CLASSIC ’94: AN AMATEUR HOISTS THE TROPHY
Bryan Kerchal grew up in Newtown, Connecticut, and graduated from high school there in 1989. He briefly attended Salem State University, where he spent more time reading Bassmaster Magazine than his textbooks. He left school and took a part-time job as a cook at the Ground Round restaurant, while he tried to figure out how to pursue his passion to be a professional angler.
He was introduced to the sport of bass fishing by a neighbor but he really had no mentoring or practical learning until he joined the Housatonic Valley Bassmasters- a B.A.S.S.-affiliated club. Through this club he qualified for the 12-man state championship team. He then qualified for the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. His performance as the top Eastern Division angler earned him a berth in the 1993 Bassmaster Classic on Alabama’s Logan Martin Lake. At that Classic he finished dead last.
A year later he defied the odds and repeated the same path to the Classic as a B.A.S.S. Nation qualifier, making him the first to defend a B.A.S.S. Nation title and qualify as an amateur twice. He fished six B.A.S.S. Invitationals that season, but the B.A.S.S. Nation was once again his route to the Classic championship.
Kerchal had a tough practice at North Carolina’s High Rok Lake, and while many predicted that the conditions favored a repeat by ’93 winner David Fritts, heavy rain prior to the event raised and muddied the water. That made flipping to the lake’s many boat docks a more viable tactic. Kerchal found a red shad Culprit ribbon-tail worm floating in the lake during practice, and with nothing to lose, he decided to pitch docks with that worm Texas-rigged with a 3/16 oz bullet weight on a 2/0 hook. With that strategy, Kerchal weighed three consecutive limits- the only angler to do so- totaling 36-7. Veteran flipper Tommy Biffle was formidable competition, but ultimately Biffle fell 3 ounces short of Kerchal’s weight, making him a Classic Champion.
He was 23, a lifetime in front of him, and Kerchal was living the dream of hundreds of thousands of weekend anglers by winning the 24th Bassmaster Classic. He was the first, and to this day
only, fisherman to earn his spot in the classic by winning the B.A.S.S. Nation qualifier. He was also the first Northeastern angler to claim the coveted Classic crown.
He didn’t have the knowledge held by the rest of the field, but he had a unique enthusiasm and belief in himself. Sadly, we were deprived of the opportunity to see how far that could carry him in this sport. Less than five months after his history-making victory, he and 14 others perished when American Eagle Flight 3379 crashed. He’d been making an appearance for one of the sponsors. At the 1995 Classic, a bass boat was driven around the arena with his trophy as a tribute to him, and the B.A.S.S. Nation championship trophy was renamed the Bryan Kerchal Memorial Trophy. Bryan has posthumously been voted into the Hall of Fame.