It’s been called the “Test of the Best” bass anglers, the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing” and the “World Championship of Fishing.” By any name, the Bassmaster Classic was the salvation of Ray Scott’s Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) when the tournament was launched 47 years ago.
Now known as the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, the annual tournament began modestly with just 24 competitors in October 1971. Arkansas angler Bobby Murray won the inaugural Classic, held on Lake Mead, Nevada.
Scott recalls that the lakeside weigh-ins attracted only a handful of spectators. More important than crowds, however, were the two-dozen outdoor writers who attended at Scott’s invitation. Their articles in major publications across the United States lent legitimacy to the fledgling sport of tournament bass fishing.
Founded 50 years ago, B.A.S.S. struggled for attention in the beginning. The B.A.S.S. Tournament Trail was popular among bass anglers but lacked broader exposure until Scott and then-Bassmaster Magazine editor Bob Cobb concocted the season-ending championship.
B.A.S.S. membership grew rapidly after that first Classic. Many industry insiders consider the birth of B.A.S.S. and its tournament circuits to mark the beginning of the modern era of bass fishing.
When the 48th Classic takes place March 16-18 on Lake Hartwell at Anderson, South Carolina, it will be unrecognizable compared to its meager beginnings.
The prize for claiming the first Classic crown was $10,000, winner take all. The event today pays out $1 million to the 52 qualifiers, including $300,000 to the champion.
Weigh-ins for the first 10 Bassmaster Classics were held at lakeside, but as crowds grew, weigh-ins moved indoors, and a boat and tackle show was added.
“The Classic Outdoors Expo presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods has become a highlight of Classic Week for thousands of fans,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin, who noted that the combined attendance at Classic venues has averaged more than 100,000 for the past six years.
The Expo will be held March 16-18 in the TD Convention Center in Greenville, South Carolina Weigh-ins will be in the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in downtown Greenville those days.
One of the biggest developments in the evolution of the Classic has been its impact on local economies. Las Vegas barely noticed that 60 or so people in town for a three-day tournament in 1971. In Greenville next month, 11,000 room nights will be booked in association with the event. Economic impact for the Greenville/Anderson area is expected to exceed $24 million.
Clearly, Ray Scott’s Las Vegas Classic gamble, almost 50 years ago, has paid off.
For more information visit www.bassmaster.com.