Bassmaster Classic: Piling up history and sorting memories

Wrapping up memories around the 50th Bassmaster Classic.

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Boats lined up out of the wind before takeoff Friday morning in the 50th Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville, Ala.

Dale Bowman

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Dana Price eyed the overflow at his Huddle House in Guntersville, then went to work and asked, ‘‘Where did all these people come from?’’

At least some of the 1,000 spectators at takeoff for the 50th Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville piled into Huddle House afterward.

History is being made, on two levels.

On Thursday, 222 kayak-anglers set off from launches around Logan Martin Lake about 30 miles east of Birmingham. They were fishing the first event of the B.A.S.S Nation Kayak Series. Jim Davis of Tennessee won with 87.75 inches of fish to earn $10,000.

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Jim Davis celebrates winning the first B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series and $10,000.

Dale Bowman

In 1971, 24 anglers sat in an airplane and when it reached cruising altitude, B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott announced that their destination was Las Vegas and fishing Lake Mead. Bobby Murray won the first Bassmaster Classic and $10,000.

On Friday, Hank Cherry led the 50th Classic after Day 1 on Guntersville with five bass weighing 29 pounds, 3 ounces. Guntersville is a 75-mile-long impoundment of the Tennessee River. On Friday, winds came the length, building to more than 30 mph. The championship weigh-in is Sunday night at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex with a top prize of $300,000. There’s anticipation of record-setting crowds topping 150,000 for the Classic events.

I came for the history.

This is the third time the Classic was on Guntersville. My guy, Rick Clunn, won the first of his four Classics at the first one on Guntersville in 1976.

I missed Clunn not being here. This is my third Classic. My first was in 2000 in Chicago. On Day 2, I rode with Clunn when he fished Lake Calumet. My most vivid memories were the ride back into 7- to 9-footers rolling on northeast winds down the lake. Clunn took us offshore to avoid cross-hatching waves. We still got beat to hell.

Another boat raced back tight to shore, and I asked who that was. ‘‘[Mike] Iaconelli,’’ Clunn said.

In 2005, when the Classic was in Pittsburgh, I spent a long day prefishing with Clunn as he tried to figure out how to downsize for the small bass in the Three Rivers.

I went to that Classic to see how Pittsburgh marketed it. The fishing sucked, but Pittsburgh sold remaking itself from a down-and-out steel-mill city into a tech and education center in a cool setting.

Alabama is hyping its fishing, recreation and food scene. The mayors of Guntersville and Birmingham were at Thursday’s press luncheon at Regions Field, home of the Birmingham Barons. There were 250 media requests. Michael Jordan’s baseball career there is still embraced 26 years later.

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Chris Johnston tapped into some of the Michael Jordan magic Thursday during Media Day for the 50th Bassmaster Classic at Regions Field in Birmingham, Ala.

Dale Bowman

Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin took tips from young Classic angler Grae Buck in his boat. Alabama senator Doug Jones gave a video tribute, then came to the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo on opening day.

When the Classic was in Chicago, the one big politician to show was Gov. George Ryan.

The Classic still draws big commerce with big crowds. Abu Garcia Virtual rods, the first that use Bluetooth technology in combination with the ANGLR app, are at the Expo. Ugly Stik showed advertising aimed at its base with a tag, ‘‘Sensitive, so you don’t have to be.’’

• • •

When plans were being made for the B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series, the hope was that the first event would draw 100 kayak-anglers. Instead, 233 signed up, and 222 fished Thursday. I rode with Thomas Allen, senior editor for B.A.S.S., as we took photographs and checked on anglers.

As we set off, Georgian Ron Chapman geared up for a four-mile run across the lake. If you have not seen how well-equipped the kayaks of serious tournament anglers are, you would not believe the high-tech electronics and trolling motors.

Duane Doroba came from the banks of Lake Erie to fish it.

‘‘I see Bassmaster is doing it, and I said, ‘I am jumping on this bandwagon,’ ’’ he said.

Jim Heinrich of Dayton, Ohio, had three bass, caught on crankbaits and spinner baits, already registered when we found him back in a cove. We watched him and several others catch and release white bass, which don’t count.

Logan Martin, a 48-mile-long impoundment on the Coosa River, about 30 miles east of Birmingham, has spotted and largemouth bass, the sought species. After anglers caught a keeper fish, they photographed it and put it on the TourneyX app. Once accepted, it is added to the angler’s total, which is the total inches of the five longest bass. On TourneyX, fish are counted by length, not weight.

The top 10 kayak finishers were saved for announcement Friday evening at the Classic weigh-in. History will tell whether the kayak fishing was hype or the next big thing.

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Thousands packed opening day Friday of the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo.

Dale Bowman

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