Things have changed, but for the first few years of the Bassmaster Classic, the lament was that none of the stars of the sport ever won it. Bill Dance, Roland Martin, Tom Mann and the other men who were building their brands through competitive bass fishing, television and manufacturing just weren't getting it done in the championship event.
Instead, Classics were won by anglers who had never been to the mountaintop before and would never get there again — Rayo Breckenridge, Jack Hains, Don Butler. They were terrific fishermen, but not the personalities who could elevate the sport in the public's eye.
That trend continued in 1976 on Lake Guntersville in Alabama. Dance finished 8th, Jimmy Houston was 9th and Roland Martin and Tom Mann didn't even qualify.
On the first day of the 1976 Classic, Bo Dowden jumped out to a huge lead — a full 8 pounds, 6 ounces ahead of his closest competitor. It is still the biggest first day lead in Classic history, and everyone at the '76 championship assumed he would cruise to victory. It would take a gigantic comeback to beat him.
Of course, that's exactly what happened. On Day 2 of the Classic fished 33 years ago, an unknown angler from Texas named Rick Clunn boated the biggest single day catch in Classic history — 33 pounds, 5 ounces.
He went from being 9-10 behind the leader to leading the tournament by about 3 pounds. This was in the day of the 10-bass limit.
Anchoring his 33-pound catch was the biggest fish in Classic history, a 7-13 lunker that nailed a Fleck Weed Wader spinnerbait. It held the top spot for only 30 minutes before Ricky Green came to the scales with an 8-9 lunker that was the biggest in Classic history until 2006. Clunn's 7-13 was the runner-up that day and for many years afterward.
Ironically, on the same day that Ricky Green's Classic lunker record was smashed by Preston Clark's 11-10 from Lake Tohopekaliga (2006), Clunn caught a giant that weighed 10-10, putting him back in second place for the biggest bass in Classic history.
Clunn's win in 1976 put him in the sport's spotlight. That Classic was the last of the "mystery lake" events where the qualifiers didn't know where they'd be fishing until they boarded a plane bound for the host city. For the next Classic, they'd have several months' notice and plenty of opportunity to prepare.
Of course, Clunn won the 1977 Classic, too, cementing his position as a bass fishing star and proving that the Classic could create its own legends.
Tomorrow, with the number 32, the Clunn saga continues.