Published By OutdoorsFIRST Media Published March 23, 2017
Aside from the impressive $300,000 first-place prize and internationally renowned world title, the stakes are high at the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods taking place in Houston and on Lake Conroe, Texas, Friday through Sunday.
The world's Top 52 bass anglers will vie for a title that has been known to change lives, make relatively unfamiliar anglers into superstars and turn struggling professional fishing careers into overnight successes.
For some, the stakes couldn't be higher.
Randy Howell of Guntersville, Ala., came from behind on the final day to win the 2014 Bassmaster Classic on famous Lake Guntersville.
"It was a dream come true, no doubt about it," said Howell. "The Classic is the pinnacle of professional fishing, just like the World Series and the Super Bowl. It's a title that sticks with you forever, and makes you a part of history."
The 18-year veteran pro angler said his Classic victory not only impacted his personal life by fulfilling a long-time dream, but it also tremendously benefitted the business side of his career.
"Earning that title was such a huge blessing for my family and me," he said. "It has created countless opportunities for me to meet with other dedicated anglers and talk fishing, share my personal story and my faith with the fishing community all across the country."
Fully understanding the gravity of winning the Classic, Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., won the 2015 Bassmaster Classic in front of his hometown crowd on Lake Hartwell.
"There's no doubt that making a living in this sport can be very challenging," said Ashley. "After winning the Classic, I found there to be more opportunities to work with sponsors and better earn a living. But winning in South Carolina, where I grew up and learned how to fish, was the icing on the cake for me."
Ashley believes winning a second title would be monumental, joining only a select few who have claimed multiple Classic wins.
"My high school baseball coach taught us that being satisfied turns into complacency, and that's when success ends," the 33-year old angler said. "My dream as a kid was to win the Classic, and to say I'm living my dream is absolutely the truth, and something I'm very thankful for. I know being unwilling to settle has been very important to my career. I promise you there's something special about winning the Bassmaster Classic, especially your first one, but I want to do it again, and it doesn't matter where."
In its near 50-year history only five anglers have won multiple Classic titles, including: Rick Clunn (4), Kevin VanDam (4), Bobby Murray (2), Hank Parker (2) and George Cochran (2). Only Clunn and VanDam won back-to-back Classics, 1976-77 and 2010-11 respectively.
At this point, the only angler with a shot at joining the ranks of winning two in a row is the reigning 2016 Bassmaster Classic champion Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla.
"Tournament anglers are a competitive bunch of people, and every one of us on the Elite Series wants to win every event, especially the Classic," said Evers. "I've had a great career, and I feel very blessed and fortunate to do what I do. Winning last year's Classic after competing in so many before, and coming so close numerous times, is a championship I'm very humbled by."
The 16-time Classic qualifier said winning a second title in Houston would mean just as much as it did on Oklahoma's Grand Lake O' the Cherokees last year.
"I'm a long ways from hanging it up," Evers said. "Every opportunity I'm given to compete at the Classic, you can bet that I'm going to give it everything I've got and fish for the win. Winning the Classic is the best thing that can happen to a bass angler. But winning several or even back-to-back titles? That's an experience I truly hope I get to have this year."
He said winning the Classic has lasting impacts for anglers across the age and experience spectrum.
"The Classic is the biggest stage in fishing, and earning the title of world champion is surreal. By winning, you've become a part of history," he said. "Looking at many of the young anglers fishing this year's Classic in Houston, I realize a win would propel them to a whole new level. It would easily make their careers, and I'd be truly happy to see that happen. But I'm not going to just let them have it; I'll be there to win again, too."