There are certain moments in professional bass fishing that will always be ingrained in the minds of fans. Last Sunday, on the final day of the 2016 BassMaster Classic, we were unquestionably given another.
As every BassFan now knows, Edwin Evers came from behind to take the title from fellow Oklahoman Jason Christie. Evers did so by catching the largest stringer of the entire event – by a mammoth margin – in extremely windy conditions.
Adding to the story was Evers' history on the Elk River, a place where he spends time camping with his son and enjoying God’s green earth in a way only outdoorsmen can appreciate. To accomplish his lifelong goal in those same clear waters is nothing short of epic.
As usual, I attended the final weigh-in, hiding in the shadows of the rafters of the near-capacity arena. Using an inexpensive video camera, I captured the moment of bedlam when Evers put his fish on the scale; their weight surprising everyone but him. I can honestly say that I don’t remember excitement at that level anywhere, ever before in bass fishing. I would assume Rick Clunn’s miraculous death blow delivered on the James River in 1990 was on par – it sure appears that way on film – but that was before my run of attending 20-some Classics as a bass geek.
Deciding to relive the moment prior to reporting, I watched the video footage again after I got home. You, too, can do so here. Even after viewing it a half-dozen times, chills still run down my spine every time I watch.
Congratulations to our champion; likely no one deserves it more than Evers. Coined the “best to never win the Classic” prior to 2016, Evers has fished recently at a level above and beyond his competition. His aggressive, competitive style doesn’t take no for an answer.
And his win couldn’t have been better for B.A.S.S. As I’ve mentioned before, I swear, they’re scripting these things. The list of Classic occurrences in recent times is simply baffling.
First, Randy Howell delivered what may have been the most emotional Classic win of all time. Not afraid to cry, Randy had us all in tears when he told the story of his spirituality taking the wheel and directing him to his winning fish. His charity-backer, King’s Home, also won that day with unparalleled exposure. In the stands, I teared up a bit myself.
The following year, Casey Ashley upped the odds with a hometown triumph of record proportions. It seemed everyone in the arena – for the entire 3-day period – wanted Ashley to win. Myself and other cynics thought it couldn’t be done; surely Ashley would give in to the mounting pressure. But he sealed the deal. Using a family heirloom for a lure and coming in behind his trademark All-American fishing music, Ashley was unstoppable.
I’m not sure if Ashley cried when the scales finally settled, but I did like a 12-year old girl, as did half the crowd. It was the American Dream; right there, in front of us all, realized.
This time, Evers did all he could to live up to the lofty standards of recent Classic barn-burners. His effort may have been the best.
We all owe a great deal to the host, as well. Tulsa turned out in ways that I have never witnessed for a bass tournament. The local paper ran daily stories and special supplements. Crowds at both the weigh-in and the launch were of epic proportions. The news carried the story every morning and evening. Parking, traffic flow, logistics; everything was seamless. It was obvious this wasn’t Tulsa’s first rodeo, and they intend for it not to be their last.
Which brings up a good point I discussed with other industry insiders while I was there: Why not have the Classic at a venue like this each and every year? As we’ve seen recently, certain fishing destinations are better managed to handle these tournaments than others, and seem to express far more interest in doing so. What would be wrong with having a half-dozen locales that routinely get the Classic? Nothing, I’d say.
In any case, this event was good for fishing. When the local culture embraces such events, it always helps to elevate our sport. However, when they embrace it and show it off to the world – proud to be the Classic city full of Classic fans – it takes us to new levels.
With this event, B.A.S.S. and its Classic host took us all to a new place; one which I hope we can continue to build from. Their tremendous efforts do not go unnoticed.
But the real praise goes to our champion. Once again, a grown man in a bass tournament took me back to a time when the world was limitless. Fishing was simple proof of that.
I saw it in the eyes of a 12-year-old fan at the final weigh-in, who stood next to me when it all went down, his mouth wide open in disbelief that five bass could even weigh 29 pounds. I saw it again on the plane ride home, where I shared a conversation with an up-and-coming college fishing star. And I’ll see it again and again in myself, each time I think back to that fateful day.
Thanks, Edwin. You’re the man!
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)