At the start of competition in the 41st Bassmaster Classic, 50 men are gunning for the win. Only one will wear the championship ring, of course, but all 50 have their eyes on the prize.
The Classic championship is the most coveted title in bass fishing. We spoke with a half dozen anglers in the hunt this year, asking what winning the Classic would mean to them. Every one said it would be a life changing event. Some spoke from experience; others from what they can only imagine:
Mark Davis, 1995 Classic champion: "When I won in 1995, it really changed my life. I was basically a fishing guide. After that, I was able to make a living from fishing. It changed me monetarily and so many other facets of my life. I became known. I haven't won a major title since 2001, so I'd certainly welcome it now. You can turn it into a million dollars if you're willing to work really hard, over the next couple of years."
Skeet Reese, 2009 champ: "Winning gave me a place with the fans and the media. It made mine a household name in the fishing community. From the competition side, (Toyota Tundra Bassmaster) Angler of the Year is huge, but to the fans, the Bassmaster Classic is the big deal. It wasn't a substantial change in my sponsorship situation; I already had good relationships in the industry, but it helped my income grow at a time when the economy took a downturn. We're in a difficult time now (economically), so how much the Classic is worth depends on the player. Some are more commercial than others he would have to have the right personality."
Tommy Biffle, two-time Classic runner-up: "I always fish this to win. There's no second place in this event. Winning would be good for my sponsors who have been with me for so long. At least they wouldn't be able to say, 'But you've never won the Classic.' I've had a great career, and if you got paid according to your (overall) record, I'd be a lot better off. But you need to win a big one."
Ryan Said, Classic rookie: "Winning the Classic would mean a whole new life for me. I remember picking up a Bassmaster Magazine in 1996 and reading about George Cochran winning the Classic. Ever since then, there's nothing else I'd rather do."
Paul Elias, 1982 champion: "Winning cemented me into this profession. I had won one tournament before, but after the Classic victory, my sponsors realized I was here to stay. What does it mean to me? It's one thing they can never take away from you. I've come close to winning since, and after you taste it, you really want to win again. Especially now I'd love to be the oldest ever to win the Classic." (He is 59, five years older than Charlie Reed was when he won the 1986 championship.)
Terry Butcher, two-time qualifier: "It would be a life-changing experience for me, for sure. I believe you could turn it into a million dollars counting the $500,000 you get for winning. But I wouldn't spend it all. I'd pay off a few bills and invest the rest."