The Greatest Angler Debate presented by John Deere started with a list of 35 top anglers from the world of competitive bass fishing. That list was pared down to the sport’s 10 best in January. Fan voting began in January and ended on March 20. The process ranked the pros third through tenth. The top two candidates will face-off in a second round of voting that begins June 15.
Last week, the countdown began with angler number 10, Mark Davis. This Saturday, April 16, at 9:00 a.m. ET on ESPN2, the debate continues with a profile of the ninth-ranked angler, Gary Klein.
Hailing from Oroville, Calif., Klein’s career marked the dawn of a new era in the sport of professional bass fishing. Before him, all of the pros worked other jobs to pay their way on the cast-for-cash trail. Many were fishing guides, but others sold insurance, worked as mechanics or ran the family farm to make ends meet. Klein was the first true career bass pro, hitting the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail as a 21-year-old rookie and never looking back.
Klein’s career got off to a phenomenal start. He finished 10th in his first BASS event on the St. John’s River in Florida in 1979. A month later he won BASS’ Arizona Invitational on Lake Powell. In his third event, he finished sixth.
Klein finished in the top 10 in five of the first seven events he fished on the BASS trail, narrowly losing the CITGO Angler of the Year title to bass fishing superstar and fellow Greatest Angler Debate semifinalist Roland Martin. In the years since, he’s won eight BASS and two FLW events, qualified for 22 Classics (including a stretch of 17 in a row) and six FLW Tour championships, finished in the top five at the Classic on five separate occasions (including second place in 2003), earned two CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year awards and won better than $1.7 million on the BASS and FLW tours.
"I would say my greatest accomplishment is that I’m still competing and still living the dream,” Klein said with characteristic modesty. “Doing what I love is something I’m really proud of."
Klein hit the tournament trail as a devoted flipper and pitcher, having learned his trade from Western bass fishing icons Dee Thomas and David Gliebe, but in the years since his debut, he’s gained a reputation as a well-rounded and versatile angler ready to use whatever technique may be necessary to be successful.
As one of the first Western pros to find consistent success in a sport long dominated by Southern anglers, Klein helped to dispel the myth that Westerners couldn’t win outside their own backyard. He was also the first Western angler to claim bass fishing’s most prestigious award, the Bassmaster Angler of the Year crown, which he won in 1989 and 1993.
Klein commented on his place in angling history and in the Greatest Angler Debate.
"It's very humbling to be mentioned with this group,” he said. “It’s truly an honor to be mentioned with that caliber of people. It’s also very surprising, and I’m truly honored."
Though still a relatively young professional angler at 47 years of age, Klein now has more than a quarter century of competitive fishing under his belt with many more promising years to come. No list of the greatest anglers in bass fishing history could be considered complete without him.
On Saturday, April 16, at 9:00 a.m. ET on ESPN2, BASS Saturday will profile Gary Klein. Fans will find stats and stories on the Greatest Angler Debate in the pages of Bassmaster Magazine, BASS Times, Bassmaster.com and on the weekly ESPN Outdoors radio show. On June 15, the debate heats up again as the fans choose between the top two anglers during a second round of voting on Bassmaster.com.
The debate will conclude in Pittsburgh — at the 2005 Classic — when two champions are crowned. One will be given the Classic trophy and the other will be hailed as the greatest angler of all time.
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