Choosing the Bassmaster Classic story that goes along with the number 11 was easy — as easy as 32 (the number of Rick Clunn appearances), 27 (the number of times Gary Klein has qualified without ever winning), 21 (Stanley Mitchell's age when he won in 1981) and 12 (Peter T's tale of Classic futility).
Eleven belongs to Preston Clark and his 11-pound, 10-ounce largemouth from the 2006 Classic on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in Florida. It was and is the biggest bass ever caught in Classic competition.
And it was a long time coming, too. Though Clark's lunker is the biggest ever, it may not be the most famous big bass in Classic history. That honor may still belong to Ricky Green's 8-9 from the 1976 Classic on Lake Guntersville that held the top spot for three decades. To many it seemed that Green would never be knocked off the top of the lunker list, but that feeling disappeared leading into the 2006 Classic.
The '06 Classic was special for a few reasons. Most importantly, it was the first Classic to be held in the month of February. The tournament started as a fall event, then, in the early 1980s, it moved to the summer. Every bass fisherman worth his spinnerbaits knows that really big bass are harder to catch in the summer and fall than they are in the winter or spring.
The other special thing about the 2006 Classic was that it represented a return to the Kissimmee Chain. The Classic was last there in 1977, when Rick Clunn won the second of back-to-back championships.
Things shaped up perfectly for a strong start to the 2006 Classic. After a long stretch of cool weather, things warmed up in Central Florida. That sent a lot of bass — including some giants — to their spawning areas. It also whetted the appetites of the sight fishermen in the field. They knew that if conditions were right, every Classic catch record would be in jeopardy.
And the first day of the Classic played out perfectly for that. The anglers were bullish on the Kissimmee Chain and the records fell. Every angler in the field but one caught a limit.
Rick Clunn was one of the first to weigh in that day. On the first day of the 1977 Classic, Clunn took the tournament lead and never let go. He also weighed in the biggest fish of the tournament on that day in 1977, a 7-pound, 7-ounce lunker that anchored his catch.
Almost 30 years later, Clunn had another lunker to show off. This one weighed a whopping 10-10, eclipsing Ricky Green's record by more than two pounds!
But the fireworks weren't over yet. Angler after angler came to the scales with big bass. Edwin Evers had an 8-15 and Mark Tucker caught a 9-12, both surpassing Green's mark.
In the end, Preston Clark had the last laugh and bragging rights. His 11-pound, 10-ounce bedding female had struck a Zoom Big Critter Craw that Clark cast to her nest. The Classic record for big bass had been obliterated by more than three full pounds!
But some things stay the same no matter what.
Back in 1976, when Ricky Green set the Classic standard for big bass with his 8-9 largemouth, Rick Clunn had suffered the disappointment of being second with a 7-13 bass he weighed in moments before Green's.
Almost 30 years later Clunn would be second again, this time after weighing in his 10-10 largemouth on the Kissimmee Chain.
The more things change ....
It should come as no surprise to anyone reading these Countdown stories that we're not nearly done with Rick Clunn yet. The story of "10" is another Clunn tale. More on that tomorrow.