There’s been a lot of talk in the past few years about the age of the top bass anglers and whether competitive bass fishing has become a young guns sport. It seems that lately the only anglers winning at the top level are 30-somethings or maybe even a touch younger.
Then as I was writing the piece on the 1975 Bassmaster Classic competitors, I was met with some hard facts. The data for the Classic competitors showed the ages of each angler. From a quick rundown, it looked to me as if the recent claims were not true at all, but maybe a trend that has always been there in bass fishing. The young guys are always at the top, no matter what year or decade it is. To compare apples to apples, I decided to run some numbers and see if my initial thoughts held any water.
I took the age data from the 1975 Classic Competitors, minus Nash Roberts III because he qualified through the Federation. That gave me 29 anglers from 1975. Then I picked the top 15 anglers from both the 2021 Bassmaster AOY race and the 2021 MLF AOY race. With this data, I compared the average age of each field as well as the standard deviation.
To my surprise, the average age for the 1975 Classic field was 3.7 years younger than the average age of the combined BASS/MLF AOY anglers.
Let’s now look at the AOY for each circuit. 1975 Bassmaster AOY was Roland Martin (35 years old). 2021 Bassmaster AOY was Seth Feider (37 years old) and recently crowned 2021 MLF AOY Jacob Wheeler (32 years old). They’re roughly the same ages.
Let’s look at the youngest and oldest in each group. Greg Ward was 19 years old when he fished the 1975 Classic. The youngest angler in the top-15 of the Bassmaster AOY race was a 3-way tie between Patrick Walters, Drew Cook and Wes Logan, all 27 years old. The youngest angler in the MLF lineup is Alton Jones Jr at 29 years. Ward is still the youngest angler to have ever qualified for a Classic.
Comparing the old timers, the 1975 Classic had Marvin Baker (49 years old), while the 2021 Bassmaster AOY race had Greg Hackney and Jason Christie, both at 48 years of age. MLF’s old timer is Mark Davis at 58 years. Now I really feel old.
So, what does all this mean? From the data analyzed it can be inferred that the sport has not become one for the young guns but might have always been a sport for younger anglers. I know this is just one small set of data that has been examined, but in due time I’ll get around to doing a complete analysis of all years to see if the data changes. But here’s some food for thought. Kevin VanDam hit the trail hard in 1991 and qualified for his first Classic the same year at the age of 24. Tim Horton, at the age of 28, won the 2000 Bassmaster AOY/ROY and had four Bassmaster top-10 finishes including a win prior to that. Gary Klein, who qualified for 26 Classics over his career, missed the Bassmaster AOY in 1979 by a little over one pound, had five top-10 finishes and a win in his rookie year at age 22.
It could be safe to say that competitive bass fishing has always been the young guns game. It’s just that our favorite young guns from days gone past are no longer that. If you’re like me, mid-50s and long for the days when Roland Martin, Jimmy Houston and Bill Dance were at the top of their game, just remember they were out there doing what Wheeler, DeFoe and Cox are doing today. Kicking their elders’ butts.
Below are the data sets used for this article.
|Roland Martin||Seth Feider|
|Bill Dance||Chris Johnston|
|Jimmy Houston||Brandon Palaniuk|
|Ricky Green||Patrick Walters|
|Jack Hains||Cory Johnston|
|Elroy Krueger||Lee Livesay|
|Rick Clunn||Caleb Sumrall|
|Phil Greene||Greg Hackney|
|Tom Mann||Brandon Cobb|
|Marvin Baker||Drew Cook|
|Roger Moore||Jason Christie|
|Rayo Breckenridge||Austin Felix|
|Loyd McEntire||Wes Logan|
|Al Lindner||Broke Mosley|
|John Powell||Shane LeHew|
|Stan Sloan||Jacob Wheeler|
|Russell Cook||Ott DeFoe|
|Don Mann||Brent Erhler|
|Greg Ward||Michael Neal|
|Bo Dowden||Justin Lucas|
|Johnny Morris||Stephen Browning|
|Bill Ward||Alton Jones Jr.|
|Jon Hall||Gerald Spohrer|
|Billy Westmorland||Jeff Sprague|
|Dee Thomas||Bobby Lane|
|Woo Daves||Skeet Reese|
|John Pryor||Mark Davis|
|Tommy Martin||Wesley Strader|