Nothing in fishing compares to the grandness of the GEICO Bassmaster Classic.
Our Elite events are hugely important, but nothing compares to the Classic given the way it’s viewed by fans, the industry, the world and the anglers.
That’s why you see anglers who have had tremendous success with other major tours migrating to B.A.S.S. They know their careers aren’t complete until they qualify and compete in the greatest fishing event the world has seen.
I’ve been to every one since 1991 and competed in all except for last year, but I was a fan well before that. In my early years, I couldn’t wait for the TV coverage or my Bassmaster Magazine to see how it was won.
Obviously, times have changed with the Internet coverage and Bassmaster LIVE. You now can follow the tournament, know where anglers are fishing and see the excitement unfold the moment it happens.
But nothing compares to being there as a fan in the stands or as a competitor on the water.
This marks my 25th Classic since turning pro. I’ve been in the coliseum when every winner has been crowned and have been fortunate to win four of them. But even if I’m not standing on that podium, I get chills watching fellow competitors wrap their arms around that trophy. I can remember every one of those moments.
I was very excited when my friend Casey Ashley won last year because I knew how it would change his world. There is nothing like it.
Just ask my good friend Tommy Martin who won in 1974, well before we had television coverage. He will tell you it was a pivotal point in his career, as will everyone else who has ever won.
As life changing as winning a Classic can be, it doesn’t diminish the importance of doing well, especially for newcomers. Having a good showing at a Classic can make a big impact on anyone’s career in bass fishing.
Remember Paul Mueller, who qualified through the Federation ranks and finished second in the 2014 Classic and 12th in 2015? He made such a big impression with media and fans that he was able to springboard that into a Bassmaster Elite Series career.
In mainstream sports, there is no greater event than the NFL’s Super Bowl and that’s what the Classic means to all of fishing.
You can tell a rookie that, but until he experiences one he has no idea how special it is compared to all other fishing events.
I’ve never taken a Classic qualification for granted. It doesn’t matter if you are the last man to qualify for a Classic, it’s a huge accomplishment. When you think of all the avenues to get there – through the Elites, the Bassmaster Opens, the B.A.S.S. Nation, the Bassmaster College Series or the Bassmaster Team Championship – earning a berth in the Classic is everyone’s goal and dream.
It will be even more special for me this year since I didn’t qualify last year. It was extremely difficult to work as a TV analyst during last year’s first day blastoff, watching those guys go without me. And believe me, sitting out a year has made me want to win even more. To say I’m glad to be back is an understatement, but just being there isn’t enough. I want to be in contention the last day.
And I want to win.
If you’ve ever thought about attending a Classic, this is a good one to see. Tulsa is a great host, and while the city did a great job of handling the huge crowds when we were there in 2013, it will be even better prepared this time.
I expect this Classic to be monumental in a lot of ways. The competition will be fierce, the fans will be fired up and media coverage - including Bassmaster LIVE - will be massive.
But there is nothing like being in that coliseum when the champ is crowned. You have to be there to fully understand the magnitude of what this event means to the world of fishing.
There is nothing like it.
Remember, it’s all about the attitude!