An East Texas Classic
J ust in case you haven’t heard, the Super Bowl of professional bass fishing is coming to eastern Texas next year. That’s the word from Alabama-based BASS, a powerhouse tournament organization that has played a key role in helping grow bass fishing into the sporting monster it has become at the grassroots and professional levels.
Back in April, BASS announced that the 2017 Bassmaster Classic would be held March 24-26 at Lake Conroe, a 21,000-acre reservoir located off I-45 in Montgomery and Walker counties. From there, the 52 ’Classic qualifiers convoy their catches to downtown Houston for daily weigh-ins at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros.
Texas lakes such as Sam Rayburn, Toledo Bend, Livingston and Texoma have played host to a number of big league bass fishing events in the past, including the 1979 ’Classic on Texoma that was won by television host Hank Parker. But this will be the first ’Classic for the Houston area in the event’s colorful 47-year history.
“We are thrilled to bring the biggest event in bass fishing to the biggest city in the biggest state,” said Bruce Akin, B.A.S.S. CEO. “Of the 500,000 members of B.A.S.S. worldwide, nearly 45,000 – more than any other state—call Texas home. We’re glad to be able to hold the Classic near them.”
Regarded by many as pro bass fishing’s premier event, the ’Classic brings in hundreds of industry and media representatives. Thousands of spectators will come to witness bass fishing history while watching some of the sport’s biggest names in action.
A wide variety of other activities follow every Bassmaster Classic venue. One of the biggest outside attractions is the annual Bassmaster Classic Outdoor Expo—a launching pad for tackle and lure companies to showcase new products to fishing fans. The 2017 Expo will be held at the 300,000 square foot George R. Brown Convention Center, the largest facility to ever host the event.
The winner of the ’Classic will take home $300,000 cash, plus the opportunity to earn cash via lucrative sponsorship endorsements, speaking engagements, etc. It is often said that winning a ’Classic title can be worth more than $1 million to a well-spoken angler who knows the ropes of the industry and plays his cards right along the way.
The tournament also has a history of generating some serious bucks for the host city. According to BASS reports, ’Classic attendance records have averaged more than 102,000 over the last five years and host cities have reported economic gains ranging from $22 million to nearly $24 million.
An intimate love for bass tournaments is shared by more than one million anglers across the state. With this event’s close proximity to Texas’s largest metropolitan area, many believe the 2017 ’Classic could shatter all existing attendance.
The fishing could be outstanding, too. In fact, sources close to the game believe Kevin VanDam’Classic weight record (69 pounds, 11 ounces) for the five-fish daily limit era will be in serious jeopardy when the BASS guys roll into town next March.
“There’s no doubt about it—the weight record will fall,” said Bassmaster Elite Series pro Keith Combs of Huntington. “There’s no way it won’t get busted, not on Conroe. There will be a bunch of big fish caught. There could be a new record set for the biggest fish, too. It wouldn’t surprise me to see some fish 11 pounds or better weighed in.”
Combs has a rich history on Conroe. He’s milked it for a couple of major wins and about $250,000 in prize money. He won the 2011 Toyota Bass Classic there in Nov. 2011 with a three-day total of 76 pounds, 12 ounces on 15 fish. He followed it up with another TTBC win in 2013 with a 62-pound, 12-ounce total.
“Those were fall tournaments, and the fishing was pretty tough,” Combs said. “The ’Classic will occur during the spring, and a lot of fish will be up shallow. Under those conditions somebody could crush the weight record.”
Like Combs, Elite Series pro Todd Faircloth of Jasper is excited about the 2017 ‘Classic coming to Texas, but not just because the tournament venue is located just down the road from his home near Sam Rayburn.
“This is going to be great for Texas, and it’s been a long time coming,” Faircloth said. “As big as bass fishing is in Texas, the state was long over due to have a ‘Classic here.”
Although he doesn’t know Lake Conroe as intimately as he does his home lake, Faircloth said he expects to see some big bags brought to the scales.
“Conroe has got some big bass in it, and I would expect to see some really big fish weighed in at that time of year. The lake is big enough to accommodate the ’Classic field and spread the guys out. The drive to the daily weigh-ins at Minute Maid Park could be a concern with the Houston traffic, but my guess is the issue will be addressed if it hasn’t already.”
Well-known as a local hotspot for recreational boaters and jet skiers, Conroe has a history of getting congested during the peak summer boating season. Considering the timing of the ’Classic, however, Faircloth said he doesn’t look for the recreational traffic to be much of a problem.
“I think at that time of year we’ll be all right,” he said. “It’s still pretty cool in March, so there won’t be a bunch of jet skiers and pleasure boaters running around. I do think there will be a lot of spectator boats out following the fishermen, but for the most part the people who watch our sport are very respectful. I don’t look for the spectator boats to be much of a problem at all.”
Translation: This is going to be a huge deal, anyway you slice it.
Email Matt Williams at ContactUs@fishgame.com