SHREVEPORT, La. — Take me to the river.
For only the second time since 1990, BASS returns to a river venue for the Bassmaster Classic.
The Red River in Shreveport/Bossier City, La., is the site of the event this weekend, and the main difference from past river Classics is the time of year. Competitors will face late-winter and early-spring fishing rather than the customary summertime patterns that dominate Classic history.
"Rivers can be really volatile in February because of what we've seen the last few days with rain in Arkansas and Oklahoma," said Rick Clunn, who holds a record four Classic titles. "Conditions are more fragile. Things can change tremendously from day to day. Unlike a lake, where it takes a lot to change, rivers can get muddy. When it gets cold, fish in muddy water are more apt to shut off."
Even with the fragile conditions, Clunn, who has fished all 12 Classics held on river systems, thinks this tournament will line up playing to his strengths. According to Clunn, the Classic is usually won two different ways. Either an angler finds the best spot or there is no best water and the winning angler ends up outthinking the other anglers.
He cites his past Classic experience on rivers as an example of the former kind of tournament. In 1984, Clunn found a ledge less than 3 miles from the ramp and camped there each day of the tournament to amass his record catch.
Believe it or not, I didn't fish the best tournament that year — I didn't have to," Clunn said. "I just found the best fish and executed. The guy who finished second (South, 50 pounds, 1 ounce) probably fished the best tournament because he made changes every day and adjusted. I just had to make the right cast."
Clunn feels pretty confident that the Red River, on the other hand, doesn't hold any such secret concentration of bass. This tournament should set up to be more of a thinking-man's game, with anglers forced to "outthink" the rest of the field sharing similar water.
"Everyone on the river knows the best spots," Clunn said. "There will be no hidden areas. That plays to my strengths. I tend to be a "power fisherman" and that is why I've had quite a bit of success on rivers in the Classic. For me, it's not so much decision making as it is execution — tactical errors. Everything has to be correct when you go to this Classic."
It has been almost two decades since Clunn won his last Classic trophy, but he insists that his competitive drive is still strong."The reality is that the main problem I have is motivation," Clunn said. "Once you win four and there has been no one else even close, it finally becomes a matter of what's pushing you anymore; what's driving you. To this day that's probably still my biggest challenge. When you have shot all the targets down and there are no more targets left up there, you have to figure out what the next target is going to be."
This year is the last year for Clunn to continue his streak of winning a Classic in every decade. He has won in the '70s, '80s, and '90s, but in the new millennium, the victory has eluded him. His desire to win the Classic this year has less do to with a record and more to do with family.Clunn has two young sons ages 10 and 5 and he wants to be able to win one more Classic for them.
"I have two daughters that really didn't figure it out until after I won my fourth Classic," Clunn said. "Until then, they didn't understand why their dad didn't have a job in a store. Once I hit that fourth one, they realized that their dad had a legitimate career. I'd like for my sons to at least witness one of them." Hopefully his sons will catch on to the significance of a Classic victory quicker than his daughters did should Clunn emerge from Shreveport a five-time champion.
Recent river Classics
The 2005 Classicwas held on the Three Rivers system near Pittsburgh, where Kevin VanDam set the lowest winning weight record with 12 pounds, 15 ounces and barely edged out perennial bridesmaid Aaron Martens by 6 ounces.Low winning weight is not unfamiliar ground for river Classics. In 1983, Larry Nixon captured his championship trophy on the stingy Ohio River with a weight of only 18 pounds, 1 ounce in the toughest Classic at the time. The Ohio gave up only five limits of bass (limits were six fish) and 14 competitors weighed in three bass or less over the course of the tournament.
Then in 1987, George Cochran established the record that would hold up for 18 years after bringing in a paltry 15 pounds, 5 ounces, once again on the Ohio River.The first Classic held on a river was in 1980, where Bo Dowden captured the title on the St. Lawrence River in New York. His total of 54 pounds, 10 ounces was more than 10 pounds better than second-place finisher Roland Martin, a nine-time Bassmaster Angler Of The Year who never did capture a Bassmaster Classic trophy.
Two years later, Paul Elias brought the "kneeling and reeling" technique to the Classic and walked away the winner after thoroughly fishing a log-studded sandbar with a deep-diving crankbait to the tune of 32 pounds, 8 ounces.
One of the more famous Classic gaffes also came on a river.
In 1989 on the James River, Jim Bitter was in the lead going into the final day. With four fish in the livewell, Bitter caught his fifth fish, but after measuring the bass, it flipped out of his hand and back into the water, taking his chance to win with it. Hank Parker ended up taking his second Classic title by only two ounces over Bitter, who didn't catch another fish all day.
The James River was the source of more drama in 1990 as Clunn mounted the greatest comeback in Classic history. His final-day weight of 18 pounds, 7 ounces vaulted him from 10th place and almost 10 pounds back to the top of the leaderboard and his fourth Classic title.
Clunn also set another Classic record on the Arkansas River in 1984, when anglers could bring in seven fish a day. His 75-pound, 9-ounce three-day total was more than 25 pounds heavier than second-place Greg South.
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