Barnett Reservoir has played a significant role in the history of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society. You can even say the lake had a hand in birth in the organization.
B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott says it all the time.
“Back in the 60s, right after the reservoir was opened, I was in Jackson on a business trip and was going to fish this new lake with my old friend Don Norton of Clinton,” Scott said, telling the story at the 1996 tournament weigh-in at the reservoir. “I was staying in the old Ramada Inn there on Highway 80 and the weather shortened the fishing trip. I got this idea to form this organization, a grass roots deal that would promote bass fishing.”
Scott told Norton and other friends about it that night over dinner and said he got a mild reaction like “yeah sure” and “you do that.”
Scott did exactly that and turned the idea into a multi-million dollar career.
During B.A.S.S. growth years, Scott kept Barnett Reservoir in his plans. After holding its first tournament at Arkansas’ Beaver Lake in 1967, B.A.S.S. came to the Jackson area each year for the next six years when Barnett Reservoir was in its infancy and producing big bass.
In 1968, Bill Dance won the first Rebel Invitational in April.
In 1969, Pete Hanson won the Rebel Invitational in May, recording a whopping 124.3 pounds of fish (15-fish daily limit).
In 1970, Dance took back his title in the Rebel Invitational and won his last tournament on the lake.
In 1971, Roland Martin took over Dance’s dominance on the lake and produced the first of his two Barnett wins in a three-year period by winning the All-American in late September and early October.
In 1972, in one of the closest B.A.S.S. tournaments ever, Ricky Green of Arkansas edged local pro Bob Ponds, father of current Elite Series pro Pete Ponds, by one ounce. History shows the final standings of the ’72 Rebel Invitational with Green at 44-3 and Ponds at 44-2.
In 1973, in the final Rebel Invitational held on Barnett, Martin stormed back and posted an 11-pound victory over Bobby Murray.
It would be five years before B.A.S.S. would return to Barnett, and it came for the big one — the 1978 Bassmaster Classic. Murray, who had finished second and fourth in his two previous trips to Barnett, won his second Classic title with a three-day catch of 37.9 pounds. Rick Clunn, who would go on to win four Classics, was second with just 31.10 pounds.
But in the Classic, Murray caught just 14 fish in three days, when the limit was seven fish a day, and the lake was beginning to show its decline. Murray did not get a limit either day.
Bill Dance, once a master of the lake, even zeroed on the first day. The lake, he said years later in an interview between filming TV shows in Tennessee, was that Barnett Reservoir had completely changed its identity. The main lake’s structure that he had relied on in its early years had changed and the fish had begun relating more to the rapidly spreading lily pads.
“Murray figured it out better than the rest of us, and he won,” Dance said.
After the pitiful catch, B.A.S.S. wouldn’t come back for almost two decades, 18 years to be exact, for Mike McClelland’s win in ’96 and Pete Daniels win in ’98. As you’ve read in this magazine, those two tournaments also produced pathetic catches, both times producing winning weights that averaged well under 10 pounds per day.
After a 15-year absence, B.A.S.S. returns to Barnett for a 2013 Central Open.
“It’s a better lake than what it’s shown in the most recent events and that includes the 1978 Classic,” said Pete Ponds, who finished third to McClelland in 1996. “It was better back then, too, but the conditions were rough. I’d really like to see the lake show out, like it did in the 60s and early 70s when it helped put B.A.S.S. on the map.”