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03 Jul

The Bass Fishing Hall of Fame: The Best Fishermen of All Time

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We all appreciate tips, tricks, and guides for increasing our skills as anglers or finding new ways to enjoy sport fishing, but it’s just as important to sit back, learn a bit about the history of bass fishing, and recognize the amazing feats a small few have pulled off.

Today, we want to create our own little “bass fishing hall of fame” to highlight some of the anglers who have pushed the sport to the limits and earned their place in a league of their own.

This is about more than just learning some fun facts, though. We’ll get to that later.

Criteria for the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame

If you do a quick Google search, you’ll find plenty of “top ten bass anglers” lists. However, they all tend to focus on the same criteria; how much did the anglers earn from tournaments? Well, that’s a good measure of a modern angler’s abilities since they obviously perform extremely well in competition to earn more than anyone else, but there’s a problem with that. That approach leaves out some of the biggest names in bass fishing. In fact, it completely disqualifies some of the most notable anglers who made the modern sport possible or pushed it well beyond the limits of any tournament.

For our bass fishing hall of fame, we’re not just looking at tournament performance and earnings. We’re looking at overall accomplishments and their importance to the sport, as well.

Several of the anglers we’ll be talking about were long gone before the concept of sport fishing was even thought of, or they changed the bass fishing world forever without having notable tournament wins.

With that being said, let’s get to the list.

1: George Perry

We can’t have a bass fishing hall of fame without the guy that shocked the world and skyrocketed bass fishing into the public’s eye. Before George Perry’s famous catch, bass fishing was just something people did for food. CPR wasn’t a concept, it certainly wasn’t a sport, and even the state record system was so underdeveloped that George Perry’s famous catch wouldn’t be acknowledged by modern standards.

This all happened in 1932. George was working on a farm, and one day, the fields were drenched with rain to the point work was called off for the day. George and his workmate decided not to waste the opportunity. So, they decided to hop in a little boat, head to their favorite fishing spot, and hopefully get some food for the table that night. 

On an early version of a lipless crankbait, George hooked a 22.2-pound largemouth at the same stump spot he’d been casting toward for years. The bass was so abnormally large that George just thought he got snagged, but when it became clear the bass was fighting, he put in the work and wrestled that bass into the boat. Keep in mind, the fishing equipment in 1932 was nowhere near as advanced as it is today, and it’s not just a matter of luck that George pulled that fish in. The amount of skill necessary to pull in a bass that large on such equipment is immense.

He brought the bass to the local post office to have it weighed and recorded, and soon after, it was declared the world record. This showed the world that bass got much larger than anyone expected at that time, and fishermen were launched into a frenzy to try to catch something even bigger. No one succeeded for 80 years, but this moment is what propelled bass fishing into the sport it is today.

If elevating bass fishing from a simple means of getting food to cultivating a sport culture around the hobby doesn’t warrant a spot in the Hall of Fame, we don’t know what truly does.

2: Kevin Van Dam

The surname “Van Dam” seems to correlate with excellence in a variety of fields, and in the fishing world, it’s no different. If you have ever spent time watching professional fishing or keeping up with the official sport, you know exactly who Kevin Van Dam is. If not, you’re probably thinking of his nickname: KVD. 

KVD isn’t just the world's highest-earning professional angler. Although making more than 7 million dollars in 2022 alone is a huge feat, Kevin Van Dam has also garnered a long list of achievements that few, if any, other anglers hold in the sport.

For starters, he’s one of only two anglers that can say they’ve won Bass Master Classic titles 4 times. Just earning one is a feat the vast majority of professional anglers will never accomplish. Beyond that, he earned the BASS Angler of the Year award at just 25 years of age; making him the youngest recipient of the award to date, and he earned it just two years into his professional fishing career. Another title only he can claim is that he won the first annual Outdoorsman of the Year award. Others have won it since ESPN created the award in 2002, but only KVD can claim to be the first.

Beyond just winning titles, Kevin Van Dam’s performance is beyond what anyone else could possibly imagine. He has gotten within 10th place 111 times in his career, and he’s gotten within 20th place 173 times. When you consider the fact that tournaments have hundreds, or even thousands of anglers participating, getting within the top 20, and especially the top 10, is a tremendous feat. Doing it so consistently is practically unheard of.

Every once in a blue moon, a young angler is going to come along and perform even better. It’s the same as with every other sport. However, KVD has clearly set himself apart from the crowd, and he has pioneered what it means to be at the top of the sport since its earliest days. He’s well-deserving of a Hall of Fame spot.

3: Bill Dance

If you want to hear a name that is truly synonymous with professional fishing, look no further than Bill Dance. This is essentially the angler that KVD edged down the bracket slightly, as some young angler will eventually do to him.

Bill Dance was born in 1940. So, he was alive and fishing throughout the entire period when professional fishing was taking shape and being born. A lot of experience comes from that, and it shows when you look at his professional fishing resume.

While Bill Dance only participated in 7 seasons of professional fishing, he racked up stats that almost everyone besides KVD still can’t attain. Even KVD is just barely distancing himself statistically from the achievements Bill made, and KVD has been professionally fishing since 1992.

During just 7 seasons of activity, Bill Dance won BASS Angler of the Year 3 times, and he got 7 BASS wins. That’s like just getting into football and absolutely dominating every season you participate in.

Bill’s tournament wins and titles don’t quite match up to anglers who have been fishing for decades on the professional trail, but that’s because he didn’t stay in it. He’s also significantly older than many of the anglers still participating.

Instead, Bill has continued to accomplish things in the world of fishing via his shows Bill Dance Outdoors on the Outdoors Channel, Bill Dance Saltwater on the Sports Channel, and his personal YouTube account where he uploads videos to help teach the next generation of top-tier anglers.

Bill is a pivotal part of the fishing community, and a spot in the hall of fame is well-warranted.

4: Mac Weakly

George Perry started the mass appeal by catching the world's biggest bass, and Mac Weakly is the one who kept it alive after nearly a century of no one breaking the record.

In 2006, Mac Weakly caught "Dotty"; a 25-pound largemouth with a distinct dot mark below the jaw. Now, if you look at the official records, you won’t find Dottie. Mac and his team were hunting for a world record, and they were completely capable of recording everything in line with official requirements, but there was another problem.

First, Mac and his team were hesitant to claim the record due to how the fish was hooked. It was technically foul-hooked because it was brought in by the dorsal fin instead of the clean lip hook that is expected of anglers. That added a bit of controversy to the catch. On top of that, the record-seeking community isn’t known for accepting when records are broken. There have been countless false allegations that have created legal battles, and while it’s warranted to call out cheating, the community gets overzealous with it.

Thus, Mac Weakly opted to not officially claim the record, and he returned Dottie to the lake after recording the catch by official standards. He avoided the controversy and simply accepted that he reeled in a once-in-a-century fish.

However, while not an official record, Mac did spark the chase yet again. People traveled all the way from Japan to Dixon Lake to try to catch Dottie appropriately and get their names in the record books, and this continued until 2008 when Dottie was unfortunately found floating on the lake’s surface.

It’s not an official world record, but catching Dottie, and having the maturity level necessary to let such a momentous occasion slip through his fingers in favor of preserving the fish and any spawn it may produce, is something many anglers aren’t capable of. He hasn’t earned millions of dollars from tournaments, gotten in the record books, or produced his own TV show, but Mac Weakly has instilled what it means to be an angler in much more than himself by doing what he did. Many would have fought tooth and nail to get in the books with zero regards for such a unique natural specimen. Mac was content with a little media coverage.

5: Roland Martin

Finally, if you like KVD and Bill Dance, we’ve got one name both of those individuals consider to be the grandfather of professional fishing. Born in 1940, Roland Martin has a similar story to Bill Dance. He lived through the bass fishing explosion, and he hopped right into professional fishing. However, his professional career was a bit longer.

Roland Martin has nearly 100 top-ten finishes, and he has participated in 291 tournaments. In terms of titles, Roland Martin is at the top of the pack with 19 first-place wins in BASS tournaments, 9 BASS Angler of the Year Awards, and more than 1 million dollars of earnings in 2004 alone.

Roland Martin is missing a couple of accolades from specific tournaments, but by and large, he has been a tremendous influence on the sport and several generations of anglers. He’s not done yet, though. While he’s retired from professional fishing and enjoying the wealth it has brought him, his show Fishing with Roland Martin on NBCSN continues to help new anglers elevate their skills in hopes of someday matching the skills of KVD, Bill Dance, several other top-tier anglers, and of course, himself.

Why Does All This Matter?

Fishing is a solo hobby for the most part. The average angler isn’t competing against anyone, and even when you’re fishing competitively, it lacks the team coordination and distinct competitive nature of other sports. So, why should you care about the bass fishing hall of fame and a handful of anglers who have achieved great things in the sport?

Well first, those accomplishments have shaped not just the professional fishing world, but fishing in general. They’re what helped bring forth the standards we have for modern bass fishing. Without George Perry, we probably wouldn’t be as concerned with conservation and CPR. We wouldn’t have seen the boom in the tackle industry that brought us all the cool gear we use today. Without more modern accomplishments, we wouldn’t continue to see the sport develop nearly as much.

However, you can also learn from all these anglers. Whether it’s realizing that you don’t need the finest equipment to catch a world record, or if it’s using the tried-and-true methods shown in Roland or Bill’s TV shows and YouTube endeavors to enhance your skills, there’s always something to learn from someone with a lot more experience and accomplishments than you.

Don’t just head over to the TV and tune in to Fishing with Roland Martin or start doing a mental dive into the philosophical points of fishing, though. If you’ve learned from this article and want more, or you need an in-depth fishing companion app that can help you level up your game, download and explore the BassForecast fishing app