The 1994 Bassmaster Georgia Invitational on Lake Lanier seems to be a pretty typical Lanier derby for that time period – relatively low weights and won by local angler Mickey Bruce (his third and final BASS win and second on Lanier). That was the pre-blueback period on Lanier, so the while the spotted bass experts like Bruce, Tom Mann Jr. and Cliff Craft generally mopped up, the bass hadn’t yet grown to true spotzilla proportions.
But look down the check line a little bit and you might see a little bit of angling history…sad angling history.
This tournament was the final event for 1994 Bassmaster Classic Champion Bryan Kerchal. Less than two weeks later he died in a plane crash.
Other Federation qualifiers have come close to winning the Classic. Notably, Dalton Bobo would have beaten Dion Hibdon in 1997 but for a dead fish penalty. Last year Brandon Palaniuk came out of nowhere to make a run for the title on the Lousiana Delta. Still, 18 years after Kerchal’s victory, no one else has managed to do what he accomplished, and for that his impact remains enormous. Even the youthful Palaniuk recognized that, blowing Kerchal’s signature “fish whistle” on stage last year in New Orleans.
While Kerchal’s overall impact on the sport was large, truth be told his tournament record was kind of skimpy. He fished a grand total of 12 B.A.S.S. professional tournaments. Of those, in half he finished in the triple digits. Other than the $50,000 check for winning the Classic (my how times have changed!), B.A.S.S. W-2’ed him for a grand total of $8,200. He was still in his early twenties, so he might’ve developed into a KVD-style world-beater, but the evidence is inconclusive.
In the first three events after his Classic victory, on the Potomac, Santee Cooper and Lake Livingston, he finished 73rd, 103rd and 114th, respectively. Paid his entry fees but never made a check. Then in this last event, the Connecticut Yankee went into the heart of Dixie and beat a bunch of more established anglers. They may not have had the Classic title, but most of them had more time on the water than Kerchal. Maybe this would have been a high point in a career that would have progressed in lackluster fashion or maybe he would have gone on to stabilize his ship and become a consistent force on tour.
We’ll never know.