(1971-1994) Bryan Kerchal was the first Bassmaster Classic champion to emerge directly from the B.A.S.S. Nation, inspiring hundreds of thousands of weekend warriors who would love to compete professionally. He was introduced to the sport through a neighbor and was self-taught until he joined the Housatonic Valley Bassmasters club. Through that B.A.S.S.-affiliated club, he qualified for the state championship tournament and made the 12-man Connecticut team.
Kerchal qualified for the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship in 1993 and 1994 as well as the 1993 and 1994 Bassmaster Classics, making him the first to defend a B.A.S.S. Nation title and qualify for the Classic, as an amateur, twice. At 23 years old, he won the 1994 Classic by 4 ounces to become the first amateur champion in history. Tragically, Kerchal was killed in a commercial airplane crash just five months after securing his Classic victory.