Today's Countdown number is 21, and it should help to set the record straight on one of the Bassmaster Classic's most significant records — the age of the youngest champion.
For some reason, a lot of fishing fans seem to think that Bryan Kerchal, the Federation Nation angler who won the Classic in 1994, was the youngest winner in Classic history.
It's true that Kerchal was very young when he took the title, but he wasn't the youngest. Actually, he was the second youngest.
The youngest angler who ever won the Bassmaster Classic was Stanley Mitchell, who at 21 years, 5 months and 19 days, was not only the youngest to win the Classic, but also one of the very youngest to win any BASS event. Kerchal was almost two years older when he won the 1994 Classic.
Mitchell bested a field of 41 other anglers (the largest to that point in Classic history) to win the 1981 Classic on the Alabama River, just outside BASS' birthplace in Montgomery. It was the first Classic weigh-in to be held indoors, and Mitchell was the youngest angler in the tournament. It was his very first Classic, and he led each day of the competition.
Anglers younger than Mitchell have qualified to fish the Classic, but none have come close to winning. The odds are very good that Mitchell's record will last a long time.
Today, most of the Classic qualifiers (37 out of 51) come through the ranks of the Elite Series. To get into the Elite Series you have to qualify through the Bassmaster Opens. That makes it very difficult for an angler in his or her late teens or early 20s to get there.
The other qualifiers come from the Opens, Federation Nation, Women's Bassmaster Tour and Weekend Series, where young people have the opportunity to compete, but the odds of qualifying are much longer. The fields are so large and so competitive that the chances of a very young angler with limited experience breaking through are pretty slim.
This year's Classic serves as a great example. Even if the youngest angler in the field (Casey Ashley, 25) wins the tournament, he'll still miss the record by nearly four years.
Only six Classic champions were under 30. Here's the list of the youngest ever:
So if you're looking for Classic records that might fall, don't look for this one to change hands anytime soon. In fact, it could be a decade or more before an angler younger than Mitchell in 1981 even qualifies to fish the Classic. And when he or she does, the deck is going to be heavily stacked against beating the best in the business.
Tomorrow we'll learn why there are a million reasons to talk about the number 20 and this year's Classic.
For the full countdown to the 39th Bassmaster Classic, click here.