Originally posted 18 April, 2012
The first Bass Master Classics were all secret events where the anglers, media, no one knew the location. The boats were trucked to the event site, in the dead of night, so no one would be tipped off, and then were stored prior to the event.
The weigh-ins at these events were held on the docks or in the launch parking lots. The anglers would dock their boats and bring their fish up to the scales. The crowds were small at all these events because no one knew where the events would be held.
The fourth Bass Master Classic, held in 1974 at Wheeler Lake in Alabama, was the same. We had all the boats tied in stalls at the Alabama State Park marina. The first night I was having trouble sleeping so I got up, went to the marina around 2 a.m. and started putting life vests in each of the boats. The wind was up and I remembered reading a few days earlier about a strong wind that had destroyed some marina docks on Kentucky Lake.
The image of this happening to us at a Bass Master Classic wasn’t good. There was nothing we could do for that Classic as all the boats had to be put in the water by a forklift at the marina since there was no ramp.
That’s when I started thinking of a way to keep this from happening. Shortly after that, I designed the Bass Master Classic drive-through weigh-in.
The fifth Classic (1975) was held at the Currituck Sound in North Carolina. We had no marina, just a launch ramp on a sand road about 3 miles from the Holiday Inn. We had all the boats parked in the Holiday Inn parking lot and used a gas truck to fuel them up each night and we trailered each boat to and from the ramp each day.
Before any of this happened, though, I had to make sure the Ranger livewells would operate well enough to keep the fish alive for the weigh-in. I called Mickey Wood at Ranger Boats and told him that I needed to know how good the livewells worked and this is what I needed him to do.
I told him, “Take one of the boats to Bull Shoals and catch two or three bass, put them in the livewell and plug the well so the water doesn’t drain when it’s out of the water. Then turn on the aerator, drive the boat back to the Ranger plant with the aerator running and call me later to let me know how long the fish lived.”
A few days later I hadn’t heard from Mickey so I called him and asked if he’d done the little experiment. He said, “The bass lived for two days before the battery ran down.”
At that point I knew the drive-in weigh-in would work.
The weigh-in at the Sound went great. The anglers were driven up to the scales in their boats and then bagged their fish and walked a short distance to the scales. We didn’t have a big crowd but those that were there were impressed.
We did this from then on out. Guntersville (1976), Lake Toho (1977), Ross Barnett (1978), Lake Texoma (1979) and the St. Lawrence River (1980). Then in 1981 we went to the first indoor Classic weigh-in. But that’s another story for another time.
[Editor’s Note: Since starting this site, I have been blessed by numerous people sending me ideas for articles about things that are relevant to the history of bass fishing. One of these people is none other than the first Bass Master Tournament Director, Harold Sharp. Harold, as you may well know, is an encyclopedia when it comes to the history of BASS (with or without periods) and all bass fishing. Harold has been an integral part of this site already, always there for me to bounce ideas off of or to proof an article before it gets published.
Recently after reading the series on the 1971 Bass Master Tournament Trail, Harold sent me an email documenting how the first drive-through weigh-in came about. Here are his words on that historic event.]