Underestimating Clunn 

When Rick Clunn caught a 31-pound, 7-ounce limit of bass on Day 3 of the Bassmaster Elite on the St. Johns River in 2016 and then went on to win the event as a 69-year-old, I guess I closed the book on him. It was the greatest thing I’d ever seen in fishing — and in my mind, the greatest thing I’d ever see. So, I celebrated it with a multipage photo spread in B.A.S.S. Times Magazine that commemorated all of Clunn’s career accomplishments, with that 2016 win as the capper. 

That decision showed me that the greatest mistake in fishing isn’t forgetting to charge your batteries the night before a tournament. 

The greatest mistake in fishing is underestimating Rick Clunn. 

Three years later at age 72, Clunn broke his own record as the oldest angler to ever win a B.A.S.S. event by once again triumphing on the St. Johns — this time with final-day catch of 34-14 that included two bass over 9 pounds. 

There was no photo spread after that win — nor will there be another one until Clunn officially retires. And I mean I want to see some paperwork. 

To assume he’ll never win another Bassmaster event — or that he won’t or can’t do anything — would be just plain foolish. 

That applies to dropping verbal pearls of wisdom on us all as well. 

When Clunn won in 2016, he made the entire crowd misty when he said, “Never accept that all of your best moments are in your past.” 

I was so moved by the onstage advice that I labeled it the greatest quote in professional bass fishing history. 

Again, I forgot that as long as Clunn has breath in his lungs, he has the potential to top himself. 

In 2019, as I interviewed him backstage after his win at the St. Johns, he said, “A long time ago, I stopped paying attention to timelines. The terrible twos, the ugly teens, the midlife crisis, retirement time — I don’t pay any attention to any of that. 

“If you listen to everybody else, you’ll get premature notions about who you really are.” 


Double wow. 

I posted the link to that story on my Facebook page, and a friends list that includes some of the best editing talent on earth, along with a couple of Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, messaged me to ask if Clunn was a fisherman or a philosopher. 

I answered honestly: He’s both. 

Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to meet sports legends like Bob Knight, Whitey Herzog, Nick Saban, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. They were all captivating, but none made me shut up and take note more than Clunn. 

In a way it’s crazy that I’m 50 years old the same year Clunn begins his 50th year in professional bass fishing. But then in a way, it’s perfectly fitting. 

He’s gained as much wisdom on the water as I have on this planet — and that’s probably painfully evident as I fumble through interviews with him like a first-year reporter who’s never been in the presence of a big-time celebrity before. 

I’ll probably be looking to retire in 15 years or so, and with Clunn now 77, I don’t know if he’ll still be kicking tail and dropping pearls of wisdom then. 

But make no mistake: I’ve learned better than to bet against it.