Bo Dowden, winner of the 1980 BASS Masters Classic on the St. Lawrence River. February 1981 Bassmaster magazine Cover.

Last time in the Season at a Glance, we said this iteration would be all about the BASS Masters Classic Contenders.  Unfortunately, none of the issues I have provide a breakdown of the anglers and their bios in which to write that article.  So, today we’re going to go directly to the 1980 BASS Masters Classic and see how it panned out.

From the BASS Champs event, held at Lake Guntersville in July, the field had been set through competition in the Eastern and Western Divisions.  To remind you, look at the table below to see those who had made it.

1980 BASS Master Eastern and Western Divisions Standings After BASS Champs
PlaceAngler, StateWeight, lbsPlaceAngler, StateWeight, lbs
1Rick Clunn, TX123.93751Kevin Johnson, KS102.5
2Basil Bacon, MO113.31252Ron Shearer, KY99.125
3Randy Fite, TX109.253Larry Nixon, TX98.625
(Larry Nixon, TX - Qualified Through West)107.18754Villis Dowden, LA96.875
4Richard Stocks, AL100.68755Jimmy Houston, OK95.875
5Jimmy Rogers, FL99.8125(Basil Bacon, MO - Qualified Through East)93.5
6Bobby Murray, TN97.1256Ricky Green, AR91.3125
7Thomas Martin, TX91.18757Bill O'Connor, FL89.625
(Jimmy Houston, OK - Qualified Through West)918H J Stevens, AR89.625
8Marvin Baker, TX90.93759Harold Allen, TX89.3125
9Tommy Chapman, NC87.5625(Richard Stocks, AL - Qualified Through East)87.875
10Cliff Craft, GA86.12510George Bowman, AR87.75
11Jerry Brown, LA84.625(Marvin Baker, TX - Qualified Through east)87.75
(Ron Shearer, KY - Qualified Through West)83.9375(Cliff Craft, GA - Qualified Through East)86.8125
12Jon Hall, VA83.87511Hank Parker, NC82.8125
13Guy Eaker, NC83.7512Chet Douthit, MO80.625
14Corbin Dyer, KY81.312513David Wharton, TX78.5
15Paul Chapple, AL79.187514Kenneth Walker, TX78.125
16Zell Rowland, TX78.515Robert Hale, LA77.5625
17Charles Campbell, MO77.687516J W Cheatham, AR75.5
(Villis Dowden, LA - Qualified Through West)77.37517Roland Martin, OK75.4375
(Roland Martin, OK - Qualified Through West)77.1875(Charles Campbell, MO - Qualified Through East)72.3125
18John Powell, AL76.187518Don Doty, CA71.75
(Don Doty, CA - Qualified Through West)74.87519David Johnson, KS71.1875
19Bill Ward, MO74.62520Guido Hibdon, MO70.3125
20Jack Westberry, FL74(Rick Clunn, TX - Qualified Through East)67.81
21John Rogers, GA ALTERNATE73.812521Dick Gregory, VA ALTERNATE66.4375

Out of the qualifiers, 19 were Classic rookies, a number much bigger than in recent years.  This was due to Scott’s breaking up of the tour into two divisions, allowing part-time pros a crack at the year-end championship.  No longer was the Angler of the Year race the benchmark to qualify for the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing.  This most likely irritated a few of the full-time pros who had longtime runs at the Classic through the AOY standings.

Anglers that placed in the Top 40 in the AOY race but didn’t get into the Classic were; Gary Klein (19th), Greg Ward (25th), Dave Gliebe (27th), Rayo Breckenridge (28th), Bill Dance (31st), Paul Elias (32nd), Tom Mann (34th), Forrest Wood (35th), and Jerry Rhyne (39th).

Here’s the list of Classic qualifiers with respect to how many Classics they had qualified for, including the 1980 Classic.

  • 9 Times:  Roland Martin, Ricky Green
  • 8 Times:  Bobby Murray
  • 7 Times:  Rick Clunn
  • 6 Times:  Tommy Martin, Bo Dowden, John Powell
  • 5 Times:  Bill Ward
  • 4 Times:  Larry Nixon, Jimmy Houston
  • 3 Times:  Basil Bacon, Randy Fite, Marvin Baker, Charlie Campbell, Harold Allen, Hank Parker
  • 2 Times:  Tommy Chapman, Cliff Craft, Jon Hall, H. J. Stevens, David Wharton
  • Rookie:  Richard Stocks, Jimmy Rogers, Jerry Brown, Ron Shearer, Guy Eaker, Corbin Dyer, Paul Chapple, Zell Rowland, Don Doty, Jack Westberry, Kevin Johnson, Bill O’Connor, George Bowman, Chet Douthit, Kenneth Walker, Robert Hale, J. W. Cheatham, David Johnson, Guido Hibdon

The list of multi-Classic qualifiers is impressive when you look at the anglers who qualified for five or more Classics.  But look at the list of rookies and get a feel for who was just coming into the spotlight.  Ron Shearer, Guy Eaker, Zell Rowland, Chet Douthit, and Guido Hibdon would all soon be household names.

Let’s take a look at the 1980 BASS Masters Classic


Classic Venue

Because the 1980 season was started in the Fall of 1979, this shifted the schedule left a few months.  Ray Scott did this on purpose for the specific reason to shift the Classic dates left and open up more water for the venue.  Now, with the Classic in September, he could hold the event in the northern tier, which is where Classic 10 was held.

Thousand Islands New York, or the St. Lawrence River, wasn’t new to the BASS Master Trail by no means.  The Trail had visited in 1977, 1978, and 1979.  Roland Martin had proved his mettle with the northern smallmouth and in those three events racked up 1st, 4th, and 8th-place finishes.  Going into Classic 10, Martin was the top choice amongst pontificators of the sport.

The 1980 BASS Masters Classic would be held out of Alexandria Bay and it being fall in the north, the weather had an impact on the event from the first and only day of practice.  High winds pushed through the area, making it hard for anglers to fish the areas they wanted to concentrate on.  Those that were able to fish, found out that there’s more to northern fish than the black bass.

1980 Bass Masters Classic patch. Photo Terry Battisti.

Guido Hibdon hooked what he said was a 5-foot musky that took thirty minutes of his precious time.  Larry Nixon reported that pike and pickerel had broke him off so many times he was almost out of 1/4-ounce worm weights.  Other anglers reported having brought wire leaders to deal with the toothy critters but didn’t want to throw them due to their action-robbing traits.  Rick Clunn, who has been noted for classifying his crankbaits according to A, B, and C ratings, said:

“With so many fish species here having razor-sharp teeth, a constant worry is that you’ll lose the best lures that happen to be producing the most bass and, then, have to go to your second or third choices.  But if you tie on a wire leader to prevent bite-offs, your bass strikes diminish so much it’s like you were fishing your second and third choice lures anyway.”


Classic Competition

The first day of the event turned out to be bluebird skies, no wind, and a high-pressure system.  Not perfect for the first day of the biggest event of the year.  And the results reflected the weather.  Only 80 fish were weighed in for the 41 anglers.  But those anglers who were on them, got them.  There were six 5-fish limits weighed, which accounted for 30 of those fish.  Eleven anglers were only able to bring in one fish, while 10 anglers blanked.

Bo Dowden started the event off with a limit that pulled the scales down to 20-15 and gave him a 4-10 lead over Basil Bacon, who weighed in 16-05.  1979 Classic winner Hank Parker weighed in 15-12 for the 3rd spot and Larry Nixon weighed in 14-15 secured the 4th spot.

The second day of the event was a repeat of the practice round with high winds, rain and dropping temperatures.  Bo Dowden continued to put fish in the boat, bringing in a limit that weighed 17-09, increasing his total to 38-08.  Dowden reported he had all his fish in the boat by 8:30 am.

Basil Bacon was keeping Dowden honest and brought in an 18-00 bag, increasing his total to 34-05.  Hank Parker, who was in 3rd-place the first day, couldn’t seem to get a break.  This was the days of the observers being able to fish and Parkers luck had worn off on his press anglers.  On Wednesday, the first day of the event, Homer Circle, fishing with Parker, caught the biggest bass of the day, a 5-14.  Then on day 2 the same thing happened when John Scott caught a 5-06 from his back deck.  I’m happy to see this practice was stopped.

Bo Dowden fishing bus-sized rock formations with his 3/8 Black Arkie jig and #1 Pork Frog. February 1981 Bassmaster Magazine.

On the final day of competition, Dowden made his way back to his area in Chippewa Bay.  A rock ledge running between two islands was the magic spot for Dowden.  By the time he got there that morning, whitecaps were already forming on the wind swells.  The prior days had given Dowden his limit early but the wind would prove difficult to deal with.  Dowden put his first fish in the boat just before 8 in the morning.

At a little after 9 am, Dowden puts his second fish in the well as waves crash over his bow.  He fights 30-mph winds for 30 more minutes before putting a smallmouth in the box.  The wind is just too much on his outside structure and concedes to find calmer water.

Arriving at his next spot, Dowden continues throwing his Jig-n-Pig.  A little after 11 am he boats his fourth fish, a 4-pounder.  His fifth fish would come at 1 pm, a fish that confirmed in his mind he’d won the 10th BASS Masters Classic.  Dowden’s fifth fish turned out to be a 6-pound largemouth.  His limit would end up weighing 16-02 and would give him a total of 54-10 for three days of effort.

At this point it was rumored that Roland Martin had had a good day.  But he’d need a spectacular one to overtake Dowden at this point.  Roland Martin weighed in 17-10 for the day, the biggest limit of day 3.  That pushed Martin up to a total of 44-01, 10-09 off the leader Dowden.

Basil Bacon blanked the last day and he dropped to 5th place with 34-05.  Cliff Craft placed 3rd with a total of 41-00 and Hank Parker weighed in 35-11 for the 4th-place spot.

The rest of the standings and box score are shown in the table below.

Bo Dowden screams after boating his 6-06 largemouth caught on the last day of the 1980 BASS Masters Classic. February 1981 Bassmaster Magazine.
1980 BASS Masters Classic Final Box Score, Thousand Islands, NY, September 24-26, 1980
PlaceAngler, StateBass/AliveWeight, lbs-ozsAward
1Villis Dowden15/1554 - 10$40,000*
2Roland Martin15/1544 - 1$12,000*
3Cliff Craft12/1241 - 0$6,000*
4Hank Parker12/1235 - 11$3,000
5Basil Bacon10/1034 - 5$2,000
6Larry Nixon11/1133 - 14$1,000
7Randy Fite13/1332 - 9$1,000
8John Powell10/1031 - 1$1,000
9Kenneth Walker11/1129 - 9$1,000
10Guido Hibdon9/926 - 2$1,000
11Ricky Green9/925 - 0$1,000
12George Bowman10/1024 - 14$1,000
13H J Stevens10/1023 - 15$1,000
14Bill Ward9/923 - 7$1,000
15Rick Clunn8/822 - 9$1,000
16Jimmy Houston8/820 - 8$1,000
17Thomas Martin5/519 - 1$1,000
18J W Cheatham7/718 - 12$1,000
19Ron Shearer6/617 - 5$1,000
20Kevin Johnson4/417 - 0$1,000
21Guy Eaker7/716 - 8
22Marvin Baker4/415 - 2
23Harold Allen5/514 - 7
24Jack Westberry4/411-01
25Jimmy Rogers4/411-00
26Charles Campbell4/410-06
27Bobby Murray4/410-05
28Don Doty3/310-03
29Zell Rowland3/37-15
30Robert Hale2/27-13
31David Wharton3/36-13
32Jerry Brown2/25-07
33Paul Chapple2/25-04
34Jon Hall2/24-12
35Bill O'connor2/24-07
36Richard Stocks1/13-01
37David Johnson1/12-14
38Chet Douthit0/00-00
39Tommy Chapman0/00-00
40Corbin Dyer0/00-00
41Billy Phillips0/00-00
Box Score
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Total Bass Caught
Total Bass released
Total Pounds Caught/strong>
Limits Caught (5-fish)
Daily Big Bass Awards
Bo Dowden, LA6-06$1,000
Kevin Johnson, KS5-14$1,000
Cliff Craft, GA5-09$1,000
Daily Press Angler Big Bass Awards
Bob Bledsoe, Tulsa Tribune5-14$500
Homer Circle, Sports Afield4-00$500
John Scott, Tulsa, OK5-06$500
Bob Stephenson, KTRH Radio, Houston, TX4-00 (Tie)$500
Nick Sisley, Apollo, PA4-00 (Tie)$500
NOTES: Winnings include bonuses from DuPont Stren Line, $10,000 for 1st, $2,000 for 2nd, and $1,000 for 3rd, if the anglers used Stren Line.

Dowden’s winning tactics were all based on fishing where the winning fish were.  Small fish were easy to find shallow but he knew he couldn’t win with them.  He also knew the deep water was where the pike and musky hung out.  But he also knew that’s where the winning bass would be too.  So how could he fish for the bigger bass and not be bothered by the pike and musky?

Years earlier Dowden had figured out something fishing the bayous of Louisiana, which are loaded with pickerel.  According to Dowden, pickerel love shiny, bright objects and if you don’t want to catch the pickerel, you use something black.  Since pickerel are similar to pike and musky, he felt this would follow suit in New York.  It did indeed.

Ray Scott stands next to Bo Dowden, who holds the trophy, as his wife holds the check for winning the 1980 BASS Masters Classic. February 1981 Bassmaster Magazine.

For the entire event he relied on a black 3/8-ounce Arkie Jig tipped with a piece of black #1 Uncle Josh pork.  Dowden’s win was another feather in the cap for the Jig-n-Pig.  Dead for many years, the Jig and Pork revival would be full steam ahead from here on out.

This concludes the 1980 BASS Master Season at a glance.  I hope you enjoyed this look back into the history of competitive bass fishing.  Next time we’ll take a look at the 1981 season.