Who doesn’t love a little trivia? This guy. I have an uncanny ability to forget details that everyone else seems to remember. I should be able to name the Beatles, but I cannot. Who won the Heisman trophy in 2019? I’ll take the over and say it was an Alabama player, but I truly have no idea. There is one exception to my memory flaw, however. I find bass fishing trivia quite interesting. That likely has something to do with the research I often do to perform my job, but I also love the history of our sport. So, with the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk almost upon us, I thought I’d drag out one curious piece of trivia that affects a large portion of the competitors.
How many anglers won the very first Classic they qualified for? Don’t use the Google machine. Ponder for a sec, I’ll wait.
The answer is eight. That said, every angler that fished their very first World Championship qualified for that distinction. Bobby Murray, of course, took the inaugural title. Three more first-timers won the title in the ’70s, which makes sense seeing there were so many first-time qualifiers in the infancy of the Classic (Rayo Breckinridge, 1973; Tommy Martin, 1974; Jack Hains, 1975).
As Bassmaster competition became fiercer and anglers started fishing full time, the feat started to get tougher. Only twice did a first-timer win the crown in the ’80s (Stanley Mitchell, 1981; Charlie Reed, 1986). The next angler to pull off a freshman victory was none other than Elite Series legend David Fritts. His 1993 win on Logan Martin Lake would be the only one of the decade to check this particular box. And then came a significant drought for Classic rookies. The next, and last angler to achieve this designation, wouldn’t hoist the trophy until 2007.
So, we are now going on 15 years since a first-time Classic qualifier won our sport’s most coveted title. To be fair, the challenge has increased in difficulty. In that first Classic, Murray shot a free throw. Rookies today are trying to make a half-court shot while blindfolded. The media attention, the crowds and the competition have all been elevated to an insane level that can rattle the most veteran of anglers fishing the event for the first time.
That said, there are 17 fishermen who will be walking across the stage in Greenville, S.C., who look to end this drought. Four of these guys are Bassmaster Opens champions (Keith Tuma, Joey Nania, Nick LeBrun and Daisuke Aoki). This foursome proved they can beat Elite-type talent at
any given event. So, they certainly have a shot.
Of the 17 Classic newbies, there are eight that qualified through the Elite Series. Is it a coincidence that this is the exact same number as the first-timers who have Classic titles? I think not. I believe this will be the year the drought ends. Consider the options. KJ Queen, Justin Hamner, Josh Stracner and Marc Frazier all placed in the Top 5 in the 2021 Rookie of the Year race. These guys proved they could not only fish against the best, but thrive while doing so. Tyler Rivet has been fishing the Elites since 2019 and rooms with two-time Classic champ Hank Cherry, so you know he will be ready. Bryan Schmitt won last year’s Elite Series event on Champlain and Wes Logan won the Neely Henry event, which proves they have already beat the best on the biggest stage in bass fishing. But, my money is on the only guy I have yet to mention that qualified through the Elites. I’m not going to tell you who it is, but I will give you a hint: His father won 19 B.A.S.S. events and nine Angler of the Year titles. This Elite Series pro is dedicating his career to achieve the one title that escaped his dad, a Bassmaster Classic championship. Take some time to ponder the answer, I’ll wait.