The Bassmasters Classic is still the most important tournament in the bass fishing world. Although many others have passed it in money paid out, the fisherman who can say "I won the Classic" will always draw instant recognition. It is almost as good to say "I fished the Classic!"
I almost fished the Classic. But as we used to say, close don't count except in horse shoes and hand grenades!
In 1983 I had been fishing club tournaments for 9 years and qualified for my fourth Georgia Bass Chapter Federation Top Six Tournament. In the Top Six tournaments, each club in a state can send their top six fishermen to the tournament. That year it was held at West Point, and there were about 75 clubs participating, meaning I was fishing against 450 other fishermen.
I got on a pattern and caught fish both days of the tournament, and came in fourth. That meant I was on the state team of the top 12 fishermen that qualified for the next step, the Southern Regional. At that tournament back then, the top man on the top state team at each regional went to the Classic! There are still five amateurs that make the Classic each year, but there is an additional step now.
We went to Kentucky Lake and fished against teams from 7 other states. I was in awe, fishing with some men whose names I had heard for years. I was slightly overwhelmed, too, being at such a big tournament. The hype almost got to me.
We had a great team that year, and were in first place after the first day of the three day tournament. I had fished a pattern I liked and landed three 14 inch keeper bass, and was surprised to be in the top 25. The next day I drew a partner who was on fish and I managed to land four keepers, moving me up to the top ten!
The third day I was just trying to catch a fish to help keep our team on top, since there was no real prize for finishing anywhere but first. I caught three more keepers, and moved up to second place overall - and second place on the Georgia team. Roger Farmer won the tournament, beating me by about two pounds.
It did not hit me until on the way home how close I came to going to the Classic. Roger went to it and turned pro the next year. I came home and went back to club fishing, but I did try the Red Man trail the next year - but that is another story!
Since then I have qualified for the Southern Regional two more times, and came close to making the state team several more times. But I have never had quite the same thrill as that day in 1983 when I saw my name in second place at Kentucky Lake, and then realized I ALMOST made it to the Classic!
The 2012 Bassmasters' Classic is on the Red River in Louisiana and there are 49 competitors, including five amateurs through the club federation trail.