FEATURE ARTICLE: TOP 40 BASSERS
California’s Top 40 Bassers From The Last 30 Years
BY GEORGE KRAMER/SPECIAL TO WESTERN OUTDOOR NEWSPublished: Nov 17, 2016
Dee Thomas reigns over three decades and more of Golden State bass anglers
With the Anglers Marine 30-year anniversary of its Bass-A-Thon (world class bass fishing show, seminar and sales), came the notion to recognize the Top 40 California bass anglers over that similar time span.
Yet, when it came to giving such recognition, there were questions of what criteria should apply? For example, the leading anglers of 30 years ago had generally gained that recognition over a span of preceding years, and that needed to be taken into consideration. And of the more than 80 anglers considered, not all still hold residency in the Golden State. It was decided that was not critical.
Because of the difference in eras, however, it was necessary to try and gauge angler eminence through peer recognition during the most active portions of their careers. Yet, for some current anglers, those careers are still in their early stages.
It was determined that this Top 40 couldn’t just be a case of who had the most earnings, titles, biggest fish or sponsorship deals. In many cases, the farther back you go in time, you discover the top anglers never considered leaving their day jobs to chase a career in professional fishing. The remuneration was nothing like it became over the last dozen years or so.
Neither could a hierarchy be based solely on who is the most familiar to the largest audience. Thirty, 40 and 50 years ago, there were no Go-Pros, Twitter or Facebook, nor was competitive fishing found anywhere in TV Guide (and does anyone even know what that is these days?)
There were no overnight heroes as we find today, for then careers were built week by week, year by year, in the monthly and quarterly magazines and newspapers (not unlike this one) dedicated to outdoor sports.
However, none of the more recent and proven luminaries have been dismissed. In fact, they shine brightly — many for years and years. But in truth, each generation raises the bar — so much so that such a list may look far different 10 years from now. But you’ll just have to wait for that.
In the end, the B.A.A.T (Bass Angler Assessment Team) poured over the candidates, looking for such characteristics as proficiency, sportsmanship and influence, as well as individual contributions to the sport.
For those reasons, we give you our list of the Top 40, (noteworthy) California bass anglers of the last 30 years…
1. Dee Thomas — Who knows what he might have done had he left the produce aisles of the local grocery store and taken his long rod to virgin waters across the country. But even those anti’s who tried to take away his magic, tule-dipping poles in the 1970s couldn’t halt Thomas’ impact on bass fishing. Fixed-line flipping of, course, led to long rod pitching, but it wasn’t all in the length. His ability to present and control a bait on the fall was uncanny and his observations on bass positioning are as true today as ever. Even now, the bass fishing world still feels the ripples of his presence, having raised the maximum rod length to 10 feet for the Bassmasters. More than 40 years after the introduction of the Flipping Stik, we still revere the man.
2. Aaron Martens — At times enigmatic, the fact is, this bass fishing savant just catches them — garnering more than 75 top-10 finishes and nine titles on the national scene. He has 4 runner-ups in the Classic and was three times a BASS Angler of the Year. Even with that, his more than $3 million in earnings doesn’t even include his three U.S. Open titles.
3. Skeet Reese — Among the best known of the western emigrants to the national scene, Skeet has more than $3 million in winnings from 8 major titles and a Bassmasters Classic championship, while garnering more than 65 top-10 finishes. A B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year, he probably should have had two more if the host org had not changed the rules on him. His 19 years as a pro say it all.
4. Gary Dobyns — An epic tournament career, primarily in the West, with a record number of wins (including a U.S. Open), but also a mover and shaker as a tournament promoter, as well as founder and primary designer for Dobyns Rods. One of the first Bassmaster Classic qualifiers when BASS first came to California.
5. Mike Folkestad — Already recognized by both the Bass Fishing and the Fresh Water Fishing HOF’s, this three-time U.S. Open winner, B.A.S.S. champion and record-holder has been among the best bass anglers in California for four decades.
6. Dave Gliebe — Some say he out-Dee Thomas-ed the Flippin’ King himself, at one point winning back-to-back-to back on three different circuits. There may not have been a better pitch caster — long rod or short — in his prime and his tournament big bass winnings remain unmatched.
7. Bill Murphy — While some look at his book, In Pursuit of Giant Bass, as somewhat dated, the fact is, the late “Lunker Bill” was the preeminent big bass catcher in San Diego for more than three decades and his book reflects more than 40 years of structure fishing observation.
8. Don Iovino — Credited with popularizing the doodling (shaking) finesse technique with its attendant brass sinkers and glass beads, this IGFA Hall of Famer’s biggest achievement was to link the angling technique to sonar use on the most heavily fished waters.
9. Dick Trask — The developer, if not the originator, of the split-shotting method, the late SoCal icon found a way to fish contours with minimalist gear — 6-pound test, a no. 1 hook, swimming a small plastic worm or reaper. Clearly underappreciated — but not here.
10. Bobby Barrack — For years, Barrack, frog fishing and the Delta have been nearly synonymous, but he has been a highly successful tournament angler, willing bass fishing educator, and advocate for water resources.
11. Brent Ehrler — Probably no other tournament angler hit the scene with more impact, winning every level of FLW championships and moving to the Bassmaster Elites. His career impact is still growing.
12. Gary Klein — Who knew when he left Oroville to join the Bassmasters back in 1979 that he would become such a force? This Dee Thomas disciple (and thinking man’s pro) has qualified 30 times for the World Championship, owns two BASS Angler of the Year titles, and was also a U.S. Open champ.
13. Jay Yelas — With 26 appearances in BASS and FLW championships, two FLW AOY titles, a BASS AOY and a Classic championship, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he built a lasting reputation.
14. Bill Siemantel — Some feel his induction into the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame was premature, and not everyone is convinced of his against-the-grain explanations of bass behavior. But it’s amazing how many now use the vernacular he developed (ie, “soft structure, spot on spot, top-middle-bottom” and so many others), many included in his book The Big Bass Zone(BBZ).
15. Butch Brown — If the age of personal video had not commenced, perhaps the world would not know Brown’s penchant for catching big bass in Southern California. Don’t know if he’s hit 500 fish over 10 pounds, but he can’t be too far off.
16. Matt Allen — Nitpicking among the big bass experts, but Allen has already been recognized as the #1 California bass angler, and his catches and teaching videos are stunning. He will be considered one of the all-time greats by the time his career is over.
17. Dean Rojas — From hawking peanuts and fishing locally in San Diego, he has risen to a top-line B.A.S.S. Classic qualifier and his tour record, one-day, 5-bass catch of more than 45 pounds still stands today. His frog fishing prowess has led to huge sales of the Bronzeye Frog.
18. Larry Hopper — A five-time winner on the pro tours of the 1980s, including a TOC and U.S. Open, there was a period when this research chemist was among the most feared competitors, and most skilled jig fishermen in the state.
19. Ish Monroe — Monroe’s tournament record may not measure up as well in the BASS and FLW ranks, but no one can discount Monroe as an influential player. His insights on boat rigging and the use of shallow-water sonar get him on this list.
20. Don Payne — No better fisherman or gentleman ever came out of Modesto and he was a proponent of shaking worms before the method ever caught on in SoCal. So solid on the reservoirs and the Delta, keeping a standard of the highest sportsmanship.
21. Cody Meyer — A Lake Shasta fixture for some time, it seems like just yesterday Meyer jumped in the middle of the FLW second-tier competition in the West and his career just took off. He joined the FLW Tour and has shown strong all across the country, one of the most consistent performers game to game.
22. Dave Nollar — Another fixture from the late 1970s through the 2000s, Nollar was rugged character known for unusual lure choices, unique lure modifications and the confidence of a warlord. Among his peers in San Diego and much of Southern California, he is highly regarded.
23. Robert Lee — Been to the Classic twice, Forrest Wood Cup twice and has four consecutive Bassmaster trophies from the Delta in his trophy case....nobody has ever done that anywhere....nuff said!
24. Greg Gutierrez — Kept his job with Cal Fire while competing on the Bassmaster Elite Series, is a 2-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier and has been in the winner’s circle on the BASS, WON BASS, FLW, Anglers Choice and AOY's on several circuits. One of the top guys in the West for decades.
25. Mike Reynolds — What can we say about the blonde kid from Modesto? He pretty much dominated the ‘80s with Red Man, including AOY's and All American trips; had a West Coast Bass Classic title then moved on to BASS, where he made 5 Classics, almost won one and got the big blue trophy at Clark's Hill, and then qualified for two FW Cups on the FLW Tour.
26. John Bedwell — Dominated the ‘80s with a U.S. Bass Grand National Fly Away title (not many of those), a West Coast Bass Classic win and a marina full of boats on the WON BASS and West Coast Bass Trails. Had a run on the national scene as well. Hung up the patch vest to run the Fisherman's Warehouse Stores.
27. Jeff Michels — FLW’s arrival in the West with its “battery and sunglass” circuits gave Michels a platform to shine and he has the AOY hardware to prove it. He was dominant on those circuits, not only on his home water Lake Shasta, but has proved equally tough on other tour stops as well.
28. Wayne Breazeale — Has called Clear Lake home his entire life and is a dominate force there along with any other lake in NorCal. Numerous AOY awards and Team Championships in regional team events and a top pro-am finisher. His 2016 was a career year with WON BASS California Open and WWBT Team Championship trophies.
29. Dave Rush — Flew under the radar for many years but he was in the class with Reese, Yelas, Reynolds and others. Has the titles like WON BASS Pro Finals and Team Championship, Stren Series, WON BASS and West Coast Bass. A tough competitor who also beat cancer.
30. Byron Velvick — A two-time U.S. Open [Western Outdoors Open) winner, Velvick struck out for the national tournament scene, but garnered extra juice (and drew extra attention to the sport of bass fishing) by participating in the nationally popular“The Bachelor” reality TV show.
31. Jared Lintner — Looking at the Central Coast today, it’s hard to believe it could develop a talent like this former trucker. His power-fishing prowess rocketed him to the top, until there were no places to go but the Bassmasters. He represents for a whole region of lesser known, but talented anglers, but he has proven to be the best.
32. Howard Hughes — This guy would be on the list for the last 40 years and like that battery rabbit he just keeps going. One of the consistent guys who has been on the top of the field in a Bassmaster Open and the WON BASS California Open at Clear Lake. He was sitting on the front row at the old school and one of the original guys from the early days.
33. Russ Meyer — Traveled the West for many years from Mendocino and gets the credit for bringing the big SoCal baits to the NorCal lakes. Taught the best how to sight fish and scored numerous wins in the ‘80s and ‘90s including a Bassmaster win on the Delta.
34. Mike Brakebill —You can’t always look at the headlines if you want to find lasting talent, but those who have donated entry fees to this guy and various partners over the last 30 years, they know where it went. Production manager for Roboworms, he has a sense of color and design that continues to dominate the finesse fishing world.
35. Byron Frankenberger — Some guys gain stature for popularizing a method. In Missouri, Jimmy Crisp’s ripping method was called “Crispin,” while in SoCal, the term was the “Frankenberger jerk.” Number 11 Rapalas or the new Bomber Long A’s got the method rolling.
36. Randy Best — Not a long career, but rose from traveling partner with Mike Folkestad to seasoned tour player, finishing a close second to Jay Yelas before he went on to fame and fortune in the 1990s. Best excelled both in NorCal and the Colorado River and earned a Bassmaster Classic bid when there was a western circuit.
37. Chris Zaldain — Having bolted from the ranks of the BASS Opens, where he earned an AOY title and was named top angler in California in 2014, he has become a staple, though for a relatively short time, on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour.
38. Bob Crupi — The bass fishing sphere is a curious domain where big bass are both hailed and hated at the same time. Worse for wear was the guy who fished live crawdads at Lake Castaic and threatened to break the world record — though it never happened. But he did catch two largemouth over 20 pounds. Not a whole lot of that going around.
39. Bub Tosh, Jr. — Grew up on the docks of every lake in the West with his dad Stephen Sr. He was a Forrest Wood Cup Co-angler Champion early on and has been as strong as any in the tourney mix during in the past decade. An innovative lure maker and one of the first Delta punchers! Could be on stage at any comedy club in America too!
40. Andre Moore — Harder to find than Nemo but the innovative lure designer (Reaction Innovations) brought us baits like the Sweet Beaver and others with bawdy connotations. He had back-to-back wins on the FLW Tour at Beaver Lake, qualified for two Bassmaster Classics and three FLW Cups and now spends his time chasing big-dollar saltwater tournaments.