The U.S. Open 1981: An Event that Changed Bass Fishing – Part One

The Press Guide from the 1981 U.S. Open. Courtesy of Bill Rice, long-time editor of Western Outdoor News and Western Bass.

This is part one of a three-part series on the first-ever U.S. Open hosted by Western Bass Fishing Association. The U.S. Open, at the time, had the largest payout ever for a bass tournament and drew anglers from all over the country. In this part, we’ll cover a bit of the history of what led up to the event along with an introduction of the anglers. I have to thank long-time editor of Western Outdoor News and Western Bass, Bill Rice, for the photos and for editing of this piece.


In 1981, competitive bass fishing was turned on its ear when Western Bass Fishing Association (WBFA) announced the plans to put on bass fishing’s highest-ever paying event at Lake Mead near Las Vegas, Nevada. Coined as the U.S. Open, the event had a $50,000 guaranteed first-place prize and over $180,000 in cash and prizes combined.

Numbers like these were unheard of at the time. The Bassmaster Classic, the biggest event in bass fishing at the time, was paying $40,000 to the winner and it wasn’t until 1983 when Bassmaster started the Super B.A.S.S. series of tournaments that the U.S. Open would be outdone from a winnings standpoint.

Hoping for 60 participants to sign up for the $1,000 entry fee event, Rich Schultz, then president of WBFA, and crew set out to market the event. Two months prior to the tournament, 100 anglers had put down the extravagant entry fee and more were coming in. By the time the tournament rolled around, 161 anglers had signed up for this first-of-its-class event.

Payout Schedule for 1981 U.S. Open.

Slated to be held in August, undoubtedly the hottest time in the Nevada desert, the anglers would not only have to compete against a laundry list of the country’s best tournament fishermen, they’d also have to deal with four long days in the 110-plus-degree heat.

Would the western anglers, who grew up fishing in Mead’s heat have the advantage over the southern anglers? No one would know until the last fish was weighed.

Until this time, rarely, if ever, had a southern angler ventured west to fish unless it was for one of the few events B.A.S.S. held. This event was different, though. The promise of a big payday brought anglers from 22 states. Anglers like Roland Martin, Bobby Murray, Forrest Wood, Basil Bacon, Harold Allen, Don Butler, Cliff Craft, Rick Clunn and Ricky Green would face off against the West’s best.

For a complete list with angler biographies, see the figures below.

1981 U.S. Open Entrants. Photo WBFA Press Guide.

With so much on the line, the western anglers were making good with pre-practice hitting the lake whenever they could. Two such anglers, Don Doty and Greg Hines both from Santa Ana, CA, were spending copious amounts of time on the water with Hines dedicating over two straight months to practice. His regimen would not only help him determine fish movement and location but also get him in shape for the grueling heat during the 4-day event.


Part Two of this series will cover the tournament, while Part Three will cover the winning pattern.



Photo WBFA 1981 Press Guide.


Photo WBFA 1981 Press Guide.


Photo WBFA 1981 Press Guide.


Photo WBFA 1981 Press Guide.


Photo WBFA 1981 Press Guide.


Photo WBFA 1981 Press Guide.


Photo WBFA 1981 Press Guide.



Photo WBFA 1981 Press Guide.

  • Kathy Yamamoto Harano

    Ahhhh, great, golden memories! My dad fished the Las Vegas Western Bass tournaments. We drove 13 hours to Vegas pulling the boat. I recall pulling up to the main Vegas strip and there were so many trucks and bass boats. What an amazing site! It was like “ol home week”! Fishermen jumping out of their trucks and greeting their fellow fishermen they have met and competed against at other tournaments.

    I can’t count how many times I attend the Vegas tournaments with dad. Sometimes driving, other times flying to meet him and my mom. I would never trade those days for anything! Great fun, exciting moments, the energy from each of the fishermen, all demonstrating the true meaning of good sportsmanship! At the end of the day we would all meet for dinner where fishing stories were shared and they would pick their ‘back seater’ for the next day. This repeated 3 nights, with the final night being the awards dinner.

    Even though dad hadn’t won that ‘big purse’ in Vegas he still enjoyed and looked forward to returning to Vegas the following year! Guess you can say he was like a kid waiting for Christmas all year, only it was the tournament that he was waiting for! Dad’s big win would take place at the Delta Northern California circut where he won his Ranger boat package!!! That memory still brings tears to my eyes! He was so happy, a long time waited for this moment! The day belonged to Dad!

    Well, dad has been gone for 6 (long) years now and these are some of the most precious memories we shared. It feels like only yesterday, but what I would give to just have a few of these moments back, even for just a day.

    Thank you for bringing these memories out of the archives! It will certainly be a great memory for all those who did participate and an example for those who are just starting.

    “Fish on, Dad”

    • Hi Kathy. I take it you’re Nish’s daughter? He was a great angler and one of the anglers I always read about in the western magazines. Thanks for the kind words and I’m happy we brought back some fond memories for you. We’ll be posting articles on the other Opens in the future. I believe your father’s photo is in the guide for the second Open in 1982. I’ll check for it and send it if it’s there.