R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Clunn

ZAPATA, Texas – This bass fishing game is a funny sport. You spend any time at all around it on virtually any level and you will eventually see some of the finest people on the face of the planet, followed by the very same occasionally griping about each other.

That type thing takes place on the Elite Series. When you have the world’s greatest gathering of “Big Sticks,” you also have a pretty good sample of big heads. I do not say that disparagingly. You can not compete at this level if you are not full of confidence. It’s what makes great anglers and great competition.

This isn’t a team sport, so to speak. It’s you against the fish and every other big stick out there. That’s what makes the Elites so grand.

But there were a couple of instances that took place today that really show the awesome side of fishing. The respect side of fishing: In the words/letters of Aretha Franklin, the “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” type of feeling.

The weigh-in was over. Dave Mercer was on stage whipping up the crowd, getting ready to introduce the final-day 12 anglers.

Mercer called the first name. Then came the next angler and then the next. All of them walked out on the stage, waving to the crowd and stood stoic, looking at the crowd.

Even when the angler behind was introduced, every angler on the stage kept their eyes forward, smiling, and one would suspect each was caught up in their own moment. This is after all their moment.

Mercer continued the introductions: Every angler waved and smiled and looked straight forward, never even glancing at the anglers lined up with them. It is that way pretty much at every Elite Series.

Then it came time to announce the second-place angler: The most legendary angler in the field and probably the most respected, Rick Clunn.

When Clunn was announced, a strange thing happened, and if you weren’t paying attention or were unaccustomed to the ways of these anglers, you missed it. When Mercer said “Rick Clunn,” every one of those stoic anglers turned their heads sharply to the left and watched as Clunn took the stage.

Some clapped. But for a split second you could see the respect oozing from every one of them. The guy most of them grew up watching was sharing the stage with them, and it was obvious they were impressed with either him or themselves for being on that stage.

Tomorrow there will be mixture of feelings: Every angler up there will originally want to beat Clunn. By the end of the day, many of them, though, will be hoping that he pulls this one out. Each will one day say they were in the final round against him in the event Clunn caught his two largest five-fish stringers ever (at least at this point), and the first event he (in all probability) cracked the 100-pound mark.

It’s that type thing that set up the last instance. We have a crew of writers and photographers at each of these events. The last few hours, amid threats of wrestling matches and other redneck ways to settle things, every writer and every photographer insists they should be the one to cover Clunn on the final day.

Their point: “If Rick Clunn wins this, I want to be there.”

Their reasoning isn’t a novelty-type thing. It all boils down to respect. My guess is the whole fishing world, outside of the Keith Combs and Edwin Evers’ families are pulling for Clunn as well.