We’ve done a lot of reporting on old bass associations that have popped up and fizzled out over the years. Two of those we’ve spent a lot of time on were the American Bass Fisherman (ABF) and the California Lunker Club (CLC). In early 1975, ABF was actually taking a stab at B.A.S.S. for their anglers and was doing a pretty good job at it until George Oates got convicted for fraud and the organization eventually sold out to National Bass Association, which folded a couple years later.
The California Lunker Club, on the other hand, was the brainchild of Dave Coolidge and was initially designed as an insurance policy for anglers in the event they caught a big fish. Join CLC for $10 per year and if you caught a big’un, you got your fish mounted for free. Not a bad deal.
CLC started in 1971 but by the time 1972 rolled around, bass tournament fever was sweeping the nation – California included. Coolidge held his first event in 1972 and the rest is history.
I interviewed Dave for a two-part article when we first started the Bass Fishing Archives. In that interview he said that by 1974 CLC had just gotten too big and too expensive to run. He handed it over to Western Bass/Western Outdoor News in early 1975 and started as associate editor of their magazine.
The story was short, sweet and from what I thought – done.
Then I read this January/February 1975 issue of ABF magazine and see the article featured at the top of this page. Supposedly ABF and CLC, with the help of Jim Putney (a western writer and writer for both rags), were going to combine forces. It also talks about the number of tournaments Coolidge had held and the new 1975 tournament schedule with 36 events scheduled for three divisions.
It’s kind of crazy the discrepancy between the two stories but I must believe this article was written quite a few months prior to the end of 1974, before Coolidge’s decision to sell to Western Bass.
But let’s assume that Coolidge didn’t sell and was going to go through with the 1975 season. What were anglers expecting with respect to CLC 1975? Let’s take a look.
In 1975 entry fees for each event were going to be set at $15 per angler. This was in the day where B.A.S.S. was holding event with a $125 dollar entry fee or higher. The reason for this is Coolidge felt that if guys weren’t fishing for a lot of money, this would decrease the possibility for cheating. Second, California had some strange laws on the books for gambling, and this was considered a form of gambling in the state’s eyes.
Next, the tournament schedule was spread out over the entire year, with nine monthly Qualifiers, three Invitationals, and a Tournament of Champions to be held in January the following year. The qualifications for the Invitationals as well as the Tournament of Champions was not explained very well, especially if you go back and read the final issue of The California Lunker Club newsletter we posted a few weeks back. In that, Coolidge said they were to have three divisions for the entire state of California. I assume the schedule that was printed in this magazine would be duplicated for each division.
Also, due to some other goofy California laws at the time, like zero-tolerance for catch and release of bass, Dave Coolidge was doing weigh-ins on the water. Catch a fish, wave him over and he’d come to the boat, weigh the fish and then you were able to release it.
The other cool thing Coolidge had slated for 1975, was habitat planting at one of the San Diego City Lakes that had no cover. This was 1975 and is what I would call some pretty hefty forward thinking on the part of Coolidge.
It’s interesting to go back and try to piece together all the organizations, how they came about, and how they either succeeded or failed. In this case, the California Lunker Club didn’t fail, it just grew too big for one man to run. He recognized this and handed it off to an organization, in this case Western Bass, and they ran with it, creating the opportunity for anglers such as Dee Thomas, Gary Klein, Mike Folkestad and others to rise into bass fishing stardom.
As for American Bass Fisherman, by the end of 1975 their participation had dropped due to the cheating scandal and they’d never recover. I wonder if this played into Dave Coolidge’s calculus on not joining forces with them.
To read the entire article, click on each the image below.