[Note: Harold Sharp played the major role in keeping the first six Bass Masters Classics a secret. We were lucky to have him as a contributor here at the Bass Fishing Archives during our first run. In this story, Sharp talks about some of those shenanigans as well as an in to the Grand Ole’ Opry. Now onto BASS Masters Classic II – Rail Cars and Stringbusters.]
The second Bass Master Classic was to be held on Percy Priest Reservoir near Nashville, TN. Before we could commit, though, we had to see if Nashville was interested in holding the event. We called the Chamber of Commerce and they were definitely interested. At this point we had an event location now they had to commit to total secrecy as the second Classic, too, would be a secret until the last minute.
Once Nashville committed to both the location and to secrecy, we arranged a trip for me to head over and meet with our contact to look at the launch, pick out a host hotel and try to find a warehouse in order to rig the boats and store them out of sight.
Ranger Boats was back in business and would be the official Classic boat. But there was a problem – we had two Classic contenders that were from Nashville and we had to make sure they didn’t get wind we were going there.
I called Mickey (Wood) at Ranger and told him to have all the boats loaded on the trucks and all the trailers and other equipment ready to go when I called him. The drivers were to sleep that day as they would be driving all night and they’d have to leave Flippin (Arkansas) when I called so they’d make the first destination on time.
On the evening of the day to ship the boats, I called Mickey and told him the interstate exit in Nashville to get off on and that I’d be waiting at the bottom of the ramp for them. They’d be there about 3:00 am.
The convoy arrived on time, I blinked my lights and they followed me to an empty warehouse about six blocks from the interstate. I opened the doors and they drove the entire convoy inside. I then loaded the drivers into a small car, took them to a motel and let them each out at their room with instructions that I’d call and wake them later. I left the impression we’d be going somewhere else after they rested a while.
As I promised, I called each room in the morning, told the drivers to eat and I’d be by to pick them up in an hour. When we got to the warehouse, I took everyone to the back wall and opened a door showing railroad tracks behind the warehouse. I asked Mickey to unload the boats and trailers from the flat beds and to assemble them. Then I asked him to figure out how many boats on trailers would fit on a 60-foot flatcar. As I left the warehouse, I told him not to open the warehouse doors and I would be back in a while to check on them.
I made up the flatcar story to keep thee truck drivers from telling anyone we were in Nashville. They were sent back to Flippin as soon as the boats were unloaded.
Later that afternoon I went back to the warehouse, at this time Ray (Scott) and Bob (Cobb) were getting everyone on the chartered plane back to Nashville, and Mickey said, “We have the boats ready, where are the flatcars?” That’s when I told him we were trailering the boats to Percy Priest Marina and the anglers were on their way. “Everyone said, ‘You said the boats were going to be hauled on the railroad somewhere else'” I replied, “No, I just asked how many would fit on a flatcar – I never mentioned they were going anywhere.”
[Fast-forward to the final weigh-in]
During the weigh-in, a B.A.S.S. member by the name of Dave Barton introduced himself and offered to help with anything we needed while in Nashville. He said he worked for a talent agency and played on the Grand Ole Opry. I asked if he could get us into the Opry – that Don Butler, who had just won the Classic would like to attend. Dave told us where to meet him at the back door to the Opry and that night we were there.
Dave had Ernest Tubb introduce Don to the crowd as the Bass Master Classic winner. Then Ray signed up Grandpa Jones and Stringbean as B.A.S.S. members – they both loved to fish bass.
After that I asked Dave of he could get some country singers to come to our next Classic as our guests and they could fish with the pros and perform, if they wanted, at one of our dinners. Dave said, “Just let me know when you need some, I know ‘em all.”
At the next Classic he brought Roy Clark and several others that worked as session musicians in Nashville. They played one night and we had a barn dance for the Classic crowd. Everyone had a great time.
By the next Classic the Nashville entertainers were ready – they’d named themselves “The String Busters.” We had uniformed shirts made for them with “String Busters” embroidered on them complete with B.A.S.S. and Bass Master Classic patches. Again everyone had a ball.
From then on for many years the String Busters were our Classic entertainment and they always brought a big country star along. Over the years we were entertained by Bobby Lord, Roy Clark, Mel Tillis, Ray Price, Merle Haggard, Jerry Clower, Jerry Reed and many others. It was always a good time and all it cost us was a few lures and fishing trips. The musicians were all avid bass anglers and enjoyed being a part of the Classic.
Next time I’ll fill you in on the behind-the-scenes antics at the third Classic.