Only two men in 50 years of professional bass fishing history can claim four Bassmaster Classic titles. Kevin VanDam, and a man I am absolutely humbled to share a close friendship with, Rick Clunn.
The chances of living in the same town as a Bassmaster Classic Champion are pretty rare — let alone a 4-time Classic champion — in a little Ozark Mountain town called Ava, Mo. But sure enough, that’s where I was born and raised, and that’s where Rick settled with his family several years ago.
The first time I met Rick was actually in an adrenalin-filled incident in the dark before tournament blast off, before a little weekend jackpot tournament on Bull Shoals.
Rick had backed his boat down the ramp with his son River in it, who was probably in middle school at the time, and as Rick went to park the truck, River hit the trolling motor switch and it kinda bucked him in the lake. Instinctively, I rushed to pull his young son from the water — and well — that’s more or less how Rick and my friendship began.
Since then, Rick has shared more great advice than I’ll ever be able to repay him for, including last week during a short visit to his house and trophy room, when we talked about the upcoming Classic on Lake Guntersville.
Ironically, it was Lake Guntersville where Rick won the first of his four Classics in the fall of 1976. Obviously, his knowledge of the lake 44 years ago has very little to do with what I’ll face there in a few days, but his words once again will have a profound effect on my mental approach to my first Classic.
We talked about how I recently had the amazing good fortune of winning both the Toyota Series tournament and the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series event on Toledo Bend last month, and how some folks will say I’m on a streak.
Rick said, “Don’t go to the Classic in Guntersville thinking you’re on a streak. Streaks end. Instead you need to go there to win.”
Pretty profound words.
So that’s what I’ll do my very best to achieve. Not get lost in the fact that I’m participating in the world’s most prestigious bass tournament, but instead to put nerves and stress aside and focus on winning.
If anything, I’m actually motivated by the "need to win." I’m 22 years old, engaged to be married and about to graduate college. And my family is not rich. My dad is a Carhartt wearing state highway department worker, and my mom stocks shelves at a large retail store. Life decisions are being made quickly, and the desire to launch a full-time pro career requires money — a lot of it.
Winning the Classic would solve a whole bunch of the financial concerns I currently face and also completely solidify my dream of fishing for a living.
I feel like my mind is right, and my focus is solid. I’m not going to pack my Carhartt hoodie and head toward Birmingham hoping for a participation trophy at Lake Guntersville.
Thanks to Rick, I’ll aim to win my first Classic trophy there, just like he did 44 years ago.