Original Caption: "Operation Bass organizer Mike Whitaker probing for largemouths on his home waters, Kentucky Lake." The Paducah Sun, Steve Vantreese, April 24, 1980

Mike Whitaker wanted to offer a competitive release for anglers who couldn’t fish the big leagues of bass fishing. He wanted to give the anglers in his region an opportunity to rise up the ranks and maybe turn pro. To do that, he came up with Operation Bass.

Operation Bass started in 1980 with just three divisions, two in KY and one in IL. Each Kentucky division fished three events and sent their top six anglers to the fall classic. The Illinois division fished six events and sent their top twelve anglers in points to the Classic. Within a couple years, the lead sponsor of the organization was Red Man chewing tobacco and the circuit became known as the Red Man Tournament Trail.

Poking around the archives this week I found an early article on Whitaker and the newly christened trail. Here are some of the high points from that article.

Original Title:  “Marshall man wants to see area bassing stars arise”

  • Membership at the time of the article (April 1980) was already up to 600 members. His goal was to get between 3,000-5,000 members in the first year.
  • Cast Magazine was the name of the publication for members only. It came with your $12 membership and was sent every other month.
  • The basic premise behind Operation Bass was a fair shake at some decent money. He felt existing professional organizations cost too much to participate in. So, he decided on a regional circuit with one-day events that cost just $50 to enter. Payback was a flat 80% ($40 per entry channeled back to the contestants).
  • Mike, along with his wife, Wanda, did most all the work for the organization and the magazine in the beginning.
  • Mike briefly had a lure business before starting the venture, Waterbug Bait Company, focused primarily on spinnerbaits along with a line of soft plastics and jigs.

If any of you readers out there have old Cast Magazines laying around that you wouldn’t mind parting with, we’d gladly take them off your hands. Or, if you don’t want to part with them, could we borrow them to scan and return? If you do, please send us an email at terry@bass-archives.com.

Cast Magazine May-June 1980.