Regardless of whether you are a bass tournament fisherman, anybody would appreciate the drama and show of the final day of the Bassmaster Classic. Thousands of fishing fans lined up outside the BOK Center in Tulsa for hours Sunday afternoon awaiting entry to see who would be crowned the 2013 Bassmaster Classic Champion. This is the 43rd event for BASS which started with a thought and dream of its founder Ray Scott. Today, this multi-Million dollar extravaganza is the Holy Grail to anglers in the cast for cash craze.
I had a conversation with BASS owner and longtime TV fishing show host Jerry McKinnis on Sunday. He rightly explained the allure of the sport. McKinnis told me when you walk into a baseball, basketball, or football stadium, it’s highly unlikely anybody there to watch the game could ever actually play in the game. However, everybody sitting in the BOK Center in Tulsa Sunday–and millions watching online around the world not only have the chance to fish the Bassmaster Classic, but dream of the opportunity.
The perfect example is Maine’s Jonathan Carter. Carter is one of the thousands of BASS Federation Nation members across the country. One of those amateur, weekend anglers gets a shot at fishing in the Bassmaster Classic every year. Until this week, Carter was like the rest of the Bass Nation. He’s a first grade teacher, but after the fulfillment of a dream to fish the Bassmaster Classic now has an opportunity to work toward making it his living. Hank Cherry is a pro, but fished in his first Classic this year. He finished third, and had two key “what if” moments when he lost big fish Sunday when every ounce counted. Cherry was heartsick about the loss, but reasoned his very appearance in the Classic and strong showing would prove to sponsors he’s capable of competing. He added the $40,000 check for third place will help him head in that direction.
A few more of my observations from coverage of the Bassmaster Classic:
–Tulsa is a fantastic town. This Midwest community built on oil is filled with friendly folks who are serious about fishing. I never met a stranger and folks were so friendly it was much like being home in West Virginia all week.
–Grove, Oklahoma is a fantastic town. The lake is the main attraction in the tiny town of Grove which is about the size of Kingwood, WV. I’m quite sure everybody in the town worked on accommodating the throngs of people who rolled in and tripled their population on the weekend. The Mayor of Grove was among those helping to back boats into the water at each day’s launch.
–What cold weather? Grove is a nearly two hour drive from Tulsa, yet more than 3,000 people turned out for each day’s launch of the Bassmaster Classic. Day 1 the temperature was 27-degrees with strong wind. Day 2 the wind had died down–but the temperature had fallen to 18-degrees. Those are some dedicated people.
–West Virginia angler Jeremy Starks is a solid guy. I’ve known Starks for quite a few years. He first appeared on Ram Trucks West Virginia Outdoors about eight years ago. I invited him onto the show after Charleston Gazette outdoor reporter John McCoy suggested he would make a great guest. Starks and a buddy had successfully trapped more than two dozen coyotes in a short span of time. McCoy was right, Starks was more than willing to come on the show and talk outdoors for as long as we wanted.
Starks told me as he left, “I’m getting ready to start fishing on the BASS open circuit. I’m going to be a pro and make it to the Elite Series and I’ll give you a call.”
I remember thinking, “Yeah, right whatever buddy.” I’ve heard a lot of guys make that claim. Starks’ stubborn determination to be successful paid off and he’s advanced mightily since his coyote trapping days. It’s been fun to watch his career develop and we’ve actually become good friends. We spoke at the Classic Outdoors Show in Tulsa on Sunday and we were standing beside one of the Bassmaster Classic trophies won by one of his Skeeter Boats teammates.
“I want one of those.” Starks said. “I want one bad.”
I won’t be surprised if puts one of those on his mantle in the years ahead. I told him I’d love to see him do it. However, if he does, it will be bittersweet. The Classic trophy will change your life and all of the free time he now has to spend an afternoon fishing Kanawha River will be swallowed working for a cascade of new sponsors.
–Grand Lake O’ the Cherokee is a fantastic place. If you ever get a chance to travel to the Midwest to fish, I’d recommend it. Although, I’d pick a warmer time of the year. The lake is loaded with boat docks, steep banks, rocky points, and bluff walls. It reminds you in many ways of Summersville Lake although at 45,000 acres it dwarfs West Virginia’s biggest water.
–This was the 5th time I’ve covered the Bassmaster Classic. However, it was the first time I was able to truly bring the flavor of this tournament home to you. This website had not advanced to where it is today the last time I was there so I wasn’t able to share stories and pictures as I have this past weekend. It’s also the first time I was able to arrange to broadcast Ram Trucks WV Outdoors from the event in any meaningful way. A tip of my hat to the folks at BASS who arranged a perfect broadcast location Saturday morning at the launch ramp compete with all of the technical needs. They were also incredibly helpful in arranging for anglers to spend a few minutes with us on the air and away from their boats. It was an exciting live broadcast and many thanks to BASS.
–The Classic weigh in pre-show was worth attending. If you are ever able to attend a Bassmaster Classic, you should go. There is a lot you get to see at the weigh-in that doesn’t appear on TV. BASS organizes a fantastic series of entertaining events to keep the crowd enthused before they start weighing fish. The hours before the show included two different Lumberjack Shows where guys did some exhibition events from the Stihl Timbersport Series. Three college fishing teams competed for the College Bassmaster Classic and their weigh in was held on stage at the BOK Center. Hometown favorite Oklahoma defeated Oklahoma State and Arkansas for the title. There was a stirring presentation from the Folds of Honor Foundation. The organization raises money to benefit college scholarships for those killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The presentation and video brought tears to the eyes. Finally, the video presentation and show for the weigh-in was top shelf work and created an exciting atmosphere.