The 1979 Bassmaster Trail would be the richest yet in the 12 years of B.A.S.S. history. Photo February 1979 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

By 1979 the Bassmaster Tournament Trail was in its 12th year of existence, and the momentum looked like it would never stop.  While the 1979 Bassmaster Tournament Trail was expanding for the professional angler, B.A.S.S. was also giving its membership, the heart of B.A.S.S., something too.  Today, in part one of this series, we’ll delve into the 1979 season, what B.A.S.S. was doing for its members, and finish with the reports for the first two events.

1979 Schedule, Rules, and Payout

The 1979 Bassmaster Tournament Trail would start out, just as it had the previous seven years, in Florida.  What was different this year was the start date would be a month later than normal, February.  The Bassmaster schedule would take anglers to four familiar lakes and two unknowns.

Bassmaster Tournament Director Harold Sharp had this to say about the schedule.

“The 1979 B.A.S.S. schedule is one of the best in recent years.  It has been programmed to challenge the angler with a wide variety of different types of lakes and potential fishing patterns.”

The 1979 schedule would be the first time B.A.S.S. would travel to the far west in a regular season event.  The venue would be sprawling Lake Powell, 200 miles long with 2000 miles of shoreline.  The event would be held out of Page Arizona’s Wahweap Marina.

The second new venue would be Arkansas’ Millwood Lake located in Ashdown.  The 30,000-acre lake was known for its standing timber and big bass.

Another first in the 1979 season was B.A.S.S. was venturing outside the United States for an event.  This time the Bassmaster Chapter Championship would be held in Ontario, Canada at Lake of the Woods.  The six-man team championship would be a $50,000 event with the top scoring individual on the winning team heading to the Bass Masters Classic as in the past.

Another first was the Classic would be held in September, instead of October.  This opened up the possibility of having the Classic in a northern tier state, according to Ray Scott.  Scott also said the Classic venue would be announced a few weeks prior to the event.

The Classic this year would feature 24 contestants from the six qualifying events plus the Federation angler.

Missing from the 1979 schedule was the BASS Champs event.  This event wouldn’t be held due to it taking away from the Classic but overall, it had raised $30,000 for the Bass Research Foundation in the two years it was held.

It was also revealed that the 1980 season would start late in 1979, November 14-16 with the Alabama Invitational at Lake Eufaula.

Here’s the schedule as it was shown in the February 1979 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

 

  • February 21-23, 1979: Florida Invitational, St. Johns River, Welaka, FL
  • March 21-23, 1979: Arizona Invitational, Lake Powell, Page, AZ
  • April 25-27, 1979: Virginia Invitational, Lake Gaston, Gasburg, VA
  • May 23-25, 1979: Kentucky Invitational, Kentucky Lake, Hardin, KY
  • June 20-22, 1979: New York Invitational, St. Lawrence River, Alexandria Bay, NY
  • July 18-20, 1979: Arkansas Invitational, Millwood Reservoir, Ashdown, AR
  • August 22-24, 1979: Bassmaster Chapter Championship, Lake of the Woods, Sioux Narrows, Ontario, Canada
  • September 26-28, 1979: Bass Masters Classic, Site to be announced.

 

The payout for the 1979 season would be larger than any year prior, featuring a $475,000 total purse with a full field in each event.  The full field wasn’t a problem, though, as nearly every event in the 1978 season met the 250-angler limit.

With a full 250-man field, each event would pay out $62,500 with the winner receiving $14,000 which included $9,000 cash and a Ranger boat.  B.A.S.S. also said they’d pay down to 40th place with the final check being $400.  Entry fee for each Invitational was $300.

The $50,000 BMC would pay $25,000 to the champion, $10,000 to the runner-up, and $1,000 to 10th place.

The 14-inch rule, that had been installed in 1978 was still in force and this year they went to a seven-bass daily bag limit.  Harold Sharp said the 14-rule makes the anglers look for better fish rather than chasing smaller fish.

Qualifying for the BMC would be based on total weight for all the regular season events.  Plus, any tournament winner who fished all six events would automatically qualify for the Classic.

Professional anglers weren’t the only ones getting more, the membership was too.  First, B.A.S.S. was giving every B.A.S.S. member a $5,000 accidental death insurance coverage while fishing or boating.  Another bonus was the Boat Theft Reward was increased from $500 to $1,000.  This was an unusual reward if you read the fine print.  You as the owner, any family member or the police were not eligible for the reward.

Rules, Schedule, Payout, and Member Benefits are provided at the end of this article in the gallery.

Florida and the Snagless Sally

Florida is a finicky place to fish, especially in the early spring.  Past competitions on the St. Johns River had been won on worms as well as crankbaits. This year the competitors would find the worm to still be effective, but the bite would be off.  Instead, a bait that had been forgotten would reign champion.

The first day of the 1979 Florida Invitational would find, Erwin Cole of Murfreesboro, TN in the lead with five bass that brought the scales down to 18-04.  Cole reported he caught his fish on worms.  His lead of two ounces over Jerry Wagner, Ft. Smith, AR, was a thin margin indeed, but there were still two more days of competition to unfold.

The second day proved inhospitable for the top two anglers.  Wagner was unable to bring in one 14-inch bass and Cole’s day was plagued by motor problems and unfriendly canal homeowners.  To start off the day, the pin holding Cole’s flywheel decided to shear.  This left Cole dead in the water five miles from his canal.  While waiting for a mechanic to come, he was able to catch a five-pounder.  But that was only the start of his worries.

Once he was able to get the motor started, he went to the forbidden canal.  Where he caught five keepers the day before, he was only able to upgrade his catch to 9-13 before he got a ride back to weigh-in with another angler.  Cole weight was 28-01 by the end of the second day, which was good enough for second place.

While Cole and Wagner were struggling, another angler, Gary Alverson, had figured something out.  On day one Alverson was only able to bring 8-07 to the scales but on the second day found 22-12 worth of bass that wanted his Johnson Silver Minnow and Snagless Sally.  These fish brought his two-day total up to 31-03 and had him sitting in the pole position.

Dave Gliebe was one of only three anglers to weigh a limit on the second day, which bumped him into the third spot.

On the final day, Alverson only had one fish in the well by the midway point and knew that Cole had a new boat.  The water he’d been fishing wasn’t producing so he went looking.  Finally, he cast the Snagless Sally next to a downed tree and hooked up.  For the next 90 minutes Alverson put on a clinic with the forgotten bait and boated 14-01, which brought his total to 45-04 (16 fish) and the win.

Cole brought in 14-15 to bring his total up to 43-00 (13 fish) and second place.  Larry Parker got third with 39-08 (12 fish), Ray Tester weighed in 9 fish for a total of 33-11 for the fourth spot and Roland Martin rounded out the Top Five with 30-12 (15 fish).

Other notables in the Top 10 were Rick Clunn (7th, 29-10) and rookie Gary Klein with 28-00.

1979 Bassmaster Florida Invitational St. Johns River Patch. Photo Jeff Haines.
Gary Alverson would win the 1979 Florida Invitational on the St. Johns River with a forgotten lure. Photo May-June 1979 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

Big Fish of the event went to Hank Parker, who on the first day caught a 10-07.  The second biggest fish of the event was also caught the first day by Larry Oakes, a 10-02 hawg, but Oakes would get any of the awards as big fish awards were given to the overall daily big fish winners.  Other big fish caught were a 9-12 caught by Jerry Wagner and Ray Tester, 8-05.

The full scorecard is presented in the table below.


 

Bass Master Florida Invitational, St. Johns River Scorecard – February 21-23, 1979
 
Place
Angler, State
Bass/Alive
Weight, lbs-ozs
Award
1
Gary Alverson, GA
16/16
45-04
$14,000*
2
Erwin Cole, TN
13/13
43-00
$4,000
3
Larry Parker, FL
12/12
39-08
$3,000
4
Ray Tester, FL
9/9
33-11
$2,500
5
Roland Martin, OK
15/15
30-12
$1,600
6
Mitch Herring, MS
9/9
30-04
$1,500
7
Rick Clunn, TX
15/15
29-10
$1,400
8
Jack Westberry, FL
11/11
29-03
$1,300
9
Larry Oakes, AL
7/7
28-06
$1,200
10
Gary Klein, CA
8/8
28-00
$1,100
11
David Wharton, TX
10/10
27-15
$1,000
12
Dave Gliebe, CA
12/12
26-09
$1,000
13
Tommy Martin, TX
13/12
26-09
$1,000
14
Sonny Viola, LA
11/11
26-06
$1,000
15
J. D. Skinner, AL
11/11
26-01
$950
16
J. B. Warren, AR
11/11
26-01
$950
17
Brian Rayle, NY
10/10
25-00
$900
18
Woo Daves, VA
9/9
24-03
$900
19
Greg Ward, MO
8/8
23-09
$900
20
Corbin Dyer, KY
8/8
22-06
$900
21
Jerry Wagner, AR
5/5
22-04
$700
22
Jerry Rhyne, NC
9/9
22-00
$700
23
Linwood Thornhill, SC
10/10
21-13
$700
24
Bill Stephens, AL
7/7
21-11
$700
25
Ron Shearer, KY
8/8
21-09
$700
26
Ross Richey, FL
7/7
21-08
$625
27
Rayo Breckenridge, AR
10/10
21-05
$625
28
Hank Parker, SC
6/6
20-14
$625
29
Jim Towns, FL
7/7
20-07
$625
30
Jack Wade, TN
6/6
20-02
$625
31
George Cochran, AR
10/10
19-15
$525
32
Jim Wells, FL
9/9
19-07
$525
33
Cliff Craft, GA
7/7
19-05
$525
34
Charles LeFevor, TN
8/8
19-02
$525
35
Jim Rogers, MO
7/7
19-01
$525
36
Gene Miller, AR
8/8
18-14
$425
37
Jim Rogers, MO
6/6
18-14
$425
38
Ricky Green, AR
7/7
18-02
$425
39
James House, AL
5/5
18-00
$400
40
Kim Whitaker, AR
6/6
16-10
$400
Daily Lunker Leaders
Angler, State
Weight, lbs-ozs
Award
Day 1
Hanks Parker, SC
10-07
$3,775
Day 2
Jerry Wagner, AR
9-12
$850
Day 3
Ray Tester, FL
8-05
$350
The Box Score
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Total
Total Weight, lbs-ozs
802-10
880-05
819-01
252-00
Bass Weighed-in
288
339
327
954
7-Bass Limits
2
3
5
10
Bass Alive Weighed-in
285
336
316
937
NOTE:
Two bonus points were awarded for each live fish. Winner Award consisted of $9,000 Cash and a $5,000 Ranger Boat. Overall Big Fish Award was $3,775 Ranger Boat Rigged with trailer, charger, kill switch, lowrance flasher and Surface Fish-n-Temp, and Johnny Reb TectrAnchor.

 

 

Flippin’ Rookie Wins Powell

Lake Powell would mark the first ever regular-season B.A.S.S. event held in the west.  It was a reasonable gamble by B.A.S.S., after all, they did claim to be a national organization.  Prior to the event, many anglers complaind about the distance they’d have to travel, and the cost associated with it.  But if you were serious about making the Classic or have a chance at the Angler of the Year trophy, you couldn’t miss it.  Jimmy Houston was even on record saying, “..guys who want to fish THE Classic had better forget it if they don’t fish Powell.”

A lot of anglers didn’t heed Houston’s word as only 187 anglers would make the venue.  Even western pro and Bassmaster Rookie Gary Klein kicked around the idea of staying east to fish other events instead of making the arduous drive back west.  Thankfully Klein did heed Houston’s comment.

Lake Powell in the late 1970s was at full pool and over 200 miles long.  With over 2000 miles of shoreline and the San Juan River arm stretching another 50 miles, the lake offered plenty of water for anglers to get lost in.  But evidently, most anglers didn’t take advantage of this trait.  They turned a huge lake into a small fishery.  All except one angler, that is.

Gary Klein concentrated on the San Juan Arm of Lake Powell for the entire tournament.  The mouth of the San Juan is 57 miles up-river from Wahweap Marina and then stretches another 50 miles after that.  Gas can be obtained at the Dangling Rope floating marina and for anglers making that run, you had to use the floating gas dock if you desired not to spend the night floating in the cold desert impoundment.

By the end of the second day of competition, no one was paying attention to Klein, even though he was only 4-pounds 4-ounces off the lead.  Part of the problem was the leader, Randy Fite (40-04) and second-place angler, Roland Martin (40-00) were knowns in the cast-for-cash world of bass fishing, and surely, they weren’t about to let some punk 21-year-old kid take over the lead the last day.  “Gary-who,” you might have heard in the weigh-in line.

1979 Bassmaster Arizona Invitational Lake Powell Patch. Photo Jeff Haines.
Rookie Bassmaster angler Gary Klein is congratulated by his mentor, Dee Thomas, after winning the 1979 Arizona Invitational on Lake Powell. Photo July-August 1979 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

But to western anglers who’d been fishing against Klein the last few years, they knew Klein and what he was capable of.  One of those anglers was Dee Thomas, Klein’s mentor.

Thomas knew his buddy had a chance to win the event.  The problem was Klein’s boat was slower than most and required gas at Dangling Rope.  Thomas had a buddy who was willing to loan him his Ranger 185 with a 150-horse motor that was also equipped with a bladder tank.  The boat was much faster than Klein’s and didn’t require Klein to stop at the floating fuel dock.

On day three, Klein made his way up to the San Juan Arm 25 minutes ahead of schedule.  He and his partner for the day, Shorty Evans, hit a 350-yard stretch of shore flipping Garland Spider Jigs and Mister Twister Lizards.  By 10:30 am, Klein had a 7-fish limit in the boat.  He then commenced to upgrading and switched to a short-arm spinnerbait.

The rest of the field was much farther down lake and were struggling.  Roland Martin and Randy Fite didn’t know it at the time but had been sharing fish in Rock Creek.  Martin then decided to head to Last Chance Canyon as a last resort, but in the end, it didn’t pan out.

Martin ended up weighing 12-08 for the day, dropping him to the 5th spot with 52-08 and Fite brought in 9-02, which gave him a total of 49-06 and 8th-place overall.

But there was one angler who really took the idea of fishing close to the extreme.  That angler was Bill Dance and over the course of three days, he only burned 13 gallons of fuel compared to Klein’s 148 gallons.  Dance had the entire Wahweap Bay to his own for the entire event and his smart move had him sitting in first place towards the end of the final day weigh-in.  Over the course of three days, Dance had tallied 57-00 (with live-fish bonus points) and it appeared as if he’d win the event with only a few anglers left to weigh in.

That was until Klein showed up, “fashionably late,” with a sack of seven bass.  Klein needed 19-01 to pass Dance and when the needle settled on the scale, Kleins fish topped out at 19-02 (without live-fish bonus points).  Gary Klein, the 21-year-old rookie from Oroville, CA had won his first B.A.S.S. title in only his second try.

Longtime western tournament pro Pat Donoho, Las Vegas, NV, weighed in 56-05 (21 fish) for the third spot, while western veteran Fred Kunkle, Havasu Lake, CA, weighed in 55-00 (20 fish) for fourth place.  Rounding out the top 5 was Roland Martin.

Big fish for the event was a tie between Hank Parker and Bo Dowden with 7-00 bass.  Stan Ervin got the big bass for the final day, a 6 -00.

The actual tournament report for this event is presented below in the gallery.  It’s an amazing story that I felt you would want to read.

You can also see the full tournament scorecard below.

 

Bass Master Arizona Invitational, Lake Powell Scorecard – March 21-23, 1979
 
Place
Angler, State
Bass/Alive
Weight, lbs-ozs
Award
1
Gary Klein, CA
20/20
58-00
$10,598*
2
Bill Dance, TN
20/20
57-00
N/A
3
Pat Donoho, NV
21/21
56-05
N/A
4
Fred Kunkle, CA
20/20
55-00
N/A
5
Roland Martin, OK
20/20
52-08
N/A
6
Basil Bacon, MO
20/20
52-02
N/A
7
Fred Ward, AZ
19/19
51-04
N/A
8
Randy Fite, TX
18/18
49-06
N/A
9
Tom Mann, AL
19/19
48-15
N/A
10
Larry Utsler, IN
19/19
48-02
N/A
11
Chuck Boydston, CA
19/19
47-13
N/A
12
Hank Parker, SC
19/19
47-12
N/A
13
Bobby Murray, TN
18/18
47-11
N/A
14
Dee Thomas, CA
17/17
47-08
N/A
15
Hurley Board, NC
19/19
47-05
N/A
16
Greg Ward, MO
17/17
47-04
N/A
17
Marvin Baker, TX
17/17
46-15
N/A
18
Rick Clunn, TX
17/17
46-01
N/A
19
Corbin Dyer, KY
17/17
45-15
N/A
20
Greg Hines, CA
17/17
45-08
N/A
21
Tommy Martin, TX
17/17
44-08
N/A
22
Lynn Ellsworth, UT
18/18
44-07
N/A
23
Gene Maurel, CA
20/20
44-06
N/A
24
Shorty Evans, MO
18/18
43-13
N/A
25
Jimmy Houston, OK
18/18
43-10
N/A
26
Sam Shattenberg, AZ
18/18
43-07
N/A
27
Art Price, AZ
16/16
43-05
N/A
28
Ted Gardiner, AZ
18/18
42-14
N/A
29
Ron Shearer, KY
15/15
42-09
N/A
30
Dave Gliebe, CA
17/17
42-03
N/A
31
Bo Dowden, LA
14/14
41-01
N/A
32
Butch Rowse, NM
16/16
40-09
N/A
33
J. B. Warren, AR
17/17
40-07
N/A
34
Ricky Green, AR
18/18
39-14
N/A
35
Jake Crutchfield, OK
17/17
39-12
N/A
36
Loyd McEntire, IN
14/14
39-07
N/A
37
Mike Folkestad, CA
15/15
39-05
N/A
38
Don Siefert, CA
16/16
39-03
N/A
39
David Owens, AR
15/15
39-00
N/A
40
Vic Hamblett, VA
17/17
38-13
N/A
Daily Lunker Leaders
Angler, State
Weight, lbs-ozs
Award
Day 1
Bo Dowden, LA
7-00
$2,312.50
Day 2
Hank Parker, SC
7-00
$2,312.50
Day 3
Stan Ervin, NV
$350
The Box Score
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Total
Total Weight, lbs-ozs
1,972-00
1,224-13
1,414-04
4,611-01
Bass Weighed-in
755
596
561
1,912
7-Bass Limits
51
29
17
97
Bass Alive Weighed-in
719
561
531
1,811
NOTE:
Two bonus points were awarded for each live fish. Winner Award consisted of $5,598 Cash and a $5,000 Ranger Boat. Overall Big Fish Award was $3,775 Ranger Boat Rigged with trailer, charger, kill switch, lowrance flasher and Surface Fish-n-Temp, and Johnny Reb TectrAnchor.

 

Gallery