As many know, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society was founded shortly after the 1967 Beaver Lake Invitational. By 1970, the organization had been around for three years and the newness was quickly wearing off and membership was slowing down. With the need to continue the growth of the “Society,” Ray (Scott) and Bob Cobb came up with the idea to hold what would be the world championship of bass fishing and hopefully get the press talking about B.A.S.S. The idea was to hold a tournament with only the best anglers taken from the year’s standings and have them fish for a winner-takes-all purse.
In order to add a bit of mystery to the event, it was decided that the event locale wouldn’t be divulged until the last minute, when all qualified anglers were held captive. There would also be members of the press invited to the event to not only write about it but to fish with the pros each day.
On one of the traveling seminar shows we did in 1970, we went west to California and on the way back we stopped by Las Vegas to do another seminar. While in Vegas, Ray met with a gentleman from the Las Vegas Department of Tourism named Dave Newton and set the wheels rolling for the first Bass Masters Classic to be held in October of 1971.
With the venue set, we had some time to figure out the logistics of getting 24 of the top anglers and the custom-made boats to Vegas.
Snafu One started when the Ranger Boat factory burned to the ground in early 1971. We’d planned on using Ranger Boats as the Classic boat but we now needed another company to supply them. We switched to Rebel and told them to make X number of boats and we would tell them later where to send them.
One of the biggest problems with keeping the event secret, as only Ray, Bob, Dave and I knew where we were going, was our wives and office personnel kept bugging us for information where we’d be heading. It got so bad in the office that we couldn’t write anything down regarding the Classic and we had to make phone calls from pay booths.
A few days before the Classic was to begin, I flew out to Vegas, met with Newton and went and visited the launch site. I then called Bill Wilson, president of Rebel Boats, and told him to send the boats to Vegas. I also instructed him that the drivers were only allowed to drive at night and I gave him a location outside of Vegas where I’d meet the drivers and then take them to the final destination. Bill then flew out to Vegas to meet with Dave and me and meet the boats.
The three of us were waiting outside Vegas as the trucks were to arrive at the meeting place around 9 pm. We waited until 11 pm and they still hadn’t shown up so we started heading east to see if we could locate them.
About midnight I turned to Bill and said, “Do you realize what we’re doing?” He answered, “No.” I said, “We’re driving across the desert at midnight looking for a truckload of boats.” Bill said, “I hope no one ever finds out about this.”
Suddenly we saw two trucks loaded with boats zoom past us going west. We turned around in the middle of the road and finally caught up, passed the trucks and stopped them. They got snowed in in Flagstaff, AZ and one truck load was still stuck back there.
The next morning we had the trucks follow us to the marina and we started unloading the boats while Bill and I tried to locate the missing truck. At the same time all this was going on, Ray and Bob (Cobb) were getting all the anglers, their wives and the press loaded on the charter plane in Atlanta.
Unloading the boats wasn’t an easy task because we didn’t have trailers for them. Our only option was the marina’s crane that they used to launch and load big boats. The crane was huge and on tracks. What we did was have the truck driver back the trailer down under the crane, then the crane would sling the boats off the flatbed and lower it in the water as the truck pulled forward. This was working fine until one of the boats slipped out of the sling and broke in half when it hit the tracks.
That little mishap made it so we wouldn’t have a spare boat – assuming we found the lost truck with the remaining boats.
The next day we were supposed to have a practice session with the press and the pros but since we didn’t have enough boats we told the press to go gamble and the pros had to practice two to a boat but we didn’t hear anyone complain.
Later that practice day the other boats arrived, we got them ready for the tournament and we were off and running with the first Bass Master Classic after a few hiccups. We knew there’d be more each year, but it was always an adventure and a lot of fun. We did six Classics in secrecy and no one ever figured out where we were going.
Next time I’ll tell you about the second Classic at Percy Priest.