When the Bassmaster Classic came to Richmond, Virginia for a three-year stint from 1988 through 1990, many pundits predicted that local pro Woo Daves would have at least one Classic trophy on his mantle by the time 1990 was complete. The veteran pro reputedly knew every stick-up, wing dam, duck blind and rock pile on both the James River and its major tributaries, the Chickahominy and Appomattox Rivers.
Daves put together three quality performances in those hometown Classics, but despite finishing in the top five each time, he was never able to win on the James. In 1988, he finished 2nd to Guido Hibdon, missing the title by a mere 6 ounces. The following year he finished 5th, shy of Hank Parker’s winning mark by nearly 5 pounds (once again Hibdon was one spot ahead of him, besting Woo’s weight by a mere 13 ounces). In 1990, Rick Clunn blew away the field with a monstrous final day catch and Daves finished 4th with 25-13. He was remarkably consistent over those three Classics, averaging no less than 8 pounds 10 ounces per day and no more than 9 pounds 6 ounces per day in any of them.
While the loss to Hibdon would seem to be the most heartbreaking, Daves recently claimed that it was not. “I caught everything that bit,” he said. “The one that I really lost was the one that Hank Parker won.” On the second day of that 1989 championship, Daves caught three fish early, then his motor blew and he lost most of the day. “I was getting 75-80 bites a day but I couldn’t catch up with all of that lost time.”
Reflecting on those bygone Classics, over two decades in the past, Daves said that being a hometown favorite had a few downsides: “It’s a lot of pressure,” he stated. He also lost many of his best secret spots on the river system because he had 70 to 80 boats follow him each day “and they wore them out pretty good.”
One advantage of fishing at home was that the inside of the Richmond Coliseum reached deafening levels whenever Daves weighed in.
“It really makes you feel good when people are chanting your name and pulling for you,” Daves recalled.
In order to enable his supporters to make the maximum impact, Woo handed out “Woo Fans” to them – small cardboard fans with his likeness on them and a list of his sponsors. There were also matching buttons. While personalized signs and memorabilia are common at today’s championship events, at the time they were a relative novelty.
“I came up with that,” he said. “A friend of mine made up some t-shirts and then I came up with this idea. The hardest part was to get them there. I needed three or four people to get them there and hand them out. But it was good for me. Any time you go somewhere and give away something like that you pick up a lot of fans.”
While Daves did not claim victory on the James (and has still yet to do so in a major tournament, despite dozens of smaller wins over the years), he became a Classic Champion almost exactly 10 years after the final James River Classic. Surprisingly, it happened on Lake Michigan, about as far from a tidal river venue as a tournament can get. Once again it was a stingy affair and he averaged just over 9 pounds a day, beating runner-up Mark Rizk by 1 pound 2 ounces. No home state angler won the Classic until Boyd Duckett accomplished that feat on Lay Lake in 2007.