GREENVILLE, S.C. — There are a lot of stories being told at the Bassmaster Classic. This year’s event is being held on Lake Hartwell out of Greenville, South Carolina. Hank Cherry is the center of attention. The North Carolina pro has won the last two championships. Can he become the first angler to win three in a row?
There’s also a lot of buzz around Patrick Walters, the South Carolinian who’s the consensus master of forward-facing sonar, the hot technology of recent years. With air and water temperatures rising fast, many believe it could be Walters’ year. It doesn’t hurt that he may also be the best angler in the field.
There’s even a little interest in the amateur anglers … though not a lot. An amateur hasn’t broken through to win this derby since 1994.
Since I’m the managing editor of Fishing Tackle Retailer, and you’re probably an industry professional, my interest in the 52nd edition of the Bassmaster Classic has less to do with who will win than what will win — what lure, what rod and reel combo, what line, what electronics, what … you get the idea.
And since I’m a student of the game and a lover of history, I’m going to tell you a little about what has won this tournament in the past — at least the lures, rods, reels, and lines. That’s a story, too, because the products that win our sport’s biggest events are often big sellers, and there’s a good chance you’ll want to stock whatever it is that takes top honors here this week. People tend to ask for what they’ve heard about, and the Classic gets a lot of publicity.
Let’s start with lures. In the previous 51 Classics, the brand most often referenced by the winners is … (drum roll, please) … Strike King. Nine Classic champs used a Strike King jig or spinnerbait or crankbait or trailer on their jig or spinnerbait. That’s a lot of wins, and four of them belonged to the legendary Kevin VanDam. Two more went to George Cochran and two others to Jordan Lee, so you can see that getting credit for tournament wins has a lot to do with the pro you’re backing. Strike King has backed some amazing talent, and they’ve supported that talent with world class tools.
In second place in the lure category is Berkley with six wins, including back-to-back titles by Hank Cherry in 2020 and 2021. Cherry is widely recognized as one of the greatest jerkbait anglers on tour, and he helped design the Berkley Stunna. It’s a sure bet he’ll have one tied on when he launches each day this year, but warming water may mean the jerkbait is less effective than you might expect in March.
Nevertheless, jerkbait standouts like Cherry and Major League Fishing pro Mike McClelland have shown legions of anglers that jerkbaits aren’t just for cold water anymore. In the hands of a talented angler, they work all year long.
When it comes to notching Classic wins, here are the top six lure manufacturers:
- Strike King 9
- Berkley 6
- Bagley 5
- Cotton Cordell 5
- Mann’s 5
- Zoom 5
So, what lure type has been involved in the most Classic wins? It’s not the jerkbait. It’s actually a diving crankbait (as opposed to a lipless crankbait). Diving baits have been a part of 24 Classic victories, easily outpacing the plastic worm, which has been a part of 18 titles.
Here are the top five Classic winning bait types:
- Diving crankbait 24
- Plastic worm 18
- Spinnerbait 18
- Jig and trailer 14
- Creature bait 6
Does a Classic win mean as much for tackle sales today as it did 10 or 20 years ago? Every industry veteran I asked said “No.” Anglers are generally more sophisticated today, and they understand that there’s more to fishing success than buying the lure that just caught ‘em on another body of water. But the Classic still moves product … and it probably always will.
Ken Duke is the managing editor of Fishing Tackle Retailer.