The old cliché declares “records are made to be broken," but I’m not so sure. Realizing that key milestones in bass fishing will likely never be challenged leaves me doubting.
I saw the scenario first presented here in the Feedback section: With the formation of the Bass Pro Tour and the most successful touring anglers jumping ship to join the ranks, numerous B.A.S.S. records will likely be sealed forever.
First to mind is the Angler of the Year record.
As we all know, Roland Martin will hold on as the AOY king with nine titles to Kevin VanDam’s seven. Pro fishing’s oldest fans – the generation of anglers who watched the sport grow through the '70s – will revel in the fact that Roland will go down in history with the now-unbreakable record. A quick check of the 2019 BASS Elite roster thus far shows not a single previous AOY champion, so the chance of anyone winning 10 before the end of time is nil.
I have to admit, a piece of me wanted to see KVD wrap this one up. Regardless of the argument or evidence presented, I will never be convinced that Roland Martin was ever on par with VanDam in terms of ability.
Sure, I fully understand that Martin was superior to nearly all the best tournament competitors of the time. However, that list of the best was monumentally shorter than it is today. The fact that VanDam could continue to perform and, at times, dominate the Bassmaster tour, despite the deck being continuously stacked against him, baffles my mind.
Fans of my generation – the people who grew up with VanDam’s career – want nothing more than to see KVD knock down 10 AOYs and put the whole thing to bed. But, for now anyway, it appears that will never happen as the record book begins to close.
Which brings up another KVD milestone left open: Classic titles. VanDam shares the throne with Rick Clunn – the only two men to win more than two Classics, with four titles each. However, unlike the noticeable differences between AOY standouts, here we have several similarities. Clunn’s titles came over a 14-year period, VanDam’s 10. Both men have back-to-back wins on their resumé and massive heaviest-catch records.
Fans of fishing will recognize that both men – Clunn and VanDam – always approached the Classic with a winner-take-all attitude, a stark contrast to their wide-eyed competitors. For these two competitive monsters, the Classic was their tournament to win; everyone else be damned.
So it comes as somewhat of a relief, really, to know KVD and Clunn may share the record for eternity. Sure, there’s a possibility things could change – KVD could win in the spring of 2019, but I find that highly unlikely considering all the recent shake-up and reckless abandonment of the Elite Series. Clunn is likely to remain on tour, and could very well qualify and win again, but that’s a long process considering his age and stamina.
And Jordan Lee looked impressive to challenge with his own back-to-back wins recently. But he, too, has chosen to take a different route.
Which brings up the final pieces to our puzzle: career victories and career Classic qualifications. KVD, again, decisively owns the victory mark with 25 wins. No one – no matter what happens in the history bass fishing – will ever touch that mark. In today’s age, domination of the sport is simply impossible for anyone but a one-in-a-million athlete. And, right now, another KVD simply isn’t out there on the B.A.S.S. tour.
Clunn, the other hero of our story, holds down the Classic qualification mark at 32. Again, no one is left to challenge this mark, as Gary Klein (30) and KVD (27) both leave for the BPT this season, and Larry Nixon (25) has given no word of another try with B.A.S.S..
So the greatest records in professional bass fishing are safe for the time being. But what does it matter?
For starters, it takes something away from the events themselves. Fans and commentators alike love to cite records when dissecting tournament stats. Such conversations will cease to exist.
The irony of the whole thing can’t be ignored, either. If you would have suggested a few years ago that Clunn and KVD would go down tied in the Classic annals, I would have suggested you see a doctor. But now I’m sure they will.
But, most importantly, the closure of the record book continues to strengthen the biggest argument of pro fishing’s hardcore fan base: that we’ve never truly figured out who was, or is, the best. And, until we have a season-long trail in place including among its competitors KVD, Thrift, Morgan, Martens and others, we’ll never be sure.
Will that ever happen? It may.
But then, what would we have to debate?
(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.)