total at 35-12 and the lead by more than 5 pounds over Ron Shuffield. Mickey Bruce rounded out the top-3 with 28-11.
If Hite didn’t feel confident about having enough weight by the end of day 2 he surely felt he’d sealed the deal by the end of day 3 with his second 19-plus-pound limit. Hite’s total weight for the event would end up being 55-10 – probably 20 pounds more than anyone would have predicted and 10 pounds more than his nearest competitor, Denny Brauer who weighed a total of 45-11.
Landing in 3rd place was Mr. Mega Bucks Larry Nixon with 43-14, while Gary Klein took 4th-place honors with 42-10. Ron Shuffield rounded out the top 5 with 40-04.
Hite caught all his fish in Bayou Beouf, amidst a fish kill. His bait of choice was a 7-inch Gambler Bacon Rind an when he ran out of those he switched to a 5-inch version of the same bait.
2000: Bassmaster Classic XXX – Lake Michigan, IL
Woo Daves had fished 14 Bassmaster Classics by the year 2000 – his first being in 1975 on North Carolina’s Currituck Sound. In that time span he’d placed in the top-6 six times and had two 3rds and one 2nd-place finish. Daves, a James River Rat, had done well on waters with a lot of moving water and almost sealed the deal on three different occasions on his home waters of the James.
Daves started out the event fishing a breakwater at the mouth of the Chicago River. He’d found the spot in practice while looking for protected water from the vicious north winds. By the end of the day he was sitting in the 10th spot with 8-04, behind leader Carl Maxfield (10-01) and Aaron Martens (10-00). The rest of the top-5 included Jay Yelas and Michael Iaconelli (tied for 3rd place with 9-14) and Rick Clunn had 9-05 for the 5th spot.
On the second day, though, Daves wouldn’t be in the shadows any longer. His 13-01 limit brought his total up to 21-05. Daves wasn’t the only angler to make a large jump on the second day, though. Shaw Grigsby, who was in 11th place after day 1, jumped to 2nd place due to an 8-14 bag of fish and Mark Rizk moved from 17th to 3rd by way of a 9-10 bag. Clunn stayed in 4th place with a daily weight of 7-01 boosting his total to 16-06.
The last day of the event would prove to be another tough one, not just with respect to the fish but the weather. Clunn would bring in another limit (7-08) for a total of 23-14 and tie with Kotaro Kiriyama for 4th place. Grigsby was only able to land four fish for 7-06 (24-07 total) and landed in 3rd place. Mark Rizk made a valiant effort bringing in the largest weight of the day, 10-01, for a total of 26-11 but he fell slightly over a pound short of Daves’ winning weight of 27-13.
Daves’ winning fish were all caught on a Zoom tube fished on a 1/8-ounce head. The first day he’d cast at the breakwater and work the bait down to a shelf that formed in about 8 feet of water. The fish would eat the bait just as he moved it off the shelf into deeper water. The second day he made a tackle and presentation change that paid off. Instead of throwing the bait at the base of the breakwater, he’d throw it parallel to the shelf. He also switched from 8-pound test line to 6-pound test.