These legendary anglers never won the biggest tournament in fishing.
In the world of professional bass fishing, the Bassmaster Classic is considered the biggest tournament of the year. It has earned the nickname: "The Super Bowl of Bass Fishing" for a reason. If you win it, your name is forever etched in history, and people call you world champion. Over the years, some truly big names have won this tournament.
You've got Rick Clunn, Kevin VanDam, Hank Parker, George Cochran, and Bobby Murray just to name a few. Keeping up the Super Bowl analogy, you might compare a lot of these guys to famous quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or Joe Montana.
However, for every Tom Brady, it seems like there is always a guy like Dan Marino. Everyone knew he was great, but he somehow never managed to win the biggest of games during his storied career. Well, it's the same thing with fishing. There are some real legends out there, guys who many consider the greatest of all time, who just never added a Classic title to their resume.
That doesn't take anything away from the careers of any of the guys on this list. As you'll see, they all had very storied careers. It just leaves us wondering why they never won the big one. Some of the names on this list might surprise you.
It's hard to believe the guy who is credited with inventing the very concept of pattern fishing techniques does not have a Bassmaster Classic win. Especially considering he was the all-time leader for Bassmaster tournament wins with 19 until Kevin VanDam passed him in 2011. His lack of success in the big tournament wasn't through lack of trying. Martin appeared in the Classic 25 times, having been there for the inaugural tournament in 1971 where he finished in fourth place. He finished high in the tournament multiple times. However, the biggest title in bass fishing eluded him.
Martin's best finish in the big tournament came in 1980 when he caught a total weight of 44 pounds, one ounce on the St. Lawrence River in New York. Unfortunately, he was about ten pounds off from eventual winner Villis Dowden. Martin had to settle for the runner-up position.
In 2005, Martin finally retired from competition in pro angling. He fished his last Classic in 2003 on the Louisiana Delta where he put in a strong showing, catching a total weight of 31 pounds, 9 ounces, which was good enough for fourth place. Even though he has no Classic to his name, Martin has plenty to hang his hat on. He finished in the top ten 94 times in his career. He also earned nine B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year awards, 19 second place finishes, and more than $1 million in career earnings. A stellar career by anyone's standards.
Klein has been a staple in the world of professional bass fishing tournaments for over 40 years now and he's still going strong to this day. Although the 2018 Bass Fishing Hall of Fame inductee now competes on the Major League Fishing tour of which is a co-founder, the Texas native has a storied record on the Bassmaster tournament trail too. Amazingly, Klein appeared in the Classic 30 times with his first appearance being in 1979 where he finished fourth.
In the decades that followed, the pro angler racked up 80 top ten finishes and eight wins. He finished in the money 262 times with career earnings totaling nearly $2.2 million in prize money. However, the Classic remained the one tournament that eluded him. He is the only angler to qualify for the tournament in each of five decades. His best finish was in 2003 where he finished as runner-up with a total weight of 36 pounds, 2 ounces on the Louisiana Delta to a young Mike Iaconelli. While many were happy for the rising star, there were also lot of people rooting for both Klein and Roland Martin in that tournament!
While Klein is still fishing competitively, we're guessing because of his work on the MLF tour that he's likely done with the Classic. That's not to take away from his incredible career, which includes two FLW Tour titles, two B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year Awards, and more than 400 total appearances in Bassmaster Opens and the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Another surprising professional bass angler on this list, Jimmy Houston's career has been long and storied. He started competing in 1966 after winning the Oklahoma State Championship. He fished the bass pro tour with Bassmaster from 1968 to 2006. While he had legions of fans at all 15 Classic appearances rooting for him, Houston's highest finish in the big bass tournament was a seventh-place finish in 1978 on Ross Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi. That tournament was eventually won by inaugural Classic champ Bobby Murray. Houston finished with a total weight of 24 pounds, 10 ounces.
In total, Houston fished 246 tournaments with B.A.S.S., winning Bassmaster Angler of the Year twice in 1976 and 1986. Great accolades to be sure, but Houston only had two wins with Bassmaster. However, he was a consistent competitor who racked up 44 finishes in the top ten and 77 in the top twenty. No one can argue he wasn't competing at the highest level. Perhaps he simply didn't fish enough Classics to finally get over the hump.
Houston has still not officially retired as a pro bass fisherman, although he has slowed down his schedule considerably in his 70s. In 2021 his wife had some health issues which seemed to keep him home instead of competing. He had been fishing the FLW Tour most recently, so we're not sure if Freshwater Fishing Hall of Famer will ever take another crack at Bassmaster. Houston seems content these days to run his Oklahoma ranch where he farms pecans and plays with his pet deer, which have become a real hit on his social media channels. Still, he'll always be a legend in professional fishing.
Most people today know Bill Dance from his TV show, but Dance's history in pro bass fishing is basically the history of the B.A.S.S. organization. He started fishing competitively before Ray Scott even started the organization. Dance caught the very first bass of the Ray Scott All-American Tournament back in 1967, which is widely considered the first fish in B.A.S.S. tournament history.
Dance's best finish in the Classic was in 1973 at Clarks Hill Reservoir in South Carolina. The legendary angler got on a deep-water pattern early in the tournament. Dance got to the final day weigh-in with several big fish that brought his three-day total to 48 pounds, 14 ounces. His next closest competitor was nearly 10 pounds away. Everyone began congratulating Dance thinking he had won the tournament. That was until Rayo Breckenridge's turn at the scales came. Breckenridge didn't have a limit, but he had some big fish that pushed his total weight to 52 pounds, 8 ounces, snatching the Classic title away from Dance. He retired at age 39 having competed in the Classic only eight times. Today, many people wonder what might have been had the three-time AOY competed longer or maybe if he had been born in a different era. Because some of the things he did in his career may never be equaled.
For instance, through his whole career, he had a 10.4% winning percentage. The next closest guy to that is Kevin VanDam with an eight percent. Over the course of his 13-year career, Dance finished in the top ten 67.5% of the time. He led Bassmaster in prize money for three years in a row, from 1968 to 1970. From April 1968 to November 1970, he won nearly half of all the tournaments held, eight out of 17. Of the first 20 tournaments B.A.S.S. ever held, Dance won eight of them. It feels like he would have won one eventually had he not retired from competitive angling so early in his career.
Shaw is another guy who has had an outstanding career in competitive angling, but simply never won the biggest tournament in the sport. Grigsby competed in the Classic 16 times, with his best finish in the tournament coming in 1993 when he took second place with a total weight of 40 pounds, 10 ounces. David Fritts took the title on Logan Martin Lake in Alabama with a just over seven-pound lead. The Florida native had another prime chance seven years later at the 2000 Classic held on Lake Michigan.
In that tournament, Grigsby finished in third with a total weight of 24 pounds, seven ounces. He finished behind Mark Rizk and eventual winner Woo Daves, who probably would have made this list if not for that win late in his tournament career. These days, Grigsby fishes the MLF tour, so we may not see him compete for a Classic again.
However, it's safe to say Grigsby's legend is cemented in pro bass fishing. He has nine career wins and has finished in the top ten 64 times across both B.A.S.S. and MLF. He has over $2.3 million in career earnings. Although it's arguable that his TV show, "One More Cast with Shaw Grigsby" may be what he's best known for.
Sadly, Aaron Martens passed away after a battle with brain cancer at the age of 49 in 2021, and it feels like we never got to truly see what great things he could have accomplished. However, he managed to make a huge impact on professional bass fishing in that time and it's a shame he never got to lift the Classic trophy in 20 attempts. Especially considering that he holds the record for runner-up finishes.
Martens finished in second place a staggering four times. In his first runner up in 2002, he lost to Jay Yelas. In 2004, he came up just under three pounds short to Takahiro Omori. The 2005 Classic held in Pennsylvania was arguably one of the hardest on record. Martens came just a few ounces short of victory with a total weight of just 12 pounds, nine ounces. Kevin VanDam ended up winning that tournament with a weight of 12 pounds, 15 ounces, which is still a record for lowest winning weight. Martens then finished as runner-up to VanDam again in 2011 after turning in a 59-pound total weight, which just wasn't enough to top VanDam's Classic record of 69 pounds, 11 ounces.
Despite the fact he never won bass fishing's biggest tournament, there's no doubt his name will be enshrined with the all-time greats. Martens won the Toyota Bassmaster AOY award three times in 2005, 2013, and 2015. He also won three WON Bass U.S. Open Championships, finished in the top ten more than 80 times between MLF and Bassmaster, and he earned over $3.6 million during his career. It's simply a shame we never got to see how many more accolades he could have won.
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