Classic Countdown: 20

Fishing has become a big money sport in the past 10 or 15 years. If you don't believe it, take a look at the winner's check for the 2009 Bassmaster Classic. Our next champion will take home the most important trophy in sport fishing along with $500,000 for his efforts. For most of us, that's life changing money.

Another sign of the monetary times is the BASS Millionaire Club. What started in 1991 with a single name (Larry Nixon) has now grown to almost 30 ... and most of them have joined the club in the last three years, since the inception of the Bassmaster Elite Series.

Today's number in the Classic Countdown — 20 — represents the number of BASS millionaires competing in this year's Classic.

At the top of that list, of course, is two-time Classic champ and four-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam with a once unfathomable $3.25 million in BASS earnings. With nearly $1 million more in prize money than the second place angler (Denny Brauer), another check for $500,000 would only cement KVD's claim to being the most successful angler in tournament history.

Here are the BASS millionaires in the Classic field and where they rank on the money list:

1. Kevin VanDam
3. Rick Clunn
4. Peter Thliveros
5. Alton Jones
6. Gary Klein
8. Shaw Grigsby
9. Michael Iaconelli
10. Davy Hite
11. Skeet Reese
14. Aaron Martens
15. Mark Davis
17. Edwin Evers
20. Kelly Jordon
22. Tim Horton
23. Terry Scroggins
24. Dean Rojas
26. Mike McClelland
27. Boyd Duckett
28. Greg Hackney
29. Scott Rook

Seven of them (VanDam, Clunn, Jones, Iaconelli, Hite, Davis and Duckett) have already won the Classic. They know that apart from the big payday, the Classic is worth a great deal more in the form of appearance fees, endorsements, book and video deals and the like. That $500K is just the start.

And if one of those stars of the sport wins the title again, he'll definitely know how to make the most of it.

But if it's one of the other 44 anglers in the field — or one of the 31 who is not a BASS millionaire — they'll figure it out pretty quickly between phone calls, business offers and plane rides.

The Bassmaster Classic is not just the most lucrative tournament in sport fishing. It's a launching pad to fishing immortality and big bucks.

The number 19 is just a stepping stone for one of the sport's all-time greats. Find out how that number touches the 2009 Bassmaster Classic tomorrow.

For the full countdown to the 39th Bassmaster Classic, click here.