In the late 1990s, Randy Reehm transferred to Ft. Belvoir in Virginia and joined my bass club. Randy and his wife Jean are humble, solid, salt-of-the-earth folks. She is a schoolteacher, and after 27 years in the Army, he retired as a Lt. Colonel a few years ago, at which point they moved back to the Lake Dardanelle, Ark., area.
As I got to know the Reehms, I also met their son Clark on his visits from college. At that point, he was pretty much a snot-nosed teenager who was determined to set the world on fire as a pro angler. A decade and a half or so later, he may not be a Hall of Famer yet, but he’s lived up to his dream of pursuing a career casting for cash at the highest possible level. As Dizzy Dean said, “It ain’t bragging if you done it.”
Clark’s would-be-braggadocio actually predated our introduction. Around the same time that I met Randy, I also met one of Clark’s high school substitute teachers, Miss Carla. She’d lived and taught in the Leesville, La., area and had crossed paths with the Reehms when Randy was stationed at Ft. Polk. One day she asked each member of her class to describe what they wanted to do when they finished school.
“I’m going to be a pro bass fisherman,” Clark replied with not an ounce of doubt in his pronouncement.
“That’s not a real job,” Miss Carla replied, a bit befuddled by the fact that this young kid was trying to put one over on her.
A few years later, Miss Carla married four-time B.A.S.S. winner David Wharton. She thereby learned that professional angling is indeed a real job. Chalk up one for Clark.
After Randy left us for Arkansas, Clark and I became reacquainted in 2003 at a B.A.S.S. Top 150 tournament at Toledo Bend. A few years later, my writing career started to take off at just about the same time he decided to make a serious run at the Elite Series. We started emailing and talking on a regular basis, to the point where if a day goes by and I don’t see his phone number on my caller ID it gets me a little worried. I’ve included him in quite a few articles for various magazines and websites. I’ve also reviewed his sponsorship proposals. Along with another friend, I introduced him to his rod sponsor, renowned western pro Gary Dobyns. Nevertheless, truth be told, I’ve probably gotten a lot more from him than he’ll ever get from me. He is an incredible source of information. If you need the number of anyone in the Texas fishing world – or anywhere in the country, for that matter – he has it on his trusty IPhone. Is there a new product on the market? He’s tried it, has an opinion about it and knows where to get it. Do you want the real story behind any incident that allegedly happened at any tournament in the country? He knows the back-story, the real story and the major players.
Despite my gratitude for all of the help he has given me, he also frustrates me on a daily basis. I’m certain that Randy and Jean feel that way, too, and because I’m somewhere between their age and Clark’s age I can relate to both sides of the dynamic. While Clark’s promise to become a bass pro has been fully realized, he still lets his mouth get ahead of him sometimes and doesn’t always consider the consequences of what he says. I’m sure there have been occasions when the B.A.S.S. tournament staff has been less than thrilled by him, too.
Despite his outward persona, fans and followers of the sport who only see Clark as a loudmouth are missing some of the picture. Actually, they’re missing most of the picture. They don’t see the Clark who spends hours on social media sites helping out fans he’ll likely never meet with fishing tips and information. And, unlike some pros, who have their wives or “agents” craft their tweets and Facebook posts, everything you see on his feeds comes directly from him. The fans who think he’s just a brash kid likely also don’t know that he’s an accomplished graphic designer. He doesn’t advertise this because he’d rather be known as a “fisherman with a background in graphic design” instead of a “graphic designer who fishes.” Still, if you follow pro fishing at all, you’ve definitely seen his handiwork – in boat wraps, jersey designs and logos, far more of them than you can imagine. He’s also an ultra-devoted dad to his two-year-old son Ash (middle name: Rayburn, of course), who can probably already cast better than most of you.
If you didn’t know any of that about Clark, your best exposure to his generous and gracious side probably came during the Elite Series event on Falcon last month. On Day Three, tournament leader and eventual winner Keith Combs had mechanical difficulties and might have lost most of his afternoon had Clark not picked him up. Clark let Keith pick the spots and made sure he got back to weigh-in on time. Combs also caught his limit fish out of Clark’s boat with 15 minutes left to go. Ultimately, that fish didn’t make the mathematical difference between first and second place, but who knows what would have happened had Clark not given up his afternoon to help out? Maybe Keith would have spun out mentally. Maybe something would have prevented him from getting back to weigh-in. None of us know, but what’s certain is that Clark plummeted in the standings from Day Two to Day Three as a result of his generosity. He could have used that time to help himself, but instead he helped someone else.
That’s not as trivial or inconsequential as it sounds. Sure, Clark still got a $10,000 check, but those lost points could mean the difference between making the 2014 Bassmaster Classic versus working the Classic Outdoor Expo. They might cost him some Toyota Angler of the Year money. At this point in his career, with five plus tour seasons and two Classic appearances under his belt, he really can’t afford to give up either, but he did so freely. When I asked him about it the next day, and gave him the chance to say off the record that he was conflicted when making the decision, it was clear that he hadn’t hesitated a moment.
As a result of the Falcon redemption, Clark got a lot of positive press and enough Facebook “likes” to carry him into the next century. As I thought about what he’d done, I realized that it shouldn’t have surprised me in the least.
Prior to the 2012 Classic, Clark told me about a private trophy lake in Texas called Camelot Bell, and we arranged to spend a day fishing there with owner Mike Frazier. The night before we were to leave Lake Fork for “The Bell,” all I wanted was for Clark to give me four rods and a few baits to rig up. We had to leave by 4 a.m., so I wanted to get to bed early. I couldn’t find him. I walked to the tackle shop (closed), the restaurant (open, but no Clark) and around the parking lot; I eventually found him in the hotel room next to ours explaining to some fishermen from West Virginia places where they might launch on Fork to get out of the wind, giving them some prototype baits, telling them how to rig them, and generally sharing freely in a way that many of his peers might not. That’s the good Clark, the one not often seen. It pissed me off at the time because I just wanted those rods but in hindsight I should’ve known that he was giving of himself. I was the one being selfish there.
Our trip to Camelot Bell had been postponed a day due to torrential rains. Frazier has a dirt ramp, and he wasn’t sure if he could get a boat launched. As we drove to the small town of Coolidge, we still didn’t know if we’d be able to fish. On top of that, conditions were worsening. We had consistent 30-mph winds that day, with gusts much stronger. The temperature gauge never crawled above 40 degrees. None of this is ideal for finicky fish derived from the Florida strain. Still, this was our one and only chance, so we were going to make the most of it.
I’ve fished with a number of tour level pros over the years, both in competition and for fun, and even in the latter circumstance most of them can’t ratchet down their intensity. On a media outing to a noted big bass factory, one pro completely blocked me from getting a good cast all day. He didn’t just take the first and best casts, he actively worked to get the second, third, fourth and so on. By contrast, Clark put me in the front of the boat and worked hard to make my day on Camelot Bell one to remember.
As it turned out, the miserable conditions crippled the fishing. We had two bites all day – a 3-pounder that I lost and a 12-pounder that I landed. My previous best largemouth was 8-12. I was elated and in shock at the same time.
Still, my elation couldn’t hold a candle to Clark’s puffed out chest. It seemed as if he was happier for me than if he’d caught the big fish himself. That’s rare and can’t be faked; and when we returned to Fork for dinner that night, he told and retold the story of that fish with pride. That’s what I remember about that day, and every time Clark and I disagree about something, or he makes a decision that I consider unwise, I remind myself that Clark is a work in progress. He’s gotten so much more mature since the birth of Ash, but all along the truth is that he is a genuinely good person, raised right. You can’t fake being raised right.
Outwardly, Clark and Randy may seem like polar opposites. Clark is exceptionally blunt and usually loud. Randy, while occasionally opinionated, is soft-spoken. Clark’s career is full of risks. It has no guaranteed salary. Meanwhile, Randy worked to rise through the ranks in a stable career field and retired with benefits. Despite those outward differences, Clark Reehm is his father’s son. He is imbued with his parents’ best values in a way that doesn’t always shine through, but when it does it comes from the heart.