With 46 Bassmaster Classics in the books, it’s interesting to look at the baits that have won bass fishing’s most prestigious championship.
The tricky part — the part that makes analysis incomplete and sketchy — is the fact that the Classic has been held in three different seasons of the year. From its inception in 1971 until 1982, it was a fall event fished in late September through early November. From 1983 through 2005, it was held in the summer — July and August. And since 2006, it’s been a winter derby — mid-February to early March. This year, for the first time, it’s in the spring, but that’s apparently not a meaningful “shift” as much as an isolated accommodation to the host city, Houston. Next year’s Classic will fall earlier in March.
Add to the mix the fact that the Classic moves around geographically — from Lake Mead in the west to the St. Lawrence River in the north to Chesapeake Bay in the east and the Kissimmee Chain in the south — and that it’s been held on man-made reservoirs, natural lakes, tidal waters and rivers, well, you have a hodgepodge of factors that defy serious analysis.
Sure, spinnerbaits and crankbaits generally did well in the fall championships. Soft plastics won their share of summertime events, and spoons, jerkbaits and jigs have strutted their stuff in the winter, but there’s no clear trend to things.
Here are the top baits and the number of Classics they helped to win:
Wins by Lure Type
22 diving crankbaits
16 plastic worms
So, if we can’t draw a meaningful bead on bait types, let’s take a look at the companies that have made the Classic winning lures. Which manufacturers have found themselves in bass fishing’s brightest spotlight most often?
Here’s the lowdown you won’t — make that can’t find anywhere else:
Wins by Manufacturer
7 Strike King
There are certainly some legendary bait makers on that list, and all are still in business … though some more than others. What’s more, all but Bomber have added to their tally since 2004.
Now let’s take a look at the staying power of Classic winning lures. You might think that adding a Classic win to your lure’s résumé is a guarantee of commercial success, but you’d be wrong. Getting credit for winning bass fishing’s biggest title is far less assurance of profitability than a decent marketing plan.
A quick review of the lures referenced in the last five Classic wins shows you that not all are still in production, and several have changed names to incorporate the winner’s name or the word “Classic” into the lure name. Thus, the homemade underspin that Casey Ashley rode to victory in 2015 is TTI-Blakemore’s “Casey’s Classic Runner” and the crankbait Randy Howell culled with in 2014 is the Livingston Lures “Howeller Dream Master” in “Guntersville Craw.” In fact, the latter bait didn’t even have a name until the Classic press conference on the final day after Randy Howell had hoisted the trophy.
Some Classic winning lures made multiple trips to the winner’s circle, but even that didn’t help. In 1974, 1975 and 1976, all three winners credited a Fleck Weed Wader spinnerbait for at least part of their catch, but the bait never really took off.
What may be as interesting as the list of manufacturers atop the Classic winner list is the group of bait makers that are barely represented at all.
Rapala sells more than its share of lures, but only twice did a Classic champ credit a Rapala bait for part of his catch … and those times were 30 years apart (1984 and 2014). In comparison, tiny Ditto Manufacturing got credit for three wins (1983, 1984 and 1987) with just one lure, the Gator Tail worm.
Ultimately, the Classic has only kicked off a couple of genuine bait or technique movements, and both happened in the 1980s. Paul Elias brought attention to kneeling and reeling with deep-diving crankbaits in 1982, and Jack Chancellor started the Carolina rigging explosion in 1985.
In the late ‘80s, I once had a tournament partner get into my boat with 10 rods, nine of which were set up with Carolina rigs. And this was for a springtime tournament! As you might have guessed, Jack Chancellor was his hero.
The Carolina rig movement (now reborn?) may also say something about the importance of winning, since only the winner gets any real attention. Chancellor’s ’85 win started a craze, but Bill Dance — the sport’s first breakout star — used the Carolina rig to finish second in 1973. Dance introduced the bass fishing world to the then-mostly unknown South Carolina rig, but it took a Classic victory for anglers to actually start using it in big numbers.
We are a fickle crowd. First place is good enough for us. We want no part of second.
You could make the argument that Davy Hite drew the first major attention for creature baits in 1999 or that Denny Brauer changed tube fishing (and turned it into a Flippin’ and pitching tactic) in 1998, but both those trends paled in comparison to what Chancellor did for the Carolina rig.
Other bass fishing movements — like the square bill crankbait, Flippin’, the buzzbait, the soft plastic jerkbait, big swimbaits, the stick worm, the Alabama rig … and on and on — came into the spotlight through other tournaments, via other circuits and increasingly from outlets that have nothing to do with competitive fishing.
We are too sophisticated now to believe in the “magic lure” or to think that only one will work under certain conditions. As a result, the Bassmaster Classic’s ability to propel a lure or technique to the heights of old is gone. B.A.S.S. and other publishers and the stars they helped to create have educated us and let us look behind the curtain.
We finally believe what they’ve been telling us all along. That lures are tools which should be selected based upon the job to be done. There is no magic.
And the company which manufactures the lure that will be credited with winning the 2017 Classic would do well to remember that and to market accordingly. Instead of asking the winner to say “I couldn’t have done it without the new XYZ,” try explaining that the XYZ was the right tool for the job and that you have a full lineup of tools for almost any condition an angler is likely to face.
Sell a solution rather than just some magic beans. The audience will respect you for it.