The pressure was cranked all the way up for 52 of the world's best anglers as they duked it out on Lake Conroe for the 2017 Bassmaster Classic. With the anxiety-inducing presence of monumental crowds and a $300,000 check on the line, stakes were high and nerves were no doubt frazzled. Day one of the tournament gave anglers a blustery slap in the face—literally—with 20- to 30-mph winds and 4-foot waves, making an already tough-fishing lake all the more challenging.
But through these adverse and high-stress conditions came one of the most exciting and unpredictable Classic's in recent history. Just about everyone got thrown for a loop, but no one more so than Huk Pro Angler Brent Ehrler...
Having finished 29th or lower in 10 of the last 12 Bassmaster Elite Series events, Brent Ehrler was ready for a change of pace and a run at the podium. And that's exactly what he got from the first day of the competition. Despite the nasty conditions that plagued day one, Ehrler took a big step out of his slump by catching a mess of fish totaling 23 pounds, 3 ounces. One of those fish happened to be a 9 pound, 12 ounce bruiser that put him in the running for the Berkley Big Bass prize.
To his surprise, Ehrler ended day one with a lead of over 2 pounds. Five more beauties on day two brought his total weight up to 43 pounds, 4 ounces, which was enough to hold onto the lead moving into day three. Then, after another full day hustling after the lunkers Lake Conroe is famous for, Ehrler's lead slipped away when Justin Lee, a young angler from Alabama, rocked the scales with a 27-pound, 4-ounce stringer good enough for first place.
In a post-tournament discussion, Ehrler admits that he was crushed by the loss: "Losing the Bassmaster Classic has been the hardest letdown in my career," Ehrler laments. "However, if I was given the choice between climbing to third or leading the Classic for two days and falling to third, I'd still free fall to rock bottom again."
Just before launching on day one of the tournament, Kevin VanDam made a video for his fans expressing his gratitude to the point of tears for all the support he's been given and the opportunity to compete in yet another Classic.
It's hard not to root for this guy. Although VanDam didn't make it to the podium in this year's Classic, he showed up strong with an all-around solid performance. He weighed in consistent stringers but didn't land any big fish that would've tipped the scales in his favor. Still, it was enough for VanDam to secure a 10th place finish in his 26th Classic appearance.
Making his 7th Classic appearance, Brandon Palaniuk had a rough start and unfortunately couldn't make up enough lost ground to stay in the running. He finished 49th overall with a total weight of 9 pounds, 10 ounces. As one of the younger anglers on the scene, you can bet we'll be seeing much more from Palaniuk in Classic's to come.
Coming off a hot 2016 in which he was named Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year, Gerald Swindle was one of the top competitors to watch in the Classic. But despite his preparations and high hopes, he simply couldn't get Lake Conroe to give up any hefty bass.
While he didn't get completely skunked, Swindle's 2-pound, 8-ounce total weight landed him in 51st place overall. But G-Man's Classic story doesn't end there...
A while back, G-Man started raising money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama in honor of his fellow angler Luke Dunkin's mother who has battled cancer. Swindle and Dunkin began the fundraiser as a friendly beard bet. Whoever shaved their beard first had to pony up $2,017. By the time the 2017 Bassmaster Classic rolled around, the two grizzled fishermen had amassed significant facial fuzz. Somehow—the details are unclear—Swindle agreed to be the first to shave and the task would be done at the Toyota booth on the final day of the tournament.
Word quickly spread about the beard buzzing for a charitable cause, and pretty soon a huge crowd gathered to watch. On top of that, loads of cash started flowing in. Industry brands including Huk, Toyota, and Wired2Fish among others chipped in wads of cash. Complete strangers even started pulling bills out of their pockets to donate to the worthy cause. By the time G-Man's face was smooth, over $22,000 had been raised for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation! It was a great ending to one of the biggest Bassmaster Classics the fishing world has ever seen.
We’re looking forward to next year!