It Takes a Nation . . .
When the Bassmaster Classic fishing tournament and Expo returns to Lake Hartwell for a weekend of high-stakes professional bass fishing, hundreds of members of local BASS Nation chapter clubs will be there to provide the volunteer support necessary to make such a large event possible. And a few of their numbers will be in the mix with the pros, hoping to pull off the upset of a lifetime.
Unless you have been living off the grid somewhere the past month or so, maybe taking a welcome break from the media both mass and social, by now you are probably aware that one of THE BIGGEST annual events in the world of professional bass sportfishing is coming to the Upstate of South Carolina next week.
I am, of course, talking about the 2018 Bassmaster Classic professional bass fishing tournament, which will kick off just after sunrise at Lake Hartwell’s Green Pond Landing near Anderson on March 16. Tournament organizers are planning for thousands of spectators to be at the landing to cheer on their favorite pro anglers. Those folks will have plenty of space to get their bass groove on.
An additional 350 feet of courtesy dock space was recently added to the Anderson County-managed facility, bringing the total dock space at Green Pond to 5,500 square feet, and an Abbeville, S.C.-based National Guard Unit will be setting up a six-bay military bridge that will provide a 3,000 square foot viewing platform from which fans will be able to view and take photos of the daily takeoffs. On Friday, Saturday & Sunday
Weigh-ins will be held daily during the tournament beginning at 3:15 p.m. in the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in downtown Greenville, and the TD Convention Center, also in Greenville will be buzzing with activity as hard-core fans and other curious folks visit the “Classic Outdoors Expo,” where they’ll be able to check out the latest in boats, fishing gear, and other products at booths sponsored by major manufacturers and retailers of outdoor gear. It’s a big deal for the local economy. Tournament organizers expect more than 100,000 fans to visit one or more of these venues during the three-day event. The total estimated economic impact for the Anderson/Greenville region will exceed $24 million.
One thing that many of those excited fans look will be looking forward to the most is the opportunity to see, and maybe even meet or get an autograph from, one of their favorite fishing stars, top professional anglers such as Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., the “homestate favorite” who won the Classic the last time it was held on Lake Hartwell in 2015 (pro Jason Williamson, of Wagener, S.C., is the other Palmetto State angler who made the cut this year). Ashley and Williamson will be competing against some of the biggest names in the sport; in all, fifty-two anglers will be competing in the tournament, all of them “angling” for their share of a $1 million cash purse, and of course the prestige that comes from winning the “Superbowl of Bass Fishing.”
But mixed in among the sport's big names and past big money winners are a few that you probably haven’t heard of – everyday guys with regular jobs who earned their shot at Bassmaster Classic glory not by participating in Elite Series or Open tournaments that require sponsorships and full-time dedication, but by competing in “BASS Nation”-sanctioned events around the country, amateur tournaments that culminate in the BASS Nation Championship (which was also held at Lake Hartwell, this past fall).
(Above) Amateur anglers who will going head-to-head with the professionals during the 2018 Bassmaster Classic include Bass Nation tournament winners Caleb Sumrall, Marty Giddens and Luke Gritter, and collegiate angler Jacob Foutz. [photos courtesy Bassmasters]
All of these guys are great anglers in their own rights, and you can bet your bottom dollar that every one of them is hoping against hope that they might become the next Bryan Kerchal.
Wait . . . who?
That's Bryan Kerchal, ya'll. Never heard of him?
In 1994, Kerchal, a 23-year-old restaurant cook from Connecticut advanced through the local and regional BASS Nation amateur tournament system to earn a slot in that year’s Classic, and, against all odds, WON the event, beating out a strong field of professional anglers. The bass world was shocked, but also overjoyed. Kerchal’s long-shot victory gave hope to thousands of anglers around the country that maybe, just maybe, with the right combination of luck and persistence, they too could make it to the big show and win it all. Tragically, Kerchal’s life and career were cut short in a plane crash just a few months after he won the tournament, but his legacy lives on. This year, the top three finishers in the BASS Nation amateur championship tournament — Caleb Sumrall of Louisiana, Marty Giddens of Alabama and Luke Gritter of Michigan — joined by Jacob Foutz of Tennessee, winner of the BASS College Tournament, will be hoping to re-create Kerchal’s remarkable feat.
In addition, pulling off an event as large and complicated as the Classic would not be possible without the help of hundreds of Bass Nation Club members serve as unpaid volunteers at the tournament, doing everything from crowd control to ferrying media crews to and from the fishing areas so they can follow the action. Bassmaster officials will be the first to tell you that the BASS Nation members are the heart and soul of the organization. Members of the state chapters and local clubs also do important work on conservation initiatives, as well as supporting youth fishing initiatives and advocating for fishing access. Bass Nation clubs and their members give a lot to the sport they love. So if you come out to Green Pond this weekend to cheer on your favorite pro, save a few hurrahs for these dedicated amateur underdogs as well.
If you go:
- Competition and takeoff will begin each day at 7:30 a.m. ET at the Green Pond Landing in Anderson (470 Green Pond Road).
- Weigh-ins will be held daily March 16-18 at 3:15 p.m. in the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in downtown Greenville (650 N. Academy Street).
- The Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods will be open daily in Greenville at the TD Convention Center (1 Exposition Drive). Expo hours are Friday, March 16, noon – 8 p.m.; Saturday, March 17, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Sunday, March 18, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. All events are free and open to the public.