These Bassmaster Champions have staked their claim amongst the best of the best.
At the end of February, Randy Howell became the 2014 Bassmaster Classic champion, a satisfying victory that got us wondering: who are the greatest Bassmaster champions of all time?
Ever since the very first classic in 1971, the event has played host to some of the most spectacular bass fishing of all time, from veterans, repeat champions, and unknown entities alike. With all of this in mind, we’re taking a walk down memory lane and name our five favorite Bassmaster Classic champions of all time.
View the slideshow to see our picks, and add your own in the comments.
1. Rick Clunn
What can be said about Rick Clunn that hasn’t been said before? The man is a legend of the bass fishing sport, a guy who is not only tied as the winningest angler in the history of the Bassmaster Classic (he’s taken the crown on four separate occasions, including consecutive wins in 1976 and 1977 and a pair of additional victories in 1984 and 1990), but who also holds a slew of other records in the Bassmaster history books. Second place finishes? Clunn has had two. Overall top five finishes? Clunn has 11. Most consecutive Classic appearances (and most appearances overall)? Clunn, with 28 and 32, respectively.
The angler also has the biggest weight total in the history of any one Classic event (from his dominating seven fish, 75 pound, 9 ounce performance at the 1984 event), and not surprisingly given his long list of Classic appearances, the highest cumulative weight total. He’s had challengers over the years, but in our book – and the Bassmaster Classic record books – there is little doubt that Rick Clunn is the greatest Bassmaster champion of all time. We doubt anyone will surpass him any time soon.
2. Kevin VanDam
If there is an heir apparent to Rick Clunn’s throne as the definitive Bassmaster Classic champion, it’s Kevin VanDam. The Kalamazoo, Michigan veteran is arguably the most well-known name in fishing these days, and he can go shot for shot (or pound for pound) with Rick Clunn in most of the record book conversations. Like Clunn, VanDam has four Bassmaster Classic titles under his belt, including consecutive wins in 2010 and 2011 and two prior victories in 2001 and 2005. He’s been in the hunt plenty of other times, with three third place finishes and plenty of other top five and top 10 appearances.
In 2014, VanDam qualified for his 24th consecutive Bassmaster Classic event, meaning he’s approaching Clunn in terms of both appearances and weight of total fish caught. He’s also got his own weight records, since Clunn’s record was recorded in the seven-fish Classic era while VanDam’s victories have come in the five-fish era. In 2011, VanDam recorded a five-fish high of 69 pounds, 11 ounces (meaning he would have easily topped Clunn with an extra two fish on the scales). Add the fact that VanDam has made more money from the Classic than anyone in history, and it’s clear that – with a few more years of solid performances or with another win – he could pass Clunn. For now though, he’s still the (very respectable) runner-up.
3. Bobby Murray
Whether or not Murray would be able to hang with the champs of today isn’t the easiest thing to determine, but we just had to include him on the list for posterity’s sake.
Murray’s most notable win was obviously the very first Bassmaster Classic, a 1971 winner-take-all shootout with a $10,000 grand prize and a location that was kept a secret until all 24 competitors were in the air and en route to Lake Mead, Nevada. However, Murray is also one of three people who have won the Classic twice. His second victory came in 1978, by which time Rick Clunn had already won his first two Classics. Murray actually held off Clunn to win the title (1978 was one of Clunn’s second-place finishes), a fact that alone lands him third on our list.
4: Hank Parker and George Cochran (TIE)
It’s hard to separate Hank Parker and George Cochran, the two anglers – along with Bobby Murray – who both scored two wins at the Bassmaster Classic, and who both clinched one of their victories under interesting (and frankly, disappointing) circumstances. Parker nabbed his second win in 1989, a decade after the first, but would have gone home in second place if Jim Bitter hadn’t made the error of tossing one of his keeper fish overboard. Parker ultimately edged Bitter by two ounces – a loss that has to have left an…ahem, bitter taste in the latter angler’s mouth. Bitter never won a Classic, and Parker probably shouldn’t have won a second, but here we are.
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As for George Cochran, his disappointing win was unique for an infamous reason. Fishing on the notoriously difficult Ohio River in 1987, Cochran had the least difficulty of anyone, ultimately winning the event with a weigh-in of 15 pounds, 5 ounces. (The 1987 Classic is also notable for being the first one Kevin VanDam ever participated in). Cochran would have a more glorious time nine years later, when he took home the 1996 Classic trophy, becoming only the fourth person to win the event more than once.
6. Mark Davis
When Davis grabbed the Bassmaster Classic trophy in 1995, he became the first angler to ever win the Classic and the Bassmaster Angler of the Year award in the same year. Kevin VanDam would duplicate the feat in 2010 and 2011, but no one else has ever done it, making Mark Davis and his stellar 1995 season the stuff that legends are made of.
7. Don Butler
In 1968, Don Butler paid a $100 lifetime membership fee that made him the first ever member of B.A.S.S. Four years later, he won the second Bassmaster Classic with a stirring come-from-behind victory. To date, it’s hard to think of an angler who would have been more fun to root for…even if there are guys whose accomplishments and sheer fishing skills probably trump Butler’s.