BIRMINGHAM, Ala. There's always more than one winner at the Classic. While Jay Yelas is the pivotal recipient of Classic largesse, it's clearly a case of trickledown economics. More accurately, it is a torrent.
Moving faster than the tailrace waters Yelas fished to win the 2002 edition, the surge of lure and equipment sales following a Classic victory is instantaneous and unrelenting. From trolling motors to baitcasters, this connection to a champion means money, brother, and nowhere is it more intensely felt than by those who manufacture the winner's tools.
This season, the jubilant recipient of Yelas' performance was Pure Fishing, an industry giant that can now promote two of its core product lines Frenzy crankbaits and Power Bait as Classic winners.
"Typically, baits have probably the most impact from a Classic win, more so than rods, reels or line. We can see a 15 to 20 percent increase within that first year of a Classic win. That's 15 to 20 percent immediately, right out of the blocks," said Brian Thomas, corporate communications manager for Pure Fishing.
"The first day, it's anticipation. He's in the lead. Can he hold on to that?
"When he weighed another big bag the second day, it's like euphoria. Calls go back to the factory and to our research and development team. They created these baits, and it's their whole life. There's an adrenaline flow something like jubilation. You're excited for the angler and excited that the product they've worked on for so long is catching fish."
But with a company as diverse as Pure Fishing, it's not simply a matter of one or two specific baits. As Thomas indicated, it's a continuing effort to build brand awareness, in getting fishermen to believe that a brand does catch fish. In this ongoing effort, a Classic win is more like a war chief's bonnet than a single feather in their cap.
In winning the 2002 CITGO BASS Masters Classic, Yelas employed a rather basic one-two punch comprised of a 5/8-ounce Jay Yelas Berkley Power Jig (brown/black/green pumpkin) tipped with a Berkley T.S. Frog jig trailer (green pumpkin) and a 3/8-ounce Berkley Frenzy medium diving crankbait in a firetiger pattern.
According to Thomas, the jig will now carry the title of "Jay Yelas Classic Power Jig." And contrary to some early reports, it is not the same signature jig that once carried the Yelas moniker.
Actually, it's the third version of that jig, one that offers some subtle improvements, including a rattle and a "30 degree hook," which opens wider as it emerges from the jighead.
A standby in the Power Bait lineup, the Berkley T.S. Power Frog adds even more strength to future advertising campaigns for Pure Fishing. As Thomas noted, the company produces over 50 million Power Worms alone in the 4-, 7- and 10-inch models. That number doesn't include lizards, craws, grubs or frogs. Just worms.
Moreover, Pure Fishing has conducted surveys among B.A.S.S. readership and discovered that over 60 percent use some sort of Power Bait product. Even with those numbers, a Classic victory still wields some incredible power, sometimes before the last fish is weighed.
During the final round of competition, many fishing fans inside the Classic Outdoor Show in Birmingham had already gotten wind that Yelas was using a Berkley Frenzy crankbait. As show retailer Mark Whitlock, owner of Mark's Outdoor Sports in Vestavia, Ala., reported: "It's a feeding frenzy. The Berkley crankbait is what Jay Yelas is leading with right now. We sold five or six hundred this morning, strictly because that's what Jay is using."
Since the Classic lure phenomenon has been at work for many years, lure companies recognize their job in ramping up production to meet demand. Sometimes, however, not everything goes exactly to plan. Just last year, the folks at Strike King found themselves in a welcome dilemma as not one, but two of the baits highlighted in Kevin VanDam's winning performance were not yet on the market.
At the time, VanDam's Premiere Elite Jig and the "Wild Thang," a creature-type bait, were mere prototypes at Strike King and not available to the angling public. The same thing happened following Denny Brauer's Classic victory in 1998 with a then-prototype 4 1/2-inch flippin' tube.
"In theory, you would rather have it sitting there ready to go. Or close. Immediately, the morning after the Classic, you have people wanting to go out and buy this lure, and that may be the downside to somebody winning the Classic on a prototype," remarked Chris Brown, Strike King sales and marketing assistant.
"But in the long run, people are waiting for it and expecting it. Then it pops up, and immediately has a good sales response just from that one tournament."
While some students of the game might encourage others to look at strategy or technique rather than the lure and perhaps rightly so there is still that persuasive charm of the moment.
As Brian Thomas put it: "The Classic is more than an event. It is a happening."