Bassmaster Classic at Ray Roberts has dates shift

By Lynn Burkhead
For the Herald Democrat

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause death, suffering, and daily disruption in North Texas and beyond, the outdoors calendar continues to be shuffled, even in our own backyard.

Word of the latest scheduling change came a few days ago when officials with the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) announced that due to the ongoing public health crisis, they would be moving the dates for the upcoming Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk from a springtime event to an early summertime derby at nearby Lake Ray Roberts.

Originally scheduled from March 19-21, the 51st Classic will now move to early summer as the tournament dates shift to June 11-13, 2021. The hope is that by doing so, it will make it possible for more fans to be a part of the daily weigh-ins at the new Dickies Arena and the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo at the Will Rogers Memorial Center, both in downtown Fort Worth.

“It’s our hope that this delay will allow us to alleviate many of the challenges — including any potential capacity restrictions and travel complications — related to hosting both the tournament and Outdoors Expo in the current pandemic environment,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin, in a news release. “We look forward to seeing thousands of fans, along with our partners and industry friends, at the 51st Bassmaster Classic.

“Our team will be working with the Fort Worth Sports Commission and Visit Fort Worth to make this historic trip to Texas an incredible and memorable event.”

Having a summertime Classic is certainly not unprecedented. When I covered the 2001 Classic during my days with ESPNOutdoors.com, the July event won by Kevin VanDam took place in the steamy bayous and marshes near New Orleans. And when the Classic visited Lake Texoma back in 1979—an event won by Hank Parker—the derby was actually held in September as the summertime heat waned and fall began.

In fact, B.A.S.S. officials note that from the inaugural Classic in 1971 until 1983, the event took place in the autumn months. Then from 1984 until 2005, the event was held during the summertime.

The so-called “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing” was moved to a springtime event in 2006 when the first season of the Bassmaster Elite Series took place. That calendar timeframe remained in place during the Classic’s second visit to Texas back in 2017 when the Lake Conroe event was won by Jordan Lee.

While the third Classic ever held on Texas waters could have likely occurred on Ray Roberts in the late March time slot with only the anglers, tournament staff, and Fox Sports TV cameras looking on, it was becoming increasingly unlikely that the usual number of bass fishing fans would be able to attend.

That thought made the move into early summer more palatable for officials with B.A.S.S. and the city of Fort Worth, the host community for the event.

Just how important are fans to the Classic? Extremely important as a look at the numbers from previous events will show.

Take, for instance, the last two Classics held in Birmingham, Ala., and Knoxville, Tenn., which B.A.S.S. officials say drew record-breaking crowds of 122,814 and 153,809 fans respectively to the weigh-ins, Expo, and other Classic Week events.

In the end, while the Classic is all about an exciting fishing derby that one angler wins on Championship Day, it’s also an economic engine that is vital to organizers, host cities, and manufacturers who unveil a number of new products.

“Hosting the Bassmaster Classic later this spring will bring jobs and much-needed business to our local economy,” agreed Jason Sands, director of the Fort Worth Sports Commission, in the news release. “We are looking forward to hosting anglers and the thousands of outdoor enthusiasts and Bassmaster fans this world-class sporting event attracts.”

While it remains to be seen if virus conditions will improve enough by early summer to allow for more—or potentially even all—of the usual fan base to attend as vaccinations begin to take place across the country, Classic organizers and Fort Worth city officials believe it is a gamble worth taking.

While Lake Ray Roberts would have likely been able to show off a number of big bass catches in the springtime event, a move to June will hopefully be more of a win-win scenario for those putting on the event and hoping to see something like the $35.9 million dollar economic impact that the 2020 Classic generated for host city Birmingham.

“We are so appreciative of Fort Worth officials and our hosts at Visit Fort Worth for working with us during these unprecedented times to reschedule this exciting event and ensure we have an outstanding Classic,” said B.A.S.S. chairman Chase Anderson, in the news release.

Hopefully, a move to June will still produce plenty of big bass catches at Ray Roberts, an exciting derby that goes down to the wire, and an enthusiastic fan base cheering on the eventual winner as the Fox Sports TV cameras record all of the action.

After all, that’s what the Bassmaster Classic is all about, the enthusiastic gathering of anglers, fans and the industry in the biggest bass fishing party of the year.