This week we continue our quest to determine who is the greatest bass angler of all time. In the previous article we revealed and made a case for three anglers in Denny Brauer, Aaron Martens and Edwin Evers. Again, our criteria are based off the recent list by B.A.S.S. of the ‘All-Time Money Winners.” But before we get to the top two on this list, we have to take a look at some of the old timers who made bass fishing what it is today. Guys who were around when it all began in the late 1960’s like Bill Dance, Roland Martin and Rick Clunn who all dominated the pro tour in the beginning and took full advantage of their early success.
No name or person in the history of bass fishing is more recognizable than Bill Dance with his University of Tennessee baseball cap. To give you an idea how popular that cap is, I ran into Bill at the International Fishing Show known as ICAST in Orlando a few years ago and his PR director had one of Bill caps in his hand while Bill toured the show. I ask him what the extra hat was for, and he said it’s in case someone comes by and snatches his hat off his head. I asked if that had ever happened, and he said yes quite often. When it comes to marketing, no other cap is as recognized as the one Bill Dance wears. His show “Bill Dance Outdoors” is the longest running fishing TV show in history broadcasting since January 5th,1968. Bill does an outstanding job of introducing new tackle and techniques to the public though his show. He’s not just another pretty face for TV, but in his hay day, he was one of the best anglers to ever wet a hook and dominated the tour early on. But he retired from tournament fishing at a very young age in order to focus more on his TV show and sponsor promotions. He pretty much put Strike King Lures on the map and has help make them the leading tackle company in the world.
Let’s look at Roland Martin…another of the all-time greats who many will say IS the greatest angler of all time based on the fact that he won 9 Angler of the Year Titles. No one even comes close to that and the fact he won 19 B.A.S.S. events and 19 runner-up finishes. He was in the money 63% of the time as he accumulated over $1 million in winnings during a time when the money was nothing like it is today. If he would have fished in this new era of today with that kind of dominance, his earnings would have exceeded over $4 million in tournament winnings alone not including endorsements and merchandise sales. The only thing that haunts Roland Martin today, is the fact that he never won the Bassmaster Classic. A tournament that just seemed to elude his grasp time and time again. Just a little info about Roland (who resides in Naples Florida) is he loves to turkey hunt and tarpon fish. His son Elite Series Pro Scott Martin has also been very successful in his own right with an FLW Championship under his belt and a very popular TV show called “The Scott Martin Challenge.”
Rick Clunn is another angler whose name always comes up as the greatest of all time and at one time had the title of the GOAT.. Just like NFL quarterbacks who are judged by the number of Super Bowls they’ve won, bass fishing professionals are judged by how many Bassmaster Classics they’ve won. Rick Clunn and Kevin Van Dam lead that list with four Classic wins to their credit. (More on KVD later) Now Rick is a different bird who has always flown a little different route than most other anglers. When other anglers would zig, Clunn would zag. In the beginning and during most of his career, Rick separated himself completely from other pros and I mean literally by staying at campgrounds outside in a tent. He avoided hotels where he felt anglers talked too much and got into each other’s head. He avoided what he called “dock talk.” Rick’s philosophy included a form of meditation known as zenning. It was his way of becoming one with nature. He always felt like the closer he was with nature, the better he could connect with the bass and as Rick would say “become one with the fish.” Over his career, Rick has accumulated over $2.6 million dollars in winnings.
Now let’s looks at the real GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)…Kevin Van Dam. This guy took bass fishing by storm in 1987 and made his presence felt his first year as a touring professional. Allegedly the story goes that he walked up to Rick Clunn (who was the GOAT at that time) and introduced himself as Kevin Van Dam and that he was the guy who was going to start kicking his a#$. Whether this is true or not, it illustrates Van Dam’s confidence in his abilities to catch fish and win tournaments. His mental toughness has far exceeded all other anglers of his generation. If you look at winnings alone, Van Dam has collected over $6.4 million dollars in winnings which is double his closest competitor. He has won 4 Bassmaster Classics (the Super Bowl of bass fishing) and has won more B.A.S.S. events than any other angler in history with 25 and has 16 runner-up finishes to his credit. Over his career, he has been in the money 80% of the time which is an amazing stat in itself. KVD has also capitalized on the business side of bass fishing as well as the lead spokesperson and bait designer for Strike King Lures. There’s not a bass angler in America that does not have at least one KVD endorsed lure in their tackle box. So, you can debate this all you want, but it’s pretty clear based off statistics alone and money earned that Kevin Van Dam truly is the greatest bass fisherman of all time. I hope you’ve enjoyed this breakdown of bass fishing all-time greats. Whether you choose to agree or disagree, it’s hard to argue against KVD. Till next time, don’t forget to set the hook!
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