In 1996, Mike McClelland wasn’t the household name that he is in fishing circles today. He was, in the words of Bassmaster writer Tim Tucker, “better known as a 28-year-old wallpaper contractor than an aspiring bass pro fishing just his sixth B.A.S.S. event.”
He quickly established himself that year as a young pro to watch by winning back-to-back Central Invitationals.
The first came on the Arkansas River (out of Pine Bluff) in his home state that October. It was a brutally tough event – in a field of 330, 23 anglers, including stalwarts like Rick Clunn, Paul Elias and Lonnie Stanley, failed to bring a bass to the scales. It took just over 4 pounds a day to get a check. Meanwhile, McClelland weighed 25-02 to beat veteran Tommy Martin by 1 pound, 11 ounces. Martin would have won if he’d been able to weigh all of his fish, but he was 30 minutes late on Day One because he failed to lock back through in time. His 9-03 catch for that day was therefore erased.
McClelland keyed on a clear water section of the pool above Pine Bluff. Tucker reported that in his key grassbeds in the Brodie Bend backwater area “an infestation of the exotic zebra mussels has cleared up the water significantly.”
Just five weeks later, McClelland won another low-weight event, this time at muddy and wind-blown Ross Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi, thus making him the first B.A.S.S. back-to-back winner since Charlie Ingram had accomplished the feat approximately a dozen years earlier. Believe it or not, this one was even tougher than his last win. In a field of 320 bass pros, there were 68 three-day blanks (over 1 in 5 anglers). The weight to get a check was a mere 7 pounds, 8 ounces.
McClelland, entered Day Three in 12th place, but weighed 13-06 the last day to beat out runner-up Stan Gerzsenyi by a little bit over 2 pounds. To put that in perspective, his final day catch alone would have been good enough for 10th place.
While the cover and water clarity were very different at Ross Barnett than it was on the Arkansas River, McClelland used the same brand and style of lure in both events. At the time the company wasn’t well-known, but today they’re an industry standard.
Do you remember what brand he introduced with his consecutive wins?
Furthermore, do you remember the brand of rods that he employed?