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It's hard to believe now, but one of the most common complaints about the early Bassmaster Classics is that they were won by nobodies.
While the bass fishing world waited in vain for Roland Martin, Bill Dance, Tom Mann or Jimmy Houston to win the big one, instead Bobby Murray, Don Butler, Rayo Breckenridge and Jack Hains took home the big trophy.
And though it's unfathomable to think this way now, the complaints continued in 1976 when a little known pro from Montgomery, Texas, fishing his third Classic, earned the hardware and top check for $25,000. His name was Rick Clunn, and he would use the bully pulpit of the Bassmaster Classic to create his legend like no one before or since.
The 1976 Classic was an interesting one in many respects. For one, it was the last of the "mystery lakes." From the first Classic in 1971 through the 1976 Classic, competitors did not know where they'd be fishing until they had boarded a jet and were 10,000 feet in the air. By the following year, BASS would announce the site of Classics well in advance so press and fans could make plans to attend.
The 1976 Classic was also the first in which all of the prize money did not go to the winner. Prior events were winner-take-all.
And then there were the records that were set on Alabama's Lake Guntersville that year. We'll start with Rick Clunn's Day 2 catch — all 33 pounds, 5 ounces of it. True, those were the days of the 10-fish limit, but that was still quite a creel. In fact, it was more than all but three other anglers would compile over three days!
Clunn's total weight of 59-15 after three days became the heaviest tally in Classic history. The mark would stand for another 8 years until Clunn himself broke it in 1984 on the Arkansas River. The 1984 and 1976 Classics still rank 1 and 2 for the winner's total weight even after 38 championships.
On the same day that Clunn caught a limit weighing 33-5, Arkansas pro Ricky Green boated an 8-pound, 9-ounce lunker than won tournament honors for big fish and held the top spot in Classic history for almost 30 more years.
Today's it's difficult to even think about the Bassmaster Classic without also thinking of the career of Rick Clunn, but in 1976 he was just another unknown angler claiming the sport's biggest title.
Clunn would win the championship again the following year and twice more (in 1984 and 1990), clearly establishing himself as the leading man on fishing's biggest stage. His domination of the Classic has been complete and daunting. Some of his Classic records include:
Most Classics fished
Most consecutive Classics fished
Most Classics won
Heaviest total weight in a Classic
Most top 5 Classic finishes
Most top 10 Classic finishes
Largest margin of victory
Only back-to-back champion
Biggest final day comeback
Most daily big bass awards
Most days with heaviest catch
Heaviest daily catch (7-bass limit)
Heaviest daily catch (10-bass limit)
Most cumulative weight