Tournaments have always been a big part of BASS' success and prominence. From the All-American on Beaver Lake, Ark., in 1967 to the Bassmaster Elite Series, tournaments have shone the brightest light on some of the brightest stars of the fishing world.
In 1970, while they were on their way to a tackle show to round up more members, BASS founder Ray Scott and Bassmaster Magazine editor Bob Cobb were discussing some of their frustrations with the tournament structure BASS was using at the time.
The events simply weren't getting much publicity or drawing very big crowds. They needed a shot in the arm if BASS was going to grow.
It was on that trip that Scott and Cobb came up with the basic framework for a "test of the best" the Bassmaster Classic, then called the BASS Master Classic.
Scott wanted something much bigger and grander than anyone had ever experienced at a fishing tournament. For starters, he'd offer prize money of $10,000 winner take all. It was an astonishing sum for the time.
His next big idea was to hold the tournament on a "mystery lake." This way, none of the competitors would know where they'd be fishing until they were safely onboard an airplane and 10,000 feet in the air. Furthermore, qualifiers were limited to four rods and reels and just 10 pounds of lures.
For the first Classic, in 1971, the plane was bound for Las Vegas, Nev., and Lake Mead. None of the 24 anglers who competed in that tournament had fished Mead before, and its deep (up to 589 feet), clear waters were unlike anything many of them had ever seen.
Bobby Murray, a 25-year-old angler from Hot Springs, Ark., won the first Classic by running from cove to cove fishing a 1/4-ounce Zorro Aggravator spinnerbait. It was good for 43 pounds, 11 ounces of bass over the three days, besting the rest of the field by nearly six pounds.
The inaugural Classic competitors fished from Rebel Fastback bass boats powered by 90-hp MerCruiser inboard-outboards that pushed them as fast as 37 mph. The entire rig retailed for $4,000.
Bassmaster Classic I