Since the early days of competitive bass fishing, Bassmaster has held several special events throughout its years. And the B.A.S.S. Champs – 1977 event was just another one of Ray Scott’s ways of making the tournament trail more interesting for the anglers and the fans.
But let’s look at some of the history of these special events before we get into the B.A.S.S. Champs.
The first special event Scott held was the 1969 Eufaula four-man team tournament held on Alabama’s Lake Eufaula. Then there was the 1983 Super Bass I, an event that lasted through 1985. Then in 1986, the Megabucks events started. A more contemporary event would be BASSfest. Some of these events have counted towards year-end points races but several of them didn’t have anything to do with the Angler of the Year (AOY) award or even Classic entry.
As I was getting ready to begin writing the Season at a Glance for 1978, I was reminded of the B.A.S.S. Champs – 1977 event. I missed putting it in the 1977 Season at a Glance series and figured I’d better get it in before I started with 1978.
In this event, the top-10 anglers from the 1976 Bassmaster Classic were pitted against the top-10 anglers from the 1976 B.A.S.S. Chapter (now called the B.A.S.S. Nation) Championship to fish for $30,000 in cash and prizes. The venue was a mystery to make it a bit of a level playing field for the Chapter anglers and was announced one week prior. Held on Tennessee’s Percy Priest Reservoir, home of the 1972 Bassmaster Classic, the B.A.S.S. Champs – 1977 would give the amateurs their first opportunity to compete against the full-time pros.
For the three-day tournament, much like the Classic, each angler was fitted with identical boats. This is where Ray Scott made a cool choice. Because of the gas crisis at the time, he chose to put the anglers all in 16-foot DuraCraft aluminum boats with Johnson 35-horse motors. The boats were fitted with Humminbird electronics and Motor-Guide III (12-volt) trolling motors. Apart from the gas prices, Scott’s reason behind the boat selection was to show weekend anglers that they didn’t need a big rig like the pros to compete or catch fish.
This was also the day of the fishing press observer. Each boat had a writer who was not only expected to record the day’s activity in the boat with the angler, they were also allowed to fish. This theme was present in all Championship-style events B.A.S.S. held from Classic I in 1971 through the late-80s/early 90s when the practice was terminated.
The 1976 Classic was the last of the mystery lake championships and the first of four Classic championships for Rick Clunn. The Classic win on Lake Guntersville gave him the first berth in the B.A.S.S. Champs event. The other Classic anglers competing were Bo Dowden (2nd in the Classic), Ricky Green (3rd), Billy Phillips (4th), Tommy Martin (5th), Paul Chamblee (6th), Bill Dance (7th), Jimmy Houston (8th), Billy Westmorland (9th) and Gary Wade (10th).
Ironically, Phillips earned his spot in the Classic through the B.A.S.S. Chapter Championship by being the top angler on the winning team – Tennessee – so he was essentially an “amateur” classified as a “pro.” From 1973 through 1980, only one amateur qualified to fish the Classic each year, and Phillips earned that honor twice (1976 and 1980). He was a shallow water specialist who used only spincasting gear.
Where was Roland Martin? If you remember from the Season at a Glance 1976, Martin missed the Classic this year, the first time in the event’s five-year history.
Qualifying anglers from the B.A.S.S. Chapter Championship were Don Buffalow, Charlie Campbell, Rick Garlough, Chic Aydelette, Junie Copley, Tom Anderton, Bobby Evans, David Roy, Joe McCormick and Jim Jeffries. At the time, Campbell was competing in professional events as well as B.A.S.S. Federation tournaments. He actually qualified for the 1976 Classic as a pro (finishing 12th) but earned his way to B.A.S.S. Champs as one of the top amateurs in the Chapter Championship. He was a clear counterpart to Phillips — a “pro” fishing as an “amateur” rather than the other way around.
Naturally, the Classic qualifiers were expected to have the edge at B.A.S.S. Champs. They had the experience and familiarity with the mystery lake format. No one expected the amateurs — except perhaps Campbell — to succeed in this format.
After the first day of competition, it was obvious the smart money had it right. Classic champion, Rick Clunn, opened with a 10-bass limit weighing 19-13 that included the biggest bass of the day (4-13). He took a commanding lead over Phillips, in second place with 13-14.
Clunn, along with many of the other competitors, found that targeting shallow stick-ups was the key. But in typical Clunn fashion, he figured something out that none of the others did – the fish had been beat to death with spinnerbaits and therefore weren’t very receptive to those tackle box staples.
Instead, he went with a bait that was little-known at the time, but which he used to finish a close second at the 1976 Tennessee Invitational held at Cordell Hull Reservoir – a Harkin’s Lunker Lure buzzbait. Bass that ignored spinnerbaits came unglued when his chartreuse Lunker Lure passed overhead. And if a fish missed the buzzbait, he’d follow up with a 5-inch brown Mister Twister plastic worm..
Clunn’s success with the Lunker Lure and coverage of the tournament in the July/August 1977 issue of Bassmaster Magazine, started a buzzbait craze in the bass fishing world. Soon everyone had to have one — or a dozen — of the baits.
In the end, the B.A.S.S. Champs leaderboard looked an awful lot like the ’76 Classic. Clunn won, posting three consecutive limits totaling 47-02. Dowden finished second (just as he had at the Classic) with 40-14. And Ricky Green, the most heralded big bass angler of his era, caught the tournament lunker (5-01) on Day 2 — again, just as he had at the Classic. The full score card is presented in the table below.
B.A.S.S. Champs was back with the same basic format in 1978 and lasted in some form through 1982. It was replaced by Super B.A.S.S. (1983-85) and Megabucks (1986-2001) in B.A.S.S.’ effort to bring new competition formats to the audience and to challenge the very best bass anglers in the world.
|Rick Clunn, TX|
|Bo Dowden, LA|
|Paul Chamblee, NC|
|*Charlie Campbell, MO|
|Bill Dance, TN|
|Ricky Green, AR|
|Jimmy Houston, OK|
|*Rick Garlough, AR|
|Billy Phillips, TN|
|Chic Aydelette, NC|
|Billy Westmorland, TN|
|*Junie Copely, VA|
|Gary Wade, NC|
|*Tom Anderton, MS|
|*Bobby Eavns, IL|
|*Don Buffalow, OK|
|*David Roy, LA|
|Tommy Martin, TX|
|*Joe McCormick, TB|
|*Jim Jeffries, IA|
|Rick Clunn, TX|
|Ricky Green, AR|
|Bo Dowden, LA|