By 1984 Rick Clunn was no stranger to Bassmaster Classic success. Not only had he won back-to-back world championships in 1976 and 1977, he was one of just two anglers with a pair of Classic titles (Bobby Murray won in 1971 and 1978) and between 1976 and 1979 he had accomplished the nearly unimaginable feat of winning twice and finishing second and third in the other two events. The Classic was his personal stage.
So Clunn could hardly be called a "sleeper" going into the championship. Besides all the Classic success, he was in the midst of an unprecedented run in the Angler of Year standings. For 10 consecutive years (1975-1984) Clunn finished in the Top 10 in the AOY race. The run would last one more season before he finished 18th in 1986.
And in the 1984 Classic on the Arkansas River, Clunn would dominate like no angler before or since. Adding drama to the situation was the fact that Clunn's father was in a Houston hospital in a near comatose state throughout the tournament.
Clunn caught nearly all of his bass practically within sight of the launch ramp at Pine Bluff. He located a 50-yard long ledge that dropped off into a flat with lots of submerged stumps. There bass slammed his Bomber and Rapala crankbaits. It was exactly the sort of nondescript place he hoped to find — one that other anglers would overlook.
He took a commanding lead of nearly six pounds on Day 1 with a seven-bass limit weighing 24 pounds, 12 ounces. The next day was almost as good — another limit, this one weighing 23-8. It expanded his lead to 15 1/2 pounds.
If the rest of the field was counting on Clunn to stumble and come back to them, they were disappointed. He saved the best for last. On the final day of the 1984 Classic his seven-bass limit weighed a tournament best 27-5, giving him 75-9 for the event and a margin of victory of 25 1/2 pounds. All are records. Clunn also became the only angler in Classic history to post the heaviest catches on each day of competition. It's a mark that may never be broken.
To add impact to an incredible performance, Clunn was joined on the weigh-in stage by honorary weigh masters George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, then Vice President of the United States and Governor of Arkansas, respectively. The images of these men and BASS founder Ray Scott on the stage at the final weigh-in are some of the most memorable in BASS history.
An emotional Clunn accepted the trophy and winner's check and talked about his father (who later recovered) and the importance of desire in all the things people do.
"There are no limitations on how far we excel or go," he said. "We live in a country where we can go as far as we want. So, how far we go or excel depends on each individual.... The only thing limiting our performance is ourselves."