The conclusion of the 1971 tournament season brought on a new twist in bass fishing – the first Bass Masters Classic, which would determine the first bass fishing World Champion. All year anglers fished to qualify for this event and at the end of the regular season, the top 24 anglers were secretly placed on an airplane in Atlanta, GA and whisked through the sky westward to their final destination.
Once the plane hit the 10,000-foot level, Ray Scott stood up and announced the final destination for the event, Lake Mead in the stark Nevada desert. Here are a few of Ray’s words taken from the Jan/Feb issue of Bass Master Magazine regarding the disclosure of the event site.
“We’ve got the best bass fishermen in the world on this plane. You wouldn’t expect the World Series to be played on a Little League ball yard. Neither would you expect the World Championship of Bass Fishing to be held in a fish hatchery. We’re headed for Lake Mead on the Nevada-Arizona border. It will be the toughest fishing test of your angling careers. But, it’ll be worth it. To the victor goes $10,000 cash.”
Ray wasn’t kidding when he said it’d be the toughest test for these 24 anglers. Most, if not all of the anglers were used to stained to muddy waters. Lake Mead, on the other hand, is known for ultra-clear water, water you can read a beer can in 35 feet. The lake is stingy at best because of this clear water but at the time, the lake didn’t have grass, another key component these anglers were used to fishing.
Top those two adversities with steep, rocky shorelines and scattered wood, it would be unlike any lake the Classic I anglers had ever fished. Then you have the fish themselves, small and skittish. In events today, if an angler averages 11 pounds per day, they can pretty much assure a top-3 if not the win. Just look at the U.S. Open results for the past 40 years to confirm that number.
As if things weren’t interesting enough with the tough lake situation, Ray had another card up his sleeve – the anglers were only allowed four rods, 10 pounds of tackle and one day to practice. It would truly be the hardest test for the best anglers on the planet. The angler who would win would be the one who adapted to the conditions as well as made the best from their tackle.
As would become the norm for all future Classics, the anglers would fish out of identical boats, each rigged with identical equipment. The boats for Classic I were provided by Rebel (the Ranger factory had burned down earlier that year) and were fitted with 90-hp MerCruiser inboard/outboards that pushed the boats at a whopping 37-mph. Also rigged on the boats were Lowrance flashers (console and bow), a Lowrance Fish-n-Temp, and a Motor-Guide 12-volt trolling motor. Not mentioned in the write-up in the Jan/Feb 1972 issue of Bass Master Magazine was the anchor and anchor davit, which could have been supplied by a couple of different companies.
The event would test the anglers over three days of competition with a daily limit being 10 bass.
This event was no different. Bobby Meador, brought nine fish to the scales that weighed 15-12 and became the first-day leader. Tom Mann, of Jelly Worm fame, brought in the only limit (10 fish) posted that day weighing 13-4 and took the second-place position. Out of the 24 anglers, only 73 keepers were caught and five of the anglers blanked.
The second day brought about a pretty big change in the leader board. Tom Mann again brought in the only limit that weighed 15-6, giving him the first-place position after the second day with 28-10. Bobby Murray, who only weighed five fish for 9-7 the first day, brought in a bag of six fish totaling 18-6 – better than a three-pound average – taking on the second spot after two days with 27-13 total. Murray also had that day’s big fish at 6-5.
The third day brought more tough fishing but Tom Mann, who was the only angler to limit the first two days, was able to bring in another eight bass to the scales for 9-3. His 28 fish totaled 37-13. Roland Martin made a valiant effort the last day but his fish, including the event’s big fish (6-9) wouldn’t be enough. Martin ended up finishing in fourth place with a total of 14 fish for 30-3.
Bobby Murray only brought six fish to the scales but his weight of 15-14 (17 for 43-11) was more than enough to pass Mann as the first-place leader and the winner of the first Bass Masters Classic.
A full list of the standings is shown in the table below.
Murray won the first Bass Masters Classic in the “Rotary Cove” area 13 miles from the ramp. Before the event, locals were saying it would be won deep and they ended up surprised when they heard that the winning fish came “in two feet of water.”
Murray’s winning pattern was to throw a 1/4-ounce white tandem-bladed spinnerbait (Zorro Aggravator) near and in the many salt cedars present during the time. Here are his words from the Jan/Feb issue of Bass Master Magazine.
“The water was so clear I could always see the bass hit or follow the Aggravator,” Murray said. “In three days, I bet I saw 40 bass weighing at least five pounds each [b]ut they spooked easy and I tried to make long casts.”
The technique that Murray used to catch his fish was also new amongst the spinnerbait crowd. Here are Bob Cobb’s words describing the technique in the same article.
“Spinnerbaits long have been fished slowly, letting the lure sink deep, then worked slowly to the boat. The technique used by Murray (and others) is overlooked in many areas. Described as ‘blade fishing’ in the South-west, the singlespin is buzzed across the top or just below the surface. Pull the spinnerbait through stick-ups, fallen limbs or cover that may hold fish. Keep the blade running just beneath the surface. When this method fails, try running the blade up to the brush piles, stopping it or ‘killing it’ for a count or two, then resume the retrieve.”
It’s pretty amazing that a technique we take for granted today, buzzing a blade, was uncovered in this article.
Also of note is third-place angler George Oates. For those of you bass fishing historians, can you tell me what happened to Oates in the years following this first Classic?
|Al St. Romain|
Past Reader Comments
Watt: I finally finished reading the ’71 series (I may not be fast but I am real slow!). Good stuff! Notice the massive payouts for the qualifiers? Heh! That’s why everybody had a job on the side! 😉 I was actually a skipper in the USMM and only got to fish for four or five months out of the year. It was almost impossible to make a living strictly fishing back then.
George Oates eh? Caught, and convicted, of cheating in one of the tournies they put on. That one rocked the world. I think it was in ’74 or ’75 but don’t hold me to which one. I do remember it was right when I began fishing pro so it was one of those two years. That was ugly and for what? There just wasn’t that much money in freshwater in those days. 🙁
Terry to Watt: Thanks Watt. the 1972 season is coming shortly. 🙂
George Oates. I was curious about the whole Oates deal and asked Harold Sharp what happened. Here is what he told me recently.
“Oates came on the B.A.S.S. scene in the early years of B.A.S.S. Later he decided to get into the tournament business as competition against B.A.S.S. and even set tournaments on the same day and same waters as us. Later it was reported that he and his tournament director had rigged an event by furnishing some pre-caught bass to a hand-picked contestant. Some legal action was filed and soon George was out of the bass tournament business and barred from B.A.S.S. competition.”
Pretty amazing and this is exactly what Ray and company wanted to eliminate from the Bass Tournament scene when B.A.S.S. was founded.