Another Bassmaster Classic is fast approaching and as I looked back at the event’s recent history I was surprised to learn that the last western winner was Skeet Reese in 2009. As westerners have increasingly established themselves at the top of the Elite heap throughout the regular season and in accumulating AOY titles, there’s been a dearth of big trophy traffic going leftward across the country.
I’m using the term “westerner” liberally here. It includes not only the anglers who still live in places like California, Arizona, Idaho and Washington, but also those who once lived there but have moved east for reasons of professional convenience: competitors including Justin Lucas, Aaron Martens, Mark Daniels Jr., Chris Zaldain, Fred Roumbanis and John Murray. I’m also including Gary Klein, who has lived in Texas since before some of those guys were born, but who forged much of his angling persona in California. I’m not including anglers like Brian Snowden, who may have spent part of their youth out west but who I associate with a different angling culture. It’s my list and I can include or excommunicate whomever I want.
By that metric, I count 18 of last year’s 110 Elites as being from the west. Eight of 52 competitors in the 2018 Classic were westerners, as were 11 of 51 in 2017.
The fact that there’s a lot of western talent out there is underscored by the fact that the last two Anglers of the Year, and four of the last six, were from the west – Justin Lucas in 2018, Brandon Palaniuk in 2017, and Aaron Martens in both 2013 and 2015.
So why can’t the west win another Classic?
It’s not that they haven’t come close.
In five of the last nine years they’ve had an angler in the top three when the event was over. That includes Brent Ehrler twice and Aaron Martens twice. In two of the last nine years they’ve had at least three anglers in the top 10, and twice they’ve had two. Nevertheless, there’s always been someone slightly better, someone able to establish an impassable lead or mount a final day charge – and in a tournament where most anglers would say that there’s only one place that matters, that’s little consolation.
I don’t think there’s any bigger story here, no underlying reason why the west “can’t win the big one.” With only nine of them since Skeet won – and guys like KVD and Jordan Lee gobbling up two apiece – the sample size is just too small to indicate some larger trend.
On the other hand, I know that western anglers are a tribal bunch, and they root for and celebrate their regional competitors harder than just about any other part of the country, so if one of them does end up hoisting the trophy amidst a deluge of confetti on Sunday, they’ll be sure to recognize that it was one of their own.