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Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Updated: January 29, 9:36 AM ET
Classic Countdown: 23

By Ken Duke
Senior Editor, BASS Publications

Bassmaster Classic
There's a saying that you can't win the Bassmaster Classic on the first day, but you can certainly lose it.

It's true enough, but it's certainly no reason to sandbag on Day 1. It takes an angler's best efforts for all three days of competition to win a tournament as big, as lucrative and as prestigious as the Classic.

Today's story is about the number 23, and 23 means Mark Menendez, one of the most likable and skilled anglers in the Bassmaster Elite Series.

In 2003, the Kentucky pro was fishing his third Classic. His debut effort in 1997 had gone pretty well. He finished 12th and had to feel like he had made a nice splash in the biggest tournament in the world.

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It took four years for Menendez to make it to his second Classic, and things didn't go as well that year. He finished 39th, but the experience must have whetted his appetite for more.

Then, in 2003, it looked like it might be his year. He qualified for the Classic again, and this time he brought his dog, a retriever named Barkley, along for the ride.

Barkley is an enthusiastic angler in his own right. Though not an effective caster (no opposable thumbs, after all), he shares his master's enthusiasm on the water and can definitely recognize a good bass bite.

Which is exactly what Mark found on Day 1 of the 2003 Classic on the Louisiana Delta. While most of the field struggled to catch three or four keepers, Menendez hit it rich with five bass that weighed an impressive 16 pounds, 10 ounces. He was the first day leader, and Barkley was a hit on the Classic weigh-in stage and in the media room. Man's best friend earned nearly as much ink as the talented pro that held his leash.

So where does the number 23 fit into this story? Did Menendez go out on Day 2 and catch 23 more pounds of bass to cruise to victory?

Not exactly.

No, instead 23 is the farthest that any first round leader has ever fallen in the Classic standings. Mark Menendez has that unfortunate distinction.

On the second day of the 2003 Classic (which is just 23 with a couple of zeroes stuck in the middle), Menendez managed just two bass weighing 4-3 and slipped to seventh place.

Then things got even worse. On the final day, Menendez brought just one bass to the scales, and it weighed less than a pound! The collapse was complete. His Classic had gone to the dogs ... and it wasn't Barkley. He finished in 23rd place, 16 pounds and 3 ounces out of the lead.

Of course Menendez is not alone in losing the Classic lead. Just 10 of the 38 first round Classic leaders went on to win, and only seven of those led the tournament from wire to wire. Though Menendez has the dubious distinction of falling the farthest of any first round leader, six others have fallen completely out of the Top 10, including 2008's Day 1 leader, Charlie Hartley, who slid to 15th.

It's far more common for the first round leader to hang around the top. Hopefully that will be the case for Mark Menendez the next time he's in the championship.

With the number 22, there's always a catch. Find out what it is tomorrow.


For the full countdown to the 39th Bassmaster Classic, click here.