One of the stories that always gets plenty of attention at the Bassmaster Classic is the lure or lures used by the winner.
To be blunt, these baits have not always been accurately reported to the public. Several times, a lure made by one company has been called a “prototype” of a company that sponsored the winner. Other times, the winner has lied even more blatantly about the winning bait(s).
For the most part, these prevarications are open secrets among the anglers and media. Several times, the lies have damaged relationships between Classic champions (who wanted to keep a secret) and the writers who tell their stories (who wanted to report things accurately — who doesn’t want a “scoop”?), and at least once an edition of Bassmaster Magazine had to be delayed so an angler’s misrepresentation could be repaired.
Too often, the angler and the journalist were probably co-conspirators in the fraud.
Of course, fishermen lie. It’s one of the traditional jokes about fishermen, though it does us little good as a species.
And, of course, it’s getting harder and harder to lie about the tools used to win the Classic. The winner is never out of sight of his press partner or marshal, and rarely escapes the lens of many, many cameras — both professional and amateur.
If a well-known and popular pro like Kevin VanDam or Michael Iaconelli wins the 2018 Classic, you can safely bet that he never escaped the scrutiny of the media and fans during any of the competition days … not even when answering the call of nature.
It used to be that a Classic win meant guaranteed success for a lure or technique — especially if it was “new” or somehow meaningfully different — but that success has usually been short-lived. The Classic “bump” was never really all it was cracked up to be, and it’s even less impactful now. After decades of telling the public that lures are just “tools” for a job, the message has sunk in: there are no magic beans or magic lures.
And a quantitative look at Classic winning lures has to be taken with a grain of salt. The Classic has been held in all four 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. In 2017, for the first time, it was in the spring, but now it’s back to winter again.
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 when it was cold, but there’s no clear trend to things here.
Here are the top baits and the number of Classics they helped to win:
- 23 diving crankbaits
- 18 plastic worms
- 18 spinnerbaits
- 12 jigs
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 can’t find anywhere else:
Wins by Manufacturer
- 7 Strike King
- 5 Bagley
- 5 Cotton Cordell
- 5 Mann’s
- 4 Berkley
- 4 Bomber
- 4 Luck “E” Strike
- 4 Zoom
What can we make of that list? Well, for starters, all of those companies have been around for a long time. For another, they’ve backed some pretty good horses. We need to remember that the companies supporting Rick Clunn and Kevin VanDam have had a chance to be part of multiple titles. The companies backing the Team Championship angler … not so much. Maybe the baits used by Clunn and VanDam have been the best lures on the water, maybe not. But no one could argue they were not in the right hands. When it comes to the Classic, who is fishing your baits is even more important than how well the lures perform.
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 (now long out of business) got credit for three wins (1983, 1984 and 1987) with just one lure, the Gator Tail worm.
I’m pretty sure I’ve still got some of those worms in my garage. I think it’s time to dig ‘em out.