- Ken Duke
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Ask any BASS pro to describe his fantasy season and the first two items on the list will always be winning the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award and winning the Bassmaster Classic.
But for the first 23 years of those titles' simultaneous existence, no one accomplished the feat. Four times the runner-up in the Angler of the Year race won the Classic (Bobby Murray in 1978, Larry Nixon in 1983, Guido Hibdon in 1988 and Kevin VanDam in 2001), but no Angler of the Year could break through to win the world championship of bass fishing in the same season that he took the points title.
Until Mark Davis.
Arkansas' Mark Davis put it all together in 1995. He had been a solid performer in BASS events for nearly a decade (fishing his first Classic in 1987), and weight loss surgery had recently done a lot to help his stamina and keep him out on the water, so he was primed for a breakthrough.
All season long Davis battled Shaw Grigsby for the Angler of the Year title. In fact, after the first five events in the six event season, Grigsby had a pretty healthy cushion in the points race. The popular television host never placed lower than 18th in those five tournaments while Davis had struggled through a 30th- and a 40th-place finish. The title was decided in May on the Mississippi River out of Illinois when Davis finished 24th and Grigsby wound up a very disappointing 60th. It was the first of Davis' three Angler of the Year titles (he also won in 1998 and 2001).
In August of that year, Davis won the Bassmaster Classic on High Rock Lake in North Carolina. He was in 7th place after the first day and moved into 3rd after Day 2, but was still almost 4 1/2 pounds behind Georgia's Mark Hardin. A hard charge on the final day put him over the top. He used a wide variety of baits to take the championship, including a Rebel Pop-R, a Strike King Pro Model spinnerbait and a Bomber Fat Free Shad.
The following year, Davis enjoyed another first when he became the first Bassmaster Classic champion invited to the White House to visit with the President of the United States, then fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton. Davis ranked the experience as "one of the true highlights of my year as Classic champion."
There were lots of other highlights to compete with, including "Mark Davis Day" in his hometown of Mt. Ida, innumerable speaking engagements and plenty of sponsorship offers.
Since Davis did it in 1995, no other angler has come close to winning both the Angler of the Year and Classic in the same season. It's arguably the greatest accomplishment in professional bass fishing and almost certainly represents the greatest single season any pro has ever had.
5hMichael C. Wright