Bass fishing takes center stage this week with the 50th Bassmaster Classic.

Caleb Sumrall, the 32-year-old from New Iberia, and Many resident Darold Gleason are in the 53-man field ready to hit Lake Guntersville in Alabama. Sumrall is one of seven Louisianans competing on B.A.S.S.’ national Elite Series, and qualified with enough big catches to get a berth in the 2019 Angler of the Year standings from that circuit.

Good news for Sumrall’s fans is his top fishing last year was fourth on Guntersville. The B.A.S.S. editorial staff made him a 20-1 shot at taking home the $300,000 first-place Classic money.

Gleason qualified by winning a B.A.S.S. Central Open on his home waters of Toledo Bend. He’s a long shot.

If you’re planning to travel to Birmingham, Alabama, for the Classic Expo and the weigh-in, then you’ll find both in the the middle of town, at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center, 2100 Richard Arrington Blvd.-North.

The 50th Classic

Back in the early days of tournament bass fishing, did anyone except Ray Scott believe this bass fishing thing would ever get as big as it is today?

Hard times, good times and the in-between times don’t seem to matter to bass fishers. There might be fewer trips in the bad times, but they’re going.

The industry around bass fishing and bass tournaments is a driving force in our economy. While there were bass tournaments before Scott came along, it was his vision of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society — B.A.S.S. — that took competitive bass fishing from a backyard concept to regional then national scale.

The 50th Bassmaster Classic begins Friday. It’s not your daddy’s Classic, nor the Classic legendary outdoor writers like The Advocate’s outdoors writer Mike Cook covered Classic No. 1 in 1970.

There were few onlookers then: today it’s glitzy, loud and playing to jammed-packed arenas across the country, even in places like Soldier Field in Chicago and MinuteMaid Park in Houston.

It began with Scott bringing guys together in Atlanta in 1970’s summer for a trip to a “secret lake,” and some of those men, like Bill Dance, Tom Mann and the first Classic winner Bobby Murray (on Lake Mead) became household names, at least in bass-fishing households.

Our state waters, our beloved marshes, played important roles in this “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing.” Kevin VanDam shares the most Classic titles, four, with Rick Clunn, whose 32 Classic berths is the record. Both men are living legends in the sport, and VanDam, fishing in Lake Cataouatche in 2011, set a record with a three-day, 69-pound, 11-ounce total.

Louisiana has had two Classic winners, Jack Hains in 1975 on Currituck Sound, North Carolina, and "Bo" Dowden in 1980 on the St. Lawrence River in far away northern New York.

The stories

The word was passed to the first Classic qualifiers to bring at most 10 pounds of tackle on the airplane trip to Lake Mead. As Cook told the story, after Scott, his crew, the anglers and the invited media landed and set up headquarters, Scott brought out a scale and found Dance was a tad over the 10-pound limit.

Cook said Scott reached into Dance’s tackle box and began pulling out what he believed were Dance’s favorite lures until the scale hit 10 pounds. Dance still flushes about that day 50 years later.

Then there was Al St. Romain, the Morgan City fishermen, who was one of, as best as can be remembered, three Louisianans in that first Classic.

On practice day, fishermen jumped into their identically rigged Ranger boats, and St. Romain said he turned on the “flasher” depth finder, that most primitive unit when compared to today’s super-modern depth finders/GPS navigation systems.

“I called the Humminbird guy over and told him there was something wrong,” St. Romain recounted years later. “The flasher kept going around and around and didn’t stop. I told him the thing was broken.

“And you know what he told me? You’re in 600 feet of water at this marina. The unit only reads to 180 feet. It’s not going to stop,” St. Romain said. “Heck, I never fished in water more than 20 feet deep and that was only when I really had to. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t have enough line on my reels to fish that lake.”

You can watch

If you want to stay up with Sumrall and Gleason or any in the Classic field, the Bassmaster website: bassmaster.com, has BASSTrakk to follow on-the-water catches. The guys riding along with the anglers post catches during the day.

The website also will have live Friday-through-Sunday weigh-ins beginning near 4 p.m. each day. Remember the field is cut in half for Sunday’s final round.

Saturday

The Angling Against Autism and the Family Festival are being held at the same time and at the same place Saturday, the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, but they’re raising funds for two groups. AAA has raised in excess of $300,000 over the years to help families with autistic children. It’s another example of south Louisiana sportsmen stepping up to help a cause.

And, is you want to eat crawfish Saturday, AAA’s crawfish cooking contest will fill your craving. Just bring some cash to buy the tasty crustaceans and wait for the bass tournament's 4 p.m. weigh-in.