Western Champions – 1976

Western Bass 1976 AOY Standings. Reprinted from the Winter Issue of the Western Bass Fishing Association. Permission granted.

Although the West is looked at as the red-headed step child of bass fishing, its relevance to the sport is pretty astonishing. Over time, a fairly large number of techniques were born in the west – eventually moving east – and a few of its pros either participated in the early events while still maintaining their western roots, or, in the case of Gary Klein and Jay Yelas, moved to more central locals.

The other night I was reading an old issue of Western Bass magazine and came across this – the 1976 Gallery of (Western) Champions. This is its lineup after the seven-event season, which took anglers from the desert-lake impoundments of Arizona to northern California locals such as Clear Lake and back. The AOY award that year went to a western stalwart named Fred Ward – one of the best anglers the west has ever produced.

Also of interest in this picture, though, are some early shots of some bass fishing heroes. Note the young Gary Klein (probably about 18 years old in this picture) when he still lived in Oroville, CA before his move to TX. Then there’s Dee Thomas and his protege Dave Gliebe, both just after taking the southern B.A.S.S. events by storm with the new Flippin’ technique. Another western legend in this mix is Mike Folkestad, who also put a hurtin’ on some of the events in the east and still takes a good sum of cash from western anglers today.

Other westerners that make the abridged honor roll are: Bobby Garland (co-inventor of the tube and all-around great angler), Larry Hopper (U.S. Open winner 1987), Dave Nollar and Bobby Sandberg (two of the best anglers ever produced in southern Cal that never left), Fred Kunkle (almost unbeatable on Havasu and the rest of the River Lakes) and Pete Gardner (A serious threat at any lake).