Throwback Thursday – Gary Klein – Legend of the Sport

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Gary Klein at 2014 Bassmaster Classic - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Gary Klein at 2014 Bassmaster Classic – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

In 2009 and 2010, before Advanced Angler, I was the Field Editor for Bass West USA magazine.  One of my assignments in each issue was to do the column titled Legends of the Sport.  “Legends” was my favorite in each issue because it allowed me the opportunity to share some of the rich history of our sport with the readers of the issue.  With Throwback Thursdays (TBT) being such a popular theme on social media these days, I decided to share these articles with  the readers of Advanced Angler, as many of you have never seen them.

My first Throwback Thursday installation is from the March / April issue of Bass West USA, featuring Gary Klein.  Some of the statistics have changed as Klein’s career is an ongoing masterpiece, but, his legacy is nevertheless impressive

by Dan O’Sullivan

According to online dictionaries, the term ‘Legend’ has several meanings, it can mean; ‘an unverified story handed down from earlier times, especially one popularly believed to be historical.’  It might mean; ‘An explanatory table or list of the symbols appearing on a map or chart.’ Or in the case of the bass fishing world, a ‘Legend’ is; ‘one that inspires legends or achieves legendary fame.’

A Legend of the sport is someone who has made significant contributions or achieved uncommon accomplishments en route to leaving an indelible mark on the history of the sport.  These are individuals who have set new standards, created new trends and driven the bar to new heights as they have blazed the trails of their careers.

Without these individuals, the sport of bass fishing would have nothing to measure itself against.  The industry, minus their involvement, would likely be in a much less advanced state than it is.  The drive of dominating competition, on and off the water has left a trail of history that many are witness to, yet few are a component of.

One of those anglers is Gary Klein of Weatherford, Texas.

2003 Lake Seminole Trophy Ceremony - photo by BASS

2003 Lake Seminole Trophy Ceremony – photo by BASS

Klein by the Numbers
There are not too many anglers with the résumé of Klein. From a Western perspective, he was the first angler to follow in the footsteps of Dee Thomas and Dave Gliebe, who headed east to compete on the Bassmaster Tournament Trail.

Klein, originally from Oroville, Calif. entered his first of 320 BASS entries in February of 1979 on the St. Johns River in Florida.  At the ripe old age of 21 years old, the California native finished his first event in 10th place against 256 other anglers.  His first payday earned him $1100, and built the foundation of one of the sport’s longest and widely respected careers.

In the more than 30 years since his first entry, Klein has established himself as one of the true professionals.  His career overlaps with many of the early greats of the sport, as he went toe to toe with Bobby Murray, Rick Clunn, Hank Parker, Roland Martin, Denny Brauer and the best of that era, often besting them.

Along with his early career contemporaries, Klein’s competitive years have seen him locking horns with the modern day heroes of the sport, such as; Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese, Mike Iaconelli and Mike McClelland, standing there in the final rounds with them more often than not.

His career has seen him qualify for 28 trips to the Bassmaster Classic.  While he has yet to nail down a victory in bass fishing’s world championship, Klein has finished sixth one time, fifth twice, he has three fourth place finishes, and his highest finish was in 2003, when he finished less than two pounds behind winner Iaconelli.  All told, Klein has managed 13 top 20 finishes in the Bassmaster Classic, seven of those finishes in the top six.

Klein in 2010 Preceding the Next Generation - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Klein in 2010 Preceding the Next Generation – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

Klein’s career has been one of steady excellence; he has won eight BASS events throughout his tenure as one of the sport’s best. In 1979, after finishing 10th in his first event, he travelled across the country and won his second event, the Arizona Invitational on Lake Powell, finishing one pound ahead of Bill Dance for his first career victory.

In all, Klein has won BASS tournaments in every decade in which he has competed. He was victorious in one in the 1970’s, three in the 1980’s, as well as in the 1990’s, and he won again in 2003 at Georgia’s Lake Seminole. His BASS career accomplishments also include the 1989 and 1993 Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles.

To go along with the wins and season long achievements, Klein has amassed a hall of fame stat sheet.  In his 320 career entries, Klein has earned a check 222 times thus far, meaning he goes to the bank 69-percent of the time. His career earnings in BASS competition that totals $1,814,442, giving him average winnings of $5,670 per tournament.

Outside of his wins, Klein has had 72 top 10 finishes in BASS Competition; and he has finished in the top 20 a total of 133 times.

On the FLW side of the professional bass fishing ledger, Klein has also proven to be a handful as a competitor.  His portfolio includes 44 entries in FLW competition; here he has collected paychecks in 34 events. He has notched 11 top 10 finishes, earning repeat FLW Tour victories on the Mississippi River out of Memphis in 1999 and 2000.

Before the increase in schedules caused pro anglers to focus on only one of the major tours, Klein qualified for six trips to the Forrest L. Wood Cup, the FLW Tour Championship.  He has also finished in the top 10 of the FLW Tour points standings two times.

His FLW earnings total $451,985, bringing his total earnings in the sport’s two largest organizations to $2,266,427.

Gary Klein FLW Tour Win May 2000 - photo by FLW Outdoors - Jeff Schroeder

A Family United
Klein met his wife Jana in 1988, and he said that there was an immediate recognition that she was going to be important in his life. From the moment they met, he won the U.S. Open, the Bassmaster Angler of the Year title twice, and six of his eight career victories; he credits a lot of his success to her.
“Jana is a tremendous person, had I not married her, I have no doubt she would have been an attorney; she’s very smart,” he said of his bride of 24 years. “But, she gave everything she is to me, and my career. She has taken care of all of the day to day things so that I can focus on what I do, and I know that things are great, but the main reason for that is because of her.”
“We have our two daughters, Lakota and Sierra (now Kanyon), and they are getting to an age that we’re beginning to see the effect of Jana’s dedication to them as well,” he said. “We homeschooled the girls, and they are both straight A students who love the outdoors and are very respectful; I’m very proud of the young women they’re becoming.”
“We’ve had a great life, and we’ve accomplished a lot as a family, which likely would not have happened without her,” he said. “Everything I have, and everything I’ve done, she’s done it too; she’s helped me live in the moment, and it has made all of it that much better.” – photo by FLW Outdoors – Jeff Schroeder

In addition to his BASS victories, Klein won what many anglers describe as the toughest tournament in the world; the U.S. open on Lake Mead in 1988.  He won the summer event in the desert heat by a margin of more than four pounds.

Klein was among the first of the anglers to pursue fishing as a career, as opposed to finishing high school, getting a job or going to college and building a fishing career while doing it.  While he has been successful in accomplishing most everything an angler could ever want; all of it began in his hometown of Oroville, Calif.  An unlikely place to launch a fishing career from, but with the help of family and friends, that is exactly what he did.

Growing in the Outdoors
As a youngster growing up in Northern California, Klein learned to love the outdoors, and it was a family affair.  “My father was the one who introduced me to hunting, fishing and camping,” he said.  “As far back as I can remember we worked and went to school all week, then spent every weekend outdoors; my parents raised our family that way.”

Despite the family’s love of the outdoors, Klein’s father had other aspirations for his offspring than to be a tournament angler.  “My father grew up thinking that you went to school, then college and got a job,” he said.  “It’s not a bad thing; it’s just how he was brought up.  But, my dad is the one who introduced me to the outdoors, and for that I’ll always be grateful.”

His younger days were not so focused on chasing black bass, like many kids, he fished for whatever would bite.  “I really loved fishing for trout, and even trolling for them,” he said.  “I fished for striper and shad in the rivers, and black bass at Lake Oroville near my home.”

One person who always understood Klein’s love of the outdoors was his mother. According to the 28-time Bassmaster Classic Qualifier, she was his earliest and biggest supporter.  “Mom knew that I loved to fish, and she made every opportunity available for me to do so,” he said.  “From my early days at home, to when I decided to go out on tour, she always stood behind me, supporting me in encouragement and financially if I needed it.”

His love of the outdoors soon landed him a summer job at the local marina on Lake Oroville.  “I was fortunate enough to get work between school terms at Bidwell Resort Marina on Lake Oroville,” he said.  “By being at the lake, I got to be around the water, and it exposed me to some of the things that would later become so important in my life.”

It was while working that summer job at Bidwell Canyon that Klein was exposed to tournament fishing, and a person who would become instrumental in his success down the road.  “I remember that there was a big bass tournament at the lake around the time I was sophomore at Las Plumas High School; in the early 1970’s,” said Klein.  I was really interested, because these guys had really big boats, 14 footers most of them.”

A man named Dee Thomas won that tournament, fishing for two days and winning $500, the result was enough to grab Klein’s attention.  “I started fishing as much as I could, and began to compete in tournaments,” he said.  “I kept going to school, working at Bidwell Resort, and fishing Western Bass tournaments whenever possible.  It was through those early days that I became friends with Dee, and my education as a competitor began.”

Fishing Mentors
Like others who excel in the sport of bass fishing, the Weatherford, Tex. pro had help from people who were essentially his “bass fishing undergraduate and post graduate professors.”  These are people whom Klein presents as those who helped him learn not only how to fish, but how to think, how to compete, and how to see all of the details in front of him.

Gary Klein on the water final day CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch.

Gary Klein on the water final day CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch. – photo courtesy B.A.S.S.

The first was the aforementioned Thomas, who taught him the Flippin’ technique, but also instructed him in the ways of strategy as it pertained to other anglers.  “Dee saw my burning desire to be a great tournament angler, and for some reason, chose to help me,” said Klein of the Godfather of Flippin.’  “He not only taught me how to flip, but taught me other things about being a competitive angler.”

Being able to catch bass is only part of the equation to being a winning angler, and as good as Thomas was with his fishing rod, he was equally adept at working in and around the other anglers.  “Dee taught me how to strategize against the other anglers; how to use the surroundings to my advantage,” he said.  “He also taught me how to be aggressive and fish in shallow water, which is still one of my angling strengths today.”

Another person who made a lifelong impact on Klein was an Air Force navigator who took a liking to the young angler and helped him see the little details that can make such a difference in a fishing day; that person was Rich Forhan, also from Oroville.

Forhan, by nature and training with his career in the Air Force has always been known as a thinker, and a problem solver.  He is known for his book, Power Hand Casting, and his work in refining the fishing rod guide wrapping style he trademarked, Revolver wraps; his influence helped Klein to look at fishing differently.

“Richard and I would spend hours in his Oroville kitchen going over knots, and hooks; deciding which was best for specific applications,” he said.  “We would also analyze conditions we would find on the water, and decide which technique was best for targeting them, then adjusted accordingly.”

It was Forhan who convinced Klein to make the move east to compete on the Bassmaster Trails.  “Richard sat me down and explained to me that it was the right time for me,” said Klein.  “I knew

Gary Klein Big Fish Backstage - photo by BASS Communications - Seigo Saito

Gary Klein Big Fish Backstage – photo by BASS Communications – Seigo Saito

the Flippin’ technique, which was an advantage, and I was already broke.  I was young, had a truck and car, and two bass boats with more monthly payments than my salary at the marina. I couldn’t do much worse than I was, so the time was right for me to make the move.”

Before he made the trek to bass fishing Mecca, Klein had also spent a lot of time fishing with another western legend, Mike Folkestad.  Folkestad, from Southern California was known as a great angler in his own right, and while Thomas taught Klein the shallow water world, Folkestad showed him the offshore picture.

“Mikey, as I called him in those days, was, and still is for that matter, a master at seeing the underwater structure that deep water bass use,” said Klein.  “He helped me to learn to visualize the layout of the lakebed, and paint a picture in my head that helped me become better at deep water fishing.”

Klein said the pair spent a lot of time on airplanes trading time in each other’s boats.  “He would fly into Sacramento, and we would fish Clear Lake or Oroville in my boat,” he explained. “Then I would fly down to Burbank and meet him so we could fish Lake Mead or Havasu for the weekend.  Mike was also a big part of helping me build who I am as an angler.”

Rick Clunn was also instrumental in helping Klein become the angler he is today.   Klein was traveling with Clunn’s step brother Randy Fite, who fished the Bassmaster Trail himself until 1999. Fite had a successful career, earning more than $230,000 himself, a win at the 1978 Alabama Invitational and nine trips to the Bassmaster Classic in 184 tournaments.  “Randy introduced me to Rick, and at first it was a casual friendship,” said Klein.  “I started to get to know Ricky from a distance, and it wasn’t long before I was learning from him.”

He said Clunn helped his mental game tremendously.  “I’d been known to get hard on myself, and Rick helped me quit beating myself up so much,” he said.  “He taught me to not take no for an answer, and to stay positive instead of dwelling on the negative.”

On other person that Klein said had an impact on his life was B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott.  While he certainly had an effect on everyone with his dreams, to Klein, it was more.  “Dee told Ray when he won his first tournament, that there were more of us coming from California,” said Klein.  ‘Ray had dreams and drive, and while it gave all of us a platform, he made sure to keep an eye out for me.”

Elite 12 Weigh-in Delta 2010 - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Elite 12 Weigh-in Delta 2010 – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

The Rookie Year
With the blessing and support of his mother, and the coaxing of his friends, Klein decided it was time to go, so he left California in 1979 and headed east.  “I pulled out of Oroville with $1000 cash in my pocket that was a personal loan my mother hand co-signed with me for,” he said.  “I had $93 per month payments on it, but I was on my way with no credit cards.”

He said his mother’s help was frequent in those early years.  “Mom was a CPA, and has always been an incredibly smart person,” said Klein.  “She was always there, whether I needed expenses, or an entry fee covered, she took care of it.

He didn’t take his mother’s contributions for granted however.  “I’m really proud to say that I kept track of everything she ever did for me, and when I made it in BASS, I paid her back every dime,” he said proudly.

Armed with his cash and a 135 horsepower Johnson outboard he traded for the 175 horsepower model his original boat had on it so that he could meet B.A.S.S. restrictions, he made his first B.A.S.S. entry at the St. Johns River in Florida, where he finished 10th.

The tour then made a swing back to Lake Powell in Arizona, where he led after the first day.  He made a long run and caught his limit, then, while returning to the weigh-in, had a sudden loss of rpm in his outboard.  He had the service crews take a look at it, and they declared it an altitude problem.

Gary Klein at Hooked up at Clear Lake in 2010 - photo by BASS Communications - Seigo Saito

Gary Klein at Hooked up at Clear Lake in 2010 – photo by BASS Communications – Seigo Saito

The next morning, he took off easy, keeping the boat at 3000 rpm, taking more than three hours to get to his spot, put the trolling motor down, and fished until he had three and a half hours until weigh-in, then headed for the take out.  Keeping the same restrictions on his outboard, he made it to the buoys at the marina, set the boat down, and the engine blew.  Despite the difficulty, his six fish – one short of his limit – were enough to move him to 7th place.

While he was running around after weigh-in looking for a fix for his broken down rig, an old friend came to his aid.  “Dee stopped me and asked what was wrong, and when I told him, he said to sit still and see what he could do,” said Klein.  “30 minutes later, Dee came over with a boat for me to use, including an additional 30 gallon fuel bladder in the boat so I could make my long run.”

To make the long story short, Klein made the run and caught enough fish to claim his first B.A.S.S. victory.  He pocketed the $10,598 check, and then went on to contend for the Angler of the Year title in his rookie year.  He narrowly lost the title to Roland Martin at the last event of the year.

He qualified for his first Bassmaster Classic as well, and led the first day of that event; Gary Klein was there to stay.

Klein the Tactician
The picture of Klein that has been painted over the years is that of a careful, detail oriented angler, and with his background, it’s no wonder.  However, it is wise to not let the methodical nature of his approach fool you; Klein is as aggressive an angler as they come.

Gary Klein - Eagle Mountain Lake - 2006 Bassmaster Memorial - photo courtesy B.A.S.S.

Gary Klein – Eagle Mountain Lake – 2006 Bassmaster Memorial – photo courtesy B.A.S.S.

Every time he goes out on the water, Klein is searching for the pattern that will be the death knell to the other competitors.  “It’s something that Dee instilled in me, with his Flippin’ Stick,” said Klein.  “I’ve always felt that the technique, especially early on in my career gave me a competitive advantage over the other anglers.”

“Even when Dave Gliebe left California and went to compete back east, I paid close attention to what he did,” he said.  “His first year was tough, but by the second year, he was doing pretty well, and I had as good or a better understanding of Flippin’ than he did.”

Along with the confidence that his understanding of the technique, Klein is meticulous when it comes to planning and practicing.  So thorough is he that he will not put a new lure or technique into practice in competition until he feels he has a total grasp of the concepts; even if it takes more than a year to perfect.

His win at Folsom Lake with now roommate Shaw Grigsby was one of those instances where his practice time with a dropshot rig resulted in a gold medal performance at the 2003 ESPN Great Outdoor Games, a made for television competition featuring five teams of anglers paired together in team competition.

Klein and Grigsby used the dropshot rig to easily defeat the field that included names like Denny Brauer, Clunn, Peter Thliveros, Davy Hite and Clark Wendlandt.  Before that tournament, the dropshot was still on the drawing board for Klein.  “I just want to feel like I totally understand a technique or lure before I ever put it into practice,” he said. It’s something that gives me confidence in doing my job.”

What’s Ahead?
Like most other successful businessmen, Klein is passionate about his job and he has no plans to call it quits.  For anglers, and other athletes of any sort, the question of ‘when are you going to hang it up?’ when they reach a certain age is a frequent question.

For Klein, there is no easy answer to that question, because he still loves what he does.  “I still love to fish, I love to compete, and I have no plans to retire any time soon,” he said.  “I will wake up someday and decide that I don’t want to do it anymore, and I will walk away.”

Arriving for Elite 12 Weigh-in Delta 2010 - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Arriving for Elite 12 Weigh-in Delta 2010 – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

I’m not the kind of guy who could walk away from competition and spend two years on the seminar circuit, I’ll never be able to guide because I’ve always fished for me primarily,” remarked Klein.  “I’ve fished hard, I’ve fished to win, and I do it because I love it.”

“If I thought about how I want to be remembered when I leave the sport, I would just want people to remember that I loved to fish, and I loved the art of fishing,” he said with a pause.  “I’ve had no original techniques to my name, I’ve learned Flippin’ and finesse fishing and others, but I wasn’t the first to do any of those things.”

Dee said it best when he said there’s something special about the West Coast angler; and he’s right, there have been several anglers from Thomas, Gliebe and myself, to Reese, Martens and beyond, who have gone out there and won,” he said in closing.  “Deciding to do it out there meant a total commitment, there was no doing it halfway; I guess I’m just really proud to have been one of the ones who have come from the West to have made it; it’s been a great, great ride.”

For those of us from the West, it certainly has, from Oroville, California, to the pinnacle of bass fishing success; his career has been one to show the way to so many who have dreamt of making it in the sport. His career has been one of longevity, of excellence and of dignity. That’s why he is Gary Klein, 28-time Bassmaster Classic Qualifier, Champion, Angler of the Year; Legend of the Sport.