The Bassmaster Classic is more than just the biggest and best bass tournament in the world. It's an event, a test of the very best and a stage where legends are made.
Two polls posted on Bassmaster.com tell parts of those stories. In one, we asked for your sentimental favorites to win the championship. In another, we looked at your "dark horse" picks to take home the trophy.
Here are the results of the sentimental favorite poll:
Gary Klein 43.12 percent
Gerald Swindle 23.18 percent
Aaron Martens 17.14 percent
Shaw Grigsby 9.84 percent
Paul Elias 6.72 percent
Walking away with the title of sentimental favorite was Gary Klein, who will be fishing his 29th Classic this year. Klein would be an undeniably great champion, good for the sport and a credit to his profession. But what makes him a sentimental favorite?
Klein carries himself with a great deal of class, and that certainly helps. Fans may love him or be indifferent to him, but it's hard to imagine anyone hating him. But that's not what put him on top of the list.
Finishing second was Gerald Swindle, with just more than half Klein's total votes. Swindle, of course, is the clown prince of bass fishing, always quick with a joke and ready to make fun of anything, including himself. But that's not what makes him a sentimental favorite.
Aaron Martens is likely the third best pro on the Bassmaster Elite Series, behind Kevin VanDam and Skeet Reese, who have dominated the circuit for the past five years. The consummate finesse fisherman and as good a natural angler as pro fishing has ever seen, it's not Martens' skills with a drop shot rig or affable manner that gave him more than 17 percent of the vote here.
What each of these three have in common is a history of getting close, but never quite closing the deal -- well, all except Swindle, who won a Bassmaster Open on the Kissimmee Chain shortly after this poll was taken. While still a fan favorite and a supremely talented angler, it's unlikely he's still a sentimental favorite after finally getting a B.A.S.S. win.
Klein and Martens grabbed votes because they've notoriously fallen just short at the Classic. Klein will be fishing his 29th championship and has posted six top 5 finishes, including runner-up at the last Classic on the Louisiana Delta where he was famously shot at by a disgruntled local.
Martens owes much of his angling persona to three second-place Classic finishes in the span of just four years. It's a safe bet that if he can't win this time, Martens would be happy to finish anywhere but second.
Sentimental favorites have a tough history at the Classic. Apart from Larry Nixon in 1983, Denny Brauer in 1998 and maybe Woo Daves in 2000, they haven't fared very well.
The "dark horses" are different animals altogether. Originally a horse racing term used to describe a entry about which there was little information, here I'm using it to mean a qualifier who tends to fall below the radar.
Here's how our poll broke down the dark horses:
Bobby Lane 35.14 percent
Jeff Kriet 32.20 percent
Bill Lowen 16.12 percent
Brandon Palaniuk 8.31 percent
Matt Herren 8.23 percent
Kriet's a fan favorite, especially after his runner-up showing at last year's Classic. Leading after the second day gave him a taste of the spotlight, and he liked it. Few will want the championship more than "the Squirrel" this year.
But Kriet's style and strengths may not lend themselves to the time of year and fishery as well as the other two top finishers. Bobby Lane and Bill Lowen are underrated shallow water experts. Lane ironically picked up his first Elite win on Kentucky Lake by fishing deep water, but he excels in the shallow weeds of Florida and should transition well to the Delta.
Lowen is a wizard with a swim jig and cut his bass fishing teeth on the challenging shallow water fishery that is the Ohio River system. The Delta Classic will certainly be won shallow, and few fish the thin water as well as Lowen.
Look for both to be in the hunt next week.
For more information about the Bassmaster Classic and the concurrent Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Dick's Sporting Goods, visit Bassmaster.com/Attend.