The 1991 Missouri Invitational was the 10th of Rick Clunn’s 16 B.A.S.S. wins and his first after winning his fourth Bassmaster Classic title. He’s won six more events since then, but not another Classic. Historically, I suppose that makes it somewhat significant, but this event was even more notable for another reason. Can you guess what it was?
Here’s the first stop on your scavenger hunt: Check out the 37th place finisher, 1986 Classic champion Charlie Reed.
Does that help at all?
Move your eyes 21 more places down the standings sheet. There it is….rather, there she is — Vojai Reed, the first woman to participate in a B.A.S.S. tournament.
The fairer sex had a somewhat tormented relationship with Ray Scott’s organization. Indeed, in his book “Bass Madness,” Ken Schultz reported that Mary Ann Martin was not allowed to accompany Roland Martin to the first Classic because they were engaged, not married.
When the Martins eventually got married, Schultz added, Mary Ann tried to enter a B.A.S.S. tournament, but Scott tore up the check, proclaiming that, “It’ll be a cold day in hell before a woman ever fishes one of my tournaments.”
Scott justified this on the rationale that male/female partner pairings wouldn’t be able to modestly go to the bathroom during the day since they’d have to stay “in sight of each other” and “in sight of the livewells.” Others speculated that it was the anglers’ wives who pushed for it, not wanting to create an environment that would allow for hanky panky. In time, the Bass’n Gal circuit arose to provide a tour for women to fish
Nevertheless, three days before practice was to start at Truman Reservoir in 1991, the Corps of Engineers stated that they wouldn’t provide a permit for the tournament if women were not allowed to participate, so B.A.S.S. recruited Reed. As her husband told the Orlando Sentinel, “She got in as a favor to BASS.”
According to the late Tim Tucker, “she had the right temperament and was not intimidated by anybody.”
As Sports Illustrated reported in its May 13, 1991, issue, Mrs. Reed herself “had joined other fishermen’s wives in asking B.A.S.S. to continue banning women from its tournaments. However, she changed her mind when she found out there wouldn’t be a mandatory pairing of partners.”
Her first day partner, Homer Humphreys, told the Orlando Sentinel that ”[s]he was a fantastic partner. She was the most aggressive lady I’ve ever fished with – more aggressive than most men are – when it came to keeping her lure in the water. But, on the other hand, she wasn’t aggressive to the point of taking over your water, like most men would be.”
The 58th place finish was her best in seven B.A.S.S. events spread out over the 1991 and 1992 seasons. Other than the 1992 Texas Invitational at Sam Rayburn, where she finished 93rd, she never again finished better than triple digits. Other than breaking the gender barrier, she is most known for winning the Bass’n Gal Classic in 1984.
Today women are a common site on the B.A.S.S. tournament trail and hopefully the early days are long past. A quick look at social media reveals large numbers of ladies pursuing not just the little green fish, but all species, fresh and salt – and on their own.
Then, just last week, something special happened. A lady angler by the name of Kristine Fischer won the Hobie Bass Open Series Tournament of Champions – a 3-day grueling event against 49 other qualifiers. This is the Bass Masters Classic in the Kayak bass fishing world. Fischer came from behind each day of the event, winning on the last day by 4.25 inches overall and cashed a $35,000 check for first place. Not only that, she finished second in the AOY points race, which gave her another $3,000 and qualified her for the Hobie Fishing World’s Team.
We’ve come a long way from the days of competitive bass fishing being a man’s sport. From Vojai Reed bailing out Ray Scott and B.A.S.S. to Kristine Fischer ascending the highest peak of the competitive Kayak world. Hopefully little girls see their efforts as an inspiration to get outdoors and knock heads with the guys.