As the world’s premier fishing tournament, the Bassmaster Classic sets trends for anglers across the country. Not only has it created fishing stars since the inaugural championship in 1971, but boats, motors, electronics, rods, reels, and lines have all benefited from appearing on the sport’s biggest stage. It’s why sponsors pay anglers to fish with their gear and why manufacturers buy advertisements to spread the word about their success in this biggest tournament.
That influence is frequently referred to as “the Classic effect,” and nowhere is it more prevalent than with fishing lures. To the fishing public, much of the credit for winning the championship goes to the bass lure on the end of the winner’s line. Who makes it, the sizes and colors it comes in, and whether or not it’s available at the local tackle emporium are what matter most to anglers.
What’s Hot, What’s Not
To an extent, the Bassmaster Classic not only establishes trends by making certain lures or bait types popular, but it also can breathe new life into old tactics. Carolina rigging, for example, had been around since the 1950s, but it was a runner-up finish by Bill Dance in 1973 and a Classic win by Jack Chancellor in 1985 that ultimately put the rig in everyone’s boat.
Certain manufacturers have played leading roles at the Bassmaster Classic, too, getting their baits in the winner’s circle more often than any others. Whether that’s due to the superiority of their products or the professional anglers they sponsor is debatable, but there’s no denying their success.
Strike King leads the way among Classic winning lures, contributing to seven championships. Mann’s Bait Company is second, with five titles from 1973 to 2006. Bagley, Berkley, and Bomber each notched parts of four wins.
The only lure to find itself on the business end of the Classic champ’s line for three consecutive years is the Fleck Weed Wader spinnerbait. Tommy Martin in 1974, Jack Hains in 1975, and Rick Clunn in 1976 all credited the Weed Wader with part of their winning catches.
Clunn was a relative unknown when he won his first Classic in 1976. Fishing the Weed Wader just under the surface of a milfoil-covered hump on Lake Guntersville, his Day 2 catch of 10 bass weighing 33 pounds 5 ounces gave him a lead he never relinquished. It’s still the heaviest catch ever weighed in at a Classic, though the creel limit is now five bass.
On the same day as Clunn’s big catch, Arkansas pro Ricky Green (who finished third in that Classic) weighed in an 8-pound 9-ounce largemouth that fell to a Strike King spinnerbait and stood as the biggest bass in Classic history for 30 years.
‘Twas The Season
For the first 12 years of its existence, the Bassmaster Classic was a fall tournament fished between late September and early November. Beginning in 1983, the Classic became a summertime event, fished between late July and late August, usually held in the Deep South or along the Mid-Atlantic. Then, in 2006, the Classic was moved to February and has been held on waters in the South until this year, when it will be held on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees this month.
Crankbaits and spinnerbaits accounted for the most championships when the Classic was held in the fall. As a summer event, focus shifted to plastic worms and deeper diving crankbaits. .
Most often, the lure type used by the winner is simply the best tool for the job. Following is a look at some of the lures and tactics that have revolutionized bass fishing in the past. What’s in store for the next Classic? In the upcoming Classic, pros and pundits alike are expecting jerkbaits to take center stage. Let the countdown begin.
TIMELINE OF WINNING BASS LURES
| Key Lure: Zorro Aggravator (spinnerbait) Site: Lake Mead, Las Vegas, NV Winner: Bobby Murray, Hot Springs, AR Color: White with tandem blades Weight: 1⁄4 ounce Method: Murray ran from cove to cove, making long casts and bringing the spinnerbait past any brush in the cuts. He caught most fish in about 2 feet of water.| | ## 1972| |
| Key Lure: Okiebug S.O.B. (spinnerbait) Site: Percy Priest Reservoir, Nashville, TN Winner: Don Butler, Tulsa, OK Color: White (primary bait) Weight: 1⁄4 ounce Note: Butler was the first BASS member, owned Okiebug Lures, and manufactured the S.O.B. spinnerbait. He was the first Classic champ to win the event on a lure he manufactured.| | 1976| |
| Key Lure: Fleck Weed Wader (spinnerbait); secondary bait: Bagley Honey B (shown) Site: Lake Guntersville, Guntersville, AL Winner: Rick Clunn, Montgomery, TX Color: White with tandem blades (gold #7 and bronze #8) Weight: 1-plus ounce Method: Clunn fished the spinnerbait and Honey B in and around a milfoil-covered hump.| | ## 1979| |
| Key Lure: Mann’s Jelly Worm (6-inch) Site: Lake Texoma, Pottsboro, TX Winner: Hank Parker, Clover, SC Color: Metal flake Marmalade Weight: Texas-rigged with 3⁄16-ounce slip sinker Method: Parker used a borrowed flippin’ rod to fish the Jelly Worm in heavy brush along a 10-foot dropoff, shaking the bait until a bass hit.| | 1****982| |
| Key Lure: Norman Deep Little N (crankbait) Site: Alabama River, Montgomery, AL Winner: Paul Elias, Laurel, MS Color: Unknown Weight: Unknown Method: Elias focused on tree limbs along main river bars, making long casts upstream and kneeling and reeling his lure back with the current to achieve maximum depth.| | 1983| |
| Key Lure: Ditto Gator Tail plastic worm (5-inch) Site: Ohio River, Cincinnati, OH Winner: Larry Nixon, Hemphill, TX Color: Blue/black (primary bait) Weight: Texas-rigged with a 3⁄16‑ounce slip sinker on a 3/0 hook Method: Nixon targeted a creek with grass beds, brush, and overhanging trees. He also used a white spinnerbait and a buzzbait.| | 1986| |
| Key Lure: Toledo Tackle plastic worm; secondary bait: Bagley DB3 (shown) Site: Chickamauga Lake, Chattanooga, TN Winner: Charlie Reed, Broken Arrow, OK Color: Plum Weight: Texas-rigged with a 3⁄8-ounce slip sinker Method: Reed used a Bagley DB3 to catch several bass to cull his limit.| | 1988| |
| Key Lure: Stanley Jig with a Luck “E” Strike Guido’s Bug trailer Site: James River, Richmond, VA Winner: Guido Hibdon, Gravois Mills, MO Color: Black and blue metal flake (jig) Weight: 3⁄16-ounce jig Method: Hibdon targeted a shallow slough. The fish were skittish, so he cast or pitched the bait onto the bank and quietly slid it into the water.| | 1990| |
| Key Lure: Poe’s RC1 (crankbait) Winner: Rick Clunn, Montgomery, TX Site: James River, Richmond, VA Color: Black back/chartreuse sides/orange belly Weight: Unknown Method: Clunn cranked cypress trees in the mouths of several tributaries on the lower river to pull off the biggest comeback in championship history. He was 10th going into the final round.| | 1994| |
| Key Lure: Culprit worm (6-inch) Winner: Bryan Kerchal, Newtown, CT Site: High Rock Lake, Greensboro, NC Color: Red Shad Weight: Texas-rigged with 3⁄16-ounce slip sinker Method: Kerchal pitched the worm to docks in 1 to 10 feet of water. These were near a creek channel bend and had brush piles planted near them.| | 1995| |
| Key Lure: Bomber Fat Free Shad (crankbait) Winner: Mark Davis, Mount Ida, AR Site: High Rock Lake, Greensboro, NC secondary bait: Rebel Pop-R (shown) Color: Citrus Shad Weight: Unknown Method: Davis targeted large brush piles put out by crappie anglers. He also scored with a Rebel Pop-R (black/chrome).| | 1998| |
| Key Lure: 3-inch generic tube bait Winner: Denny Brauer, Camdenton, MO Site: High Rock Lake, Greensboro, NC Color: Black Neon Weight: Texas-rigged with a 1⁄4- to 5⁄16-ounce slip sinker Method: Brauer fished a bank of timber in 1 to 3 feet of water. He used a Zoom Dead Ringer worm on the final day.| | 2002| |
| Power Frog trailer; secondary bait: Berkley Frenzy (shown) Winner: Jay Yelas, Jasper, TX Site: Lay Lake, Birmingham, AL Key Lure: Berkley Jay Yelas Power Jig with a Berkley Color: Black/brown/pumpkinseed skirt with a green pumpkinseed trailer Weight: 5⁄8 ounce Note: Amazingly, Yelas caught the daily lunker on each day of the competition.| | 2005| |
| Key Lure: Smithwick RB1200 Rattlin’ Rogue Winner: Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, MI Site: Three Rivers, Pittsburgh, PA Color: Silver Weight: Unknown Method: For his second Classic title, KVD looked to main river structures with current, helping put this 20-year-old bait back into the spotlight.| | 2010| |
| Key Lure: Strike King Red Eye Shad (lipless crankbait) Winner: Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, MI Site: Lay Lake, Birmingham, AL Color: Gold and Gold Sexy Shad Weight: 1⁄2 ounce Method: VanDam crawled the Red Eye Shad over grass growing along the bottom of a creek channel and around stumps on the ledge and adjacent flat. It was his third Classic win.| | 2012| |
| Key Lure: Gambler Ugly Otter Winner: Chris Lane, Guntersville, AL Site: Red River, Shreveport, LA Color: Blue/silver Weight: 1⁄2-ounce Gambler tungsten sinker and 5/0 offset worm hook Method: Lane worked the creature bait very slowly around weeds on sandy flats. He also pitched a Luck “E” Strike G4 Tube to bedding bass.|