The 1976 Bassmaster Trail Classic Contenders have a lot of interesting history packed into their stories. For one, there were four 5-time Classic contenders, one 4-time contender, five 3-time contenders and seven 2-time contenders. To say the field was stacked would be an understatement. In other words, 17 out of 25 anglers, or 68% of the 1976 Classic field, had Classic experience.
As amazing it was for so many past-Classic anglers to qualify, it was just as amazing who didn’t qualify. For example, Roland Martin, who’d made every (5) Classic since its inception, missed qualification by 6 points and finished in the 26th spot. The other 5-time qualifier who didn’t make it was Tom Mann who finished in 38th place.
There were also two 4-time qualifiers who didn’t make the cut, those being John Powell (31st place) and Glin Wells 35th place. Other mutli-Classic qualifiers who didn’t make the show were Al Lindner, Don Norton, Hugh Massey and Forrest Wood, all 2-time qualifiers.
Although Bassmaster didn’t publish angler bios in the magazine, Ken Duke was kind enough to give me a 1976 Bass Masters Classic Press Guide. With that I was able to get angler pictures as well as some good information on each angler.
I’m not sure when separate press guides were started, but this thing is chock full of great information for the bass geek. For example, you’ll notice most of the angler pictures seem to have been done in a professional studio.
B.A.S.S. also provided the ages of the anglers, which allowed me to calculate the average age of the Classic Qualifiers. I’ll be doing this from here on out to help dispel the recent myth that young anglers are taking over the ranks of competitive angling. In this group, excluding Billy Phillips who qualified through the Federation, the average age of the angler was 34.4 years old with a standard deviation of 6.4 years.
If you go to Young Gun’s Sport you can see where I compared the 1975 AOY race with last year’s Elite AOY and MLFLW’s AOY standings. The results of the 1976 data and the 1975 data are nearly exact, with the 1976 data again showing a younger field compared to the 2021 data.
In his second full-time season as a Bassmaster pro, Jimmy Houston made it known he was a contender. Although he and Roger Moore had a decent battle for the AOY points race, it was Houston who made a run the last two events and garnered his first AOY trophy. 1976 would be his second Classic (1975 and ’76) and he would go on to fish 13 more in a career which hasn’t ended.
In 1976 Houston also won the Santee-Cooper event and hauled in $17,724.00 for the year, which included $1,000 for his AOY win.
Houston fished his first B.A.S.S. event in 1968 at Lake Eufaula, AL and came in 6th place. In that event he fished deep (22 feet of water) and lead the event the first day. The second and third days he bombed. After that disappointing finish, he vowed to never fish deep again. I’d say his choice did him good over the course of his tournament career.
Hains, much like Houston, hit the trail running in 1975 and the 1976 tournament season was no different. He led the AOY race halfway through the season but in the fourth event fell behind Roger Moore. In the end, he’d acquire enough points to place second in the AOY race and also qualify for his second straight Bassmaster Classic.
In 1976, Hains won $4,248.oo bumping his total B.A.S.S. earnings up to $21,086.80 over the course of just two seasons. The money and notoriety of winning the 1975 Bass Masters Classic also changed his way of life. In 1975 he was a crop duster for his father’s farm in Louisiana. After winning the Classic, he started a guide service on Toledo Bend.
Roger Moore was in the driver’s seat for the AOY award throughout the ’76 season. But his shot at the year-end crown would fell short in the last event at Bull Shoals. He missed finishing in the top-50 and that allowed Jimmy Houston and Jack Hains to pass him at the end, Houston winning the coveted award.
Still, he made his third Classic in a row, a feat held by only a handful of competitors at this time. Especially since he’d only started competitive bass fishing in 1974.
By 1975, Moore had become such a celebrity on the tournament trail due to his finishes and his flashy clothes, he was making his living off of representing companies within the fishing and boating industry.
If not for missing the 1971 tournament year, Bill Dance would probably be fishing his sixth Classic at Lake Guntersville. Dance, at the time, was one of the hottest sticks in the sport continually duking it out with Tom Mann and Roland Martin for the AOY trophy.
Although TV would start to take over as his number-one priority soon, Dance would still make three more Classics from 1977 to ’79, after which he hung up his competitive career to focus entirely on his television show, Bill Dance Outdoors.
From 1967 to 1970, Dance won seven out of 16 events. His total B.A.S.S. earnings were $39,708.23, second only to Roland Martin. He also won the AOY trophy in 1970 and 1974.
Doug Odom only fished four events in the ’76 season but he made them count. At his first event at Santee-Cooper he placed second and that started his momentum to place fifth in the ’76 AOY standings. His other finishes were 9th at Buggs Island, 21st at Cordell Hull and 18th at Bull Shoals. This was his first Classic appearance, and he would qualify again the following year.
Ricky Green was the second of four 5-time Classic qualifiers fishing in Classic VI. Not fishing the ’71 season, there would have been no way for him to make this his sixth straight qualification, yet it would make him tied for the most consecutive qualifications along with five other anglers, Roland Martin, Tom Mann, Bill Dance, Billy Westmorland and Johnny Morris. Green would go on to qualify for nine more Classic – all in a row.
Green was beginning to grow into his nickname by this time, Mr. Consistency.” He was runner up in the 1972 Classic at Percy Priest Reservoir, TN, second to Don Butler. By the end of ’76, Green had amassed $26,844.35 in B.A.S.S. winnings and ranked 3rd in all-time winnings.
In 1974, when Green went full time as a competitive bass angler, the first to do so solely on sponsorships, the Wall Street Journal printed an article on their front page about Green and the money in professional bass fishing.
In the 1976 season, Ward finished 2nd at the first event and placed in the point in four others. This would be the second straight year Ward, would qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. Not only that, it would also be the second year in a row that he and his son Greg would fish the Super Bowl of professional fishing.
Ward, mostly known as the general manager of Bass Buster Lures and son of famed Virgil Ward, was quickly making a name for himself as a competitive bass angler.
The year 1976 would mark Tommy Martin’s third Classic in a row. He started on the trail in 1974 and quickly made his mark known. He won the Arkansas event on Beaver Lake ad then went on to win the 1974 Classic. He was the first rookie to win a Classic and the first to win a regular-season event and the Classic in the same year. He finished in the points four out of six events in ’76, and that gave him enough to qualify for the Classic in the 8th spot.
Martin’s occupation was a guide on Toledo Bend Reservoir. At the time, he was fishing 300 days per year.
Rick Clunn, after committing to professional bass fishing, made it his number-one goal each year to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. He felt that AOY was good but more important was to win the Classic early on in your career, as it was the event which could make or break an angler. It’s hard to argue with him as he made winning the Classic a career, having won four of them from 1976 through 1990. He holds the record for most Classic Qualified for in a row (28 from 1974 to 2001) and has fished a total of 32 Classics over his long career.
In 1976, Clunn made the top-10 in three of six events, finishing in the second spot at Cordell Hull. Clunn was a guide on Lake Conroe, TX, and a recent addition to Glastron Boats as a consultant. He preached the scientific approach to bass fishing and was a firm believer in pattern fishing.
Gary Wade fished five of six events in the ’76 season, accumulated enough points to finish 10th in the AOY race and qualify for his first Classic. Although he finished “middle of the pack” in points for three of those events, his second-place finish at Kerr Lake is what got him to the big show. Wade would go on to qualify for the 1978 Classic held at Ross Barnett.
Villis “Bo” Dowden let folks know early on that he was there to compete and by the end of the 1976 season, he’d qualified for his third straight Classic in only three years on the Trail. Dowden would go on to qualify for 11 more Classics through 1997 and win one in 1980 at the St. Lawrence River.
Dowden at the time was a marine dealer and spent as much time as he could on the waters of Toledo Bend. He was a versatile angler, confident on both shallow and deep water tactics.
During the 1976 season, Billy Westmorland would finish in the top-10 two times, his best finish being third at the Cordell Hull event in his home state of Tennessee. He would be one of the six Bassmaster anglers to have qualified for five Classics in a row – having only missed the 1971 Classic.
Westmorland was a noted smallmouth expert but could also catch largemouth as evidenced by his 1st-place finishes at the St Johns River two years in a row. He lived on Dale Hollow Lake in Celina, TN and was a representative for Norman Lures, JW Lures and Silvertrol.
There’s a general rule out there that tackle shop owners catch all their fish in the tackle shop – not on the water. Johnny Morris, though, broke that mold into pieces. Morris could not only sell tackle, but he could also catch fish – and catch them when it counted.
He was also one of six anglers at the time to qualify for five straight Classics. Morris placed in the top-15 in two of the six events he fished in the 1976 season. After the 1976 season, Morris would only fish one more Bassmaster event, the St Johns River, in 1977. Evidently his little tackle shop required more of his time.
Charlie Campbell made it to his first Classic via the Bassmaster Chapter Championship in 1974 and although he continued to fish the Federation, this year he qualified on Bassmaster Trail points alone. Of the five events he fished in 1976, he finished in the top-10 in three events.
Campbell also made the Missouri State Federation Team in 1976, unfortunately, Missouri placed in 4th overall, eliminating Campbell from qualifying for Classic VI in that manner.
Known as the guy who brough the Zara Spook back from death, Campbell would go on to fish three more Classics.
Greg Ward, son of Bill Ward would be fishing his second straight Classic having qualified again with his father. Ward completed the year with one top-10 and two other top-20 finishes. It would also be the second time that a father and son duo would fish a Classic together. When he qualified for his first Classic in 1975 he was the youngest angler ever to qualify for the sport’s number-one event. That record still stands today.
The youngest angler to ever compete in a Bass Masters Classic, Ward was no novice to bass fishing. His grandfather, the famed Virgil Ward, owner of Bass Buster Lures and the host of the TV show, Championship Fishing, helped hone his skills at an early age.
His occupation at the time was photographer and camera man for his grandfather’s TV show.
Loyd McEntire proved that you don’t have to live in the south to know how to catch bass. 1976 would be his second straight Classic qualification and a chance to bring the bling home to Indianapolis, Indiana. In the 1975 Classic he was in contention to win the event but, as with Paul Chamblee, the weather the final day prevented him from reaching his fish. He finished in 7th place.
He was also the alternate for the 1974 Classic on Wheeler, missing the cut by a couple points. He finished in the top-50 five times in 1976 – his highest finish a 7th place at Buggs Island.
This was Willard Moore’s second year on the Bassmaster Trail, and it seems for him it was much better than his freshman year. Moore qualified for the Classic by finishing in the points five out of six events never finishing higher than 17th place. Still consistency always pays off.
Moore was a marina owner/operator on Cross Lake in Shreveport.
The 1976 tournament season was Jack Chancellor’s first crack at the Bassmaster Trail, and he made the most of it by qualifying for the Classic his first year. Chancellor finished in the points in all six events with his top finish a 13th place at Toledo Bend. Chancellor would fish six more Classics and win one at the Arkansas River in 1985.
The year 1976 would mark the second year in a row that Don Mann would fish the Bassmaster Classic. If not for his brother’s (Tom) poor performance that same year, it would have been the second time the brother duo fished the Classic at the same time. Mann would go on to fish the ’77 season but after that his appearance on the trail was minimal.
Mann at the time was vice president of Mann’s Bait Company. His first foray into professional bass fishing was 1975 where he qualified for his first Classic.
After winning his first Classic the first time he qualified in 1973, Rayo Breckenridge seemed to be a sure fit for the event every year. This year was no exception as he qualified for his fourth straight Classic. Breckenridge made the points in four of six events with his highest finish being sixth place at Buggs Island.
Breckenridge, a farmer, became the Host of his own TV show after winning the 1973 Classic on Clark Hill Reservoirs, SC. He held the record for total weight in a Classic at the time with 52-08 and with $21,437.50 in B.A.S.S. earnings was 7th on the all-time B.A.S.S. money list.
Wade Reed only fished four of the six qualifying events in the ’76 season but he made them all count – finishing in the points in each event and winning the fifth event at Cordell Hull. Unfortunately, after that Reed would only fish two more Bassmaster events, both in 1977.
Another Bassmaster rookie, Jerry Rhyne had only fished two other Bassmaster events prior to the 1976 season, both in 1974. The first event was the federation Chapter Championship held at Table Rock Lake and his second the 1974 All-American held on Clark Hill Reservoir. This year, though, he fished four of the six events and put together enough points to make it to his first Classic. Over the following years, Rhyne would fish 10 more Classic and place in the top-10 17 times.
Prior to the 1976 season, Rhyne was a salesman. He quit his sales job to join the tournament trail. The first two events of the season were booked so he had to wait until the third event, Santee-Cooper, to fish. He felts his odds were pretty good since he was a former Santee-Cooper guide. His gut was right, he finished in 10th place. He finished in the points in two more events and qualified for the Classic his freshman year.
Basil Bacon took a shot at fishing the Bassmaster Trail during the 1974 season, fishing 5 out of the six events possible. Un fortunately he finished in the points only one time. A star on the BCA and PSI tournament circuits, he decided to give it another shot in 1976 and made his first of nine Classic appearances.
Over the ’76 season he made the points in three of six events, but his highest finish was a second place at final event of the season at Bull Shoals. This season would start off a career that would span four decades and make him a household name with anyone who followed the sport.
From his first full year (1974) on the Bassmaster Trail, Paul Chamblee was a shoo-in to make the Classic. This year probably didn’t pan out the way he wanted, though, as Chamblee barely squeaked into the event by finishing in the points in four of six tournaments. What really sealed his fate, though, was his 8th-place finish at Buggs Island. If not for that event, he would have succumbed to either Woo Daves or Roland Martin.
Chamblee nearly won the 1975 Classic. If not for bad weather the last day, preventing him from getting to his fish, it may have happened. Unfortunately, he left the door open, and Jack Hains ran through it for the victory. Chamblee ended up in 3rd place.
Billy Phillips would make the Classic via the B.A.S.S. Federation Chapter Championship and would become the fourth angler to do so. Phillips would qualify by being the number-one angler on the winning Tennessee team just a month earlier at Lake Texoma.
Phillips was famous for two reasons. One, his Jewel Bait Company, makes of the Little Jewel spinnerbait and the Buzz Jewel buzzer. He was also famous for fishing out if a 14-foot aluminum boat and winning numerous local events out of it.