Daily Limit: Barn find could be holy grail of bass fishing

Jason Politte believes the dusty relic he discovered in a Missouri barn played a monster role in the annals of bass fishing — it might just be Rick Clunn’s boat from his 1984 Bassmaster Classic victory.

Although Clunn said he has no idea if it is his boat, everything indicates Politte is in possession of the 18-foot Ranger 373-V Ranger that Clunn fished out of during his historic victory in Pine Bluff, Ark.

And Politte is geeked out about it.

“At 47, not a lot excites me, but this sure does. I’ve been like a kid with it,” he said. “Having Rick’s Clunn winning bass boat is one heck of a cool story.”

That story began eight months ago when Politte, a lifelong bass fisherman who competes in local derbies, and his wife purchased a property on the outskirts of Festus, Mo., about 30 miles south of St. Louis. There were several junk-filled buildings on the homestead and a collection of 1950s-era Farmall tractors strewn about in various states. A hoarder’s property, as Politte put it.

Politte, who works for Nike, got busy, selling $20,000 worth of scrap metal before attacking the 40×60 building, where a dust-covered RV and old boat sat along a wall.

“This is more junk I got to get rid,” Politte thought of the watercraft, “because it looked so bad. I decided to take one day and power wash the boat and see what it looked like.”

After three hours, the “protective layer” of dirt was washed away, revealing what had to have been a well-cared for craft. What impressed Politte was all the original equipment; the trolling motor, butt seat, lights and Humminbird fish finder with transducer. Even the leather seats were in decent condition, except for one chewed-up area the size of a softball.  

“This thing is actually in really good condition,” he said. “I was surprised that it cleaned up that well.”

Photos were taken and sent to his brother, who showed it around Lake Fork at a tournament he was fishing. The brothers fish the famed Texas lake annually, with Politte continuing his quest for a bucket-list 10-pounder — his best is an 8.

While Politte thought the decal “Bass Masters Classic” was perhaps a trim package, an old-timer immediately recognized the boat was used in a Classic. A little homework found it was one of 40 identical Rangers used in the 1984 Classic on the Arkansas River. The “19” on the windshield would be a clue to who fished out of it, and Politte was stunned when he figured it out from a YouTube video.  

“It’s obviously Rick Clunn, and he wins the tournament!” Politte said. “We were blown away. You’ve got to be kidding.

“But I’ve been very skeptical. Anyone could have put a 19 on an old Bassmaster Classic Ranger.”

That’s Clunn’s argument. Up until 2008, Ranger supplied identical boats for the entire Classic field. Clunn said he’s probably been in 30 different Rangers in his record 32 Classic qualifications, so it’s understandable he’s foggy on past trim, colors and numbers. While he congratulated Politte on the find, he said the only way to be certain is to check with Ranger Boats on the serial numbers, or …

“He needs to go vacuum up hairs and genetically test if one is Rick Clunn’s hair. That’s how crazy it can get,” Clunn said of getting proof. “I just can’t say if it was my boat, because I don’t know. I’ve got four of those out there.”

If it is Clunn’s, the boat holds great significance in Bassmaster history. The 1984 Classic was Clunn’s third of his record-tying four titles, came with two future U.S. Presidents on stage and helped the sport become further engrained in the national conscience after his “little green fish” speech.

Editor’s note: See Clunn’s wild ride with H.W.

“It seemed like it was such a big deal,” Politte said. “Every Bassmaster Classic is a big deal, but that one had a lot of publicity around it.”

Politte has done investigative work, along with some surmising, as to how the boat even got inside a building outside of Festus. The only paperwork he found was a tag from a now-defunct boat dealership in Glen Carbon, Ill. Clunn said B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott most likely had contracts to sell the Classic boats before the event was even held, with perhaps five going to one dealer.

Talking with a neighbor, Politte learned the owner of the property took the boat on fishing trips to nearby Wappapello and Clearwater lakes. The neighbor, who went on some of those outings, said they ended around 20 years ago, when Politte believes the RV and boat were put in mothballs.

Not long after learning that it could be Clunn’s boat, Politte worked more to shine up the old Ranger. He also further scrutinized his find. Looking for any telling marks, he thinks he found it in the “9,” which is a tad lower than the “1” in historical photos and his boat.

In his quest to learn all he could, Politte posted his story and photos on the Ranger Bass Boat Owner group on Facebook, where he has a number of believers. He received hundreds of responses, including offers to purchase it.

“I’m in no rush to sell it,” he said. “No matter if I sell it or not, I want to get a picture of it with Rick Clunn. That’s just my goal. Then I want to take an old screenshot from the ‘84 Classic and mount it into a frame, regardless if I keep the boat.”

The value is another huge question. Clunn, who said he doesn’t even know how much his current Elite Series boat costs, wouldn’t hazard a guess. He certainly won’t be putting in a bid, but imagines Politte could get a surprise akin to subjects on Antiques Roadshow.

“You don’t know unless you’re one of those people who are into that,” Clunn said. “That boat, it’s not like a painting for a piece of furniture. Of course, there’s guys who collect everything, and I imagine there’s guys who collect those old Rangers, but I’m not one of them. I actually put very little value in that kind of stuff.”

Politte has hope someone does. If not, he still thinks it’s an incredible piece of Bassmaster Classic history, which is worth “what somebody is willing to pay.”

“It’s like the holy grail,” he said. “It’d be great to have forever, but I also want to build a lake on this property, so if I can get the right money for it, I would consider it.”

And as for whom he’d like to sell to, Politte would prefer seeing the 1984 Ranger put on display in a museum for all to enjoy.

“Nothing would make me happier for it to go somewhere like that,” he said. “For the rest of my life, I’d be like, ‘I had that boat.’ The story for me will last forever, until the day they come and say that’s not the boat, then it would suck.”