Rollin' over the Mississippi River

Rick Clunn headed for Fort Madison, Iowa, along the Mississippi River, had a plane to catch, a small but important one.

Not long after he picked up his 36th place check in the Tennessee Triumph on Kentucky Lake, Rick Clunn headed for Fort Madison, Iowa, along the Mississippi River.

He had a plane to catch — a small but important one.

Clunn was one of a handful of Elite pros who commissioned private planes to fly up and down the Mississippi River, scene of last week's Bassmaster Elite Series event — The Genuity River Rumble.

"When you've never been to a place this big, this spread out, it's the best way to see the water before practice begins," says the four-time Bassmaster Classic champ.

Clunn paid $120 for an 80-minute flight — money he probably would have spent in gasoline trying to see the river by boat. Competitors had access to more than 100 miles of river and its countless bayous, sloughs and feeder creeks.

"There's so much stuff you can miss by boat and see clearly by air," explained Clunn. "By boat, you're looking into the back of a bayou, wondering, 'What's in there?' But when you fly over it, you know exactly what's there."

Clunn flew with map and notebook in hand, jotting down details about water clarity, habitat and navigational means into the hundreds of hidden small lakes and pockets off the main river channel.

"Navigation is a big thing," the veteran Missouri pro added. "I watched how the local boats ran in and out of the backwaters which is a big help when you don't know the danger areas."

Clunn said the flight not only saved him time on the water but provided valuable fishing insight.

"Once the tournament began and I got on a pattern, I knew other places to go on the river that offered similar water and cover," he said. "That's a big asset when you're fishing a place you've never been before."

The effort rewarded him with a 17th place finish — his highest on the Elite Series trail this season — and moved him closer to a 2010 Bassmaster Classic berth.