A father passes on a legacy to his son

Legendary angler Rick Clunn recounts a fishing trip that changed his life.

Rick Clunn

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I have fond memories of growing up with my dad in the outdoors. No matter where he went fishing and hunting I was invited to go along. Even back when I was still in diapers and just learning to walk.

When I was six years old we took a family camping vacation to California to meet my mom's relatives. I was excited when we arrived at Piney Lake because I knew a fishing trip with dad was inevitable.

When the time came to put the boat in the lake I was first in line. But dad asked me to wait for the relatives to climb aboard. Then came bad news I'd never heard before: "I'm sorry son but you can't go this time. There's not enough room for you," he said. I was heartbroken and dad sensed that as tears started streaming down my face.

My emotions did an about face when dad handed over his favorite rod and reel. It was an outfit I'd always looked upon with curiosity with the braided line running through shiny guides of the rod and into the spool of the Pflueger reel. And there was always some type of colorful lure tied to the end of the line. This time is was a Heddon Lucky 13, the classic pattern with a glossy red head and white body with a twin set of shiny treble hooks dangling from below.

Dad told me to have fun and to go catch a big one. It took me a few minutes to gain my composure since I'd never had permission to cast the prized rod and reel. Up until that time a cane pole with line, bobber and hook impaled with a live worm or cricket had been the extent of my rudimentary tackle.

And I'd never caught a bass. But that was about to change.

I made a few casts, picked out the obligatory backlashes of a casting reel neophyte, and finally settled into a rhythm of casting, twitching and retrieving the topwater plug into the lake and back to the shoreline.

With little action my mind's focus drifted to thoughts other than paying attention to my lure. The moment was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a huge explosion on the surface. My eyes focused on the noise, where a green fish of monstrous proportions erupted from the surface, its head shaking violently in an apparent attempt to shake the Lucky 13.

I was so petrified and caught up in the moment that all I knew to do was run as fast and hard as I could up the shoreline. I never made one crank of the reel handle.

When I looked back I recognized the fish was a largemouth. And my first bass had just freed itself of the lure and was flopping down the shoreline toward the water. I leapt like a linebacker on a loose football and saved the catch just before it was about to enter the water.

I put the fish on a stringer, regained my composure and admired its beauty. Back at camp, my confidence was buoyed even more after dad and the fishing party had returned empty handed.

Since that day I have never forgotten the distinct smell of a bass. And I haven't ever forgotten the legacy of how my dad passed down the heritage of embracing the environment. And I'll never forget how he instilled a passion within me for chasing green fish, which I was able to eventually turn into a rewarding career.

Now it's my turn to pass that legacy down to my sons. Thanks, dad.

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