CELEBRATION, Fla. — Rick Clunn, a 30-time CITGO Bassmaster Classic qualifier, four-time Classic winner and recently named by fans as the greatest angler of all time, has accepted an invitation to fish the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series.
"This is the best model we've had for this sport yet," said Clunn, 59, of Ava, Mo. "The sport is finally evolving the way I wish it had 15 years ago. We've always needed more events and have had too short of a season to be a true, professional sport."
Clunn, along with fellow Elite Series anglers, have the opportunity to cash in on more than $11 million in 2006 in the tournament series, the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, the Bassmaster Majors, the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year program and other contingencies.
Spread over eight months, the 11-event Elite Series will challenge anglers in a battle for points in the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, beginning with the "Battle on the Border" on Lake Amistad in Del Rio, Texas, March 9-12, and wrapping up in the fall with the "The Rock" at Table Rock Lake in Kimberling, Mo., Sep.14-17.
"I really like it being a year-round circuit. We will fish all four seasons and will have a true Angler of the Year, whereas it's been an 'angler of the spring' before. This year's winner will show the ability to fish under multiple seasons."
With the kickoff more than three months away, Clunn is using his down time to prepare his mind and body for the strenuous
competition ahead. "Anytime I have a break, I try to fish regional tournaments to stay in tune with fishing," said Clunn. "We don't have spring training like baseball or summer training like football. No athlete can afford a long break, mentally and physically, and stay on top of their game."
To keep himself in the zone, Clunn works on his farm in Missouri. "I replace long hours of fishing with outdoor activities like working outside on my tractor, chopping wood and tending fields," said Clunn. "The main function is to allow the body to acclimate to heat and cold. If you stay cooped up in air conditioning or central heating, you won't survive the Series. If your brain is in the right place, you can stay focused on the next fish to catch."
Confident in his ability to stay mentally and physically focused, Clunn's next agenda item is to secure his boat and truck wrap. Clunn runs a Nitro powered by Mercury Marine. His branding includes other major endemic sponsors Bass Pro Shops, Nitro Boats, Luck-E-Strike Lures, Lobina Lures, Solar Bat Sunglasses and Minnkota trolling motors.
With so much to look forward to in the year ahead, Clunn doesn't understand why anyone would pass on the 'Elite' opportunity.
"Some guys are complaining about the big entry fees, but the big entry fees equal tremendous opportunity," said Clunn. "There are no guarantees ... but the guys that perform will have a great year. When you win, you get this huge windfall profit.
"(This season) is the finest tour of lakes we've ever had," Clunn added. "The quality is extraordinary. There's not a weak tournament in the whole bunch."