50 years of Rick Clunn in photos

A timeline photo gallery of Rick Clunn's greatest milestones over 50 years of his B.A.S.S. career.

In 2024, the numbers 50 and 500 will have special meaning for Rick Clunn and the sport of bass fishing, with no other angler likely to match those merits. Clunn, undeniably the greatest professional angler of all time, will compete in his 500th Bassmaster event, doing so in the 50th year of a B.A.S.S. career that began in 1974. 
The 1988 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year has a remarkable 16 wins, 14 second-place finishes, 12 third-place finishes, 123 top 10s and $2.6 million in B.A.S.S. earnings, not counting his significant winnings and milestones from other tours. 
Most remarkable is Clunn’s dominance of the Bassmaster Classic. Clunn won it four times, with a Classic win in each of three decades: 1970s, 1980s, 1990s. Clunn has the most consecutive Classics (28), most fished (32), 16 top 10s, 11 top fives and the largest margin of victory at 25 pounds, 8 ounces. Here is a timeline of Clunn’s amazing achievements over five decades and counting. 
Clunn fished his second Classic in 1975 at Currituck Sound, N.C., where he finished eighth. The next four years Clunn would establish his dominance of the Classic, skyrocketing his career to the top of the game. Clunn would win two consecutive Classics, then two near-miss wins in 1978 and 1979 that could have have been a four-peat. 
Clunn won the 1976 Classic at Lake Guntersville. His $25,000 payday included a $950 big bass bonus for catching a largemouth weighing 7 pounds, 3 ounces, a difference maker for his winning weight of 59 pounds, 15 ounces, over runner up Bo Dowden’s final tally of 56-4.
Clunn put together a perfect game plan — a pattern for big bass early, then an afternoon of picking over the smaller largemouth. Clunn had the Classic won before getting to the lake. He surmised the lake’s two largest creeks would hold the biggest bass, where they fed on an abundance of bait. In doing so, he took seasonal pattern fishing to the next level, a formula used today. 
It was Clunn’s ability to catch the big fish, weighing 7-13, 6-5, 6-3 and 4-9, that made the difference in winning. 
“In any sport or business, the most successful have more than just ability,” Clunn was quoted in Bassmaster. “What level of fishing success you seek will be greatly affected by your confidence, enthusiasm and dedication. The degree of these intangibles you possess will determine your eventual degree of success.” 
With Larry Nixon standing beside him, Clunn narrowly beat him by less than 2 pounds for a Classic repeat in 1977 at Lake Toho. 
Fishing was tough on the central Florida fishery in October, yet Clunn took the lead on Day 1 and eventually won with 27-7 over the 25-11 weighed by Nixon.  
Clunn won on the first day after bringing in nine bass (of a 10-bass limit), including a 7-7 largemouth that anchored his 19-10 weight. The next day, Clunn had two bass weighing 5-1, and the final day, he boated one keeper weighing 2-12. It turned out to be the difference maker. 
The uniquely different B.A.S.S. Champs format pitted the pros from the 1976 Classic with the top 10 anglers from the B.A.S.S. Chapter Federation. To level the playing field, and with a gas crisis underway, the competitors fished from identically-rigged 16-foot aluminum bass boats. Clunn won the 1977 event on Percy Priest near Nashville after discovering pressured largemouth ignored spinnerbaits. Clunn chose the little known buzzbait to win with a three-day weight of 47-02. 
The 1978 Classic at Ross Barnett Reservoir came down to the wire with a final day shootout between Clunn and eventual winner Bobby Murray, who would become the second two-time Classic winner. Clunn took the lead first with 31-10 and then came Murray with a final weight of 37-9. “About 45 minutes ago, I had the chance (for a three-peat),” Clunn was quoted in Bassmaster. “A good fish, about a 6-pounder, jumped and threw the spoon.”
The Classic visited Lake Texoma in 1979. Of the four top finishers, Clunn was the only angler not using a new western-borne long-rod technique called flipping. Hank Parker, Basil Bacon, Clunn and Gary Klein were those top finishers. Parker won with 31 pounds and Clunn posted 23-12 for third place in what could’ve been a four-peat. 
Clunn scored another top five finish, this time at the Classic’s first indoor weigh-in Montgomery, Ala., the birthplace of B.A.S.S., where he finished fourth on the Alabama River. By then, Clunn earned the nickname “Mr. October” for his hot streak of wins and top finishes in the fall Classics. 
Clunn won the 1984 Classic with a winning weight of 75-9, also setting a record for winning margin of victory by 25-8 on the Arkansas River. Clunn delivered this impromptu speech standing beside two future U.S. presidents, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and Vice President George H.W. Bush. “We live in a country where there are no limits. Where sometimes we are led to believe there are limits when there are none with anything we do in life. In a country where we can go as far as we want. There is nowhere else in the world where I could catch little green fish and make $40,000.” 
Clunn’s victory at the 1985 Florida B.A.S.S. Invitational at Lake Okeechobee was bittersweet, after he beat Roland Martin with a winning weight of 57-1, compared to Martin’s runner-up weight of 56-15. Martin lost the tournament on his home lake due to a dead fish penalty. “I have tremendous respect for Roland, always have; he taught me so much early on about the science of bass fishing,” Clunn said. 
At the 1987 Classic, Clunn finished 2 pounds, 7 ounces behind the 15-5 winning weight of George Cochran. The tournament held in the stifling August heat on the Ohio River made it even tougher for everyone except Clunn, who called it his “cleanest and best.”
“You hear athletes say they played a clean event without any flaws or mistakes caused by them and I did that,” Clunn said. “I made the courageous decision, taking a chance, to lock through another pool of the river, where I caught a 6-pounder, the only fish I caught that day.” That fish put Clunn in contention to win, yet he came up one keeper shy at the Classic in Louisville, Ky. 
The 1988 season was another great one for Clunn, who won an eighth B.A.S.S. tournament on Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas. Clunn also won the 1988 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year title. 
In 1990, Clunn charged from nearly 10 pounds behind on the final day to win his fourth Classic title in Richmond, Va., on the James River. He used a squarebill crankbait of his design with a pattern three years in the making on the James. Clunn knew he needed five big bass to win it, and he relied on his deep mental prowess to bring it to reality. 
Clunn brought down the house — just as he did in the 1984 win — with every big bass that came out of his livewell. The crowd went crazy again, this time watching him bring a final day limit to the scales weighing 18-7, to win by more than 7 pounds. Sharing the limelight were Clunn’s daughters Brooke (left) and Cortney. 
Clunn thought Ray Scott was up to another one of his phone pranks when he said President George H.W. Bush wanted to go fishing with him. After inquiring about the details of when and where to bring his boat, Scott replied he wouldn’t need it. Clunn, Forrest Wood and a friend of Scott’s would ride on Air Force One with Bush from his home in Houston to Scott’s private lakes outside Montgomery, Ala. Clunn ranked the experience as one of his most memorable lifetime experiences. As the president began catching bass on nearly every cast, Clunn got overly excited, finally realizing he was becoming an annoyance. “Finally, he put a hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Rick, today you are not a world championship bass angler, and I’m not the president of the United States. We are just two guys who love to fish, sharing the same boat.’”
Clunn won the 1991 Missouri Invitational on Truman Lake, his 10th of 16 B.A.S.S. titles. 
Clunn added an 11th B.A.S.S. career win at the 1992 New York Invitational held on the St. Lawrence River in New York. 
At the 1996 Tennessee Bassmaster Top 100 on Tennessee’s Old Hickory Lake, Clunn nearly won another title, finishing second with 39-10. 
Clunn scored his 10th top five Classic finish in 1998 at High Rock Lake. He would add an 11th top five at the 2000 Classic on Lake Michigan.
Clunn finished second at the 1999 Nevada Invitational, and his affinity for Lake Mead was the reason why. Clunn twice won the Western Bass U.S. Open during August on the desert impoundment, calling the tournament the Iditarod of fishing. “Lake Mead just has that magic,” he said. “It’s the lake you need to be so intimately connected with through weather and nature. You can’t lie to yourself about how good of an angler you are at Lake Mead. One year it might be up 60 feet and the next, down by 30 feet. It’s the lake that always tells me the truth about myself.”
B.A.S.S. introduced the first-of-its-kind, made-for-TV tournament called B.A.S.S. MegaBucks in 1987. The top 10 anglers after a four-day qualifying round advanced to a two-day championship, rotating through a 10-hole course. The small size of the course allowed video cameras to capture the drama as it unfolded during the day. Clunn nearly twice won MegaBucks and then sealed the deal in 2001 at Douglas Lake in Tennessee. His paycheck was $100,000. 
Clunn scored his 14th B.A.S.S. career win where his curiosity about tournaments began at Sam Rayburn Lake in 1970. Previously, Clunn and his father were excited about spending two days on the hottest new lake in Texas, only to finish the trip with one bass. The scene was chaotic upon their return to the boat ramp. Odd-looking boats with pedestal casting seats lined the bank. Anglers wearing jumpsuits adorned with lure company patches were dragging heavyweight stringers of bass to a weigh-in scale used for the Pasadena Bass Club tournament. Clunn was astounded and knew he had much to learn about bass fishing. A member of the club invited Clunn to join. He accepted, and the rest is history. 
The 2002 Classic was the appropriate stage for Clunn to receive the first B.A.S.S. Outstanding Achievement Award, Clunn’s award was a B.A.S.S.-commissioned crystal trophy depicting an eagle rising in the air with a fish in its claws. As a tribute to Clunn, experts from the Auburn University Raptor Center flew a bald eagle through the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Arena during the final-day weigh-in of the Classic. Clunn has called eagles “the true fishermen,” and he carries a feather in his tacklebox.
Clunn was voted by fishing fans as the greatest angler in the world in ESPN’s Greatest Angler Debate, which included a TV show with analysists breaking down the candidates and their odds of winning. “I normally try to compartmentalize those types of awards, but that one meant the fans recognized me for my competitive merits, above my popularity as an angler,” Clunn said. 
Clunn came close to winning the Bassmaster Elite Series event in Texas at Lake Falcon, falling short by 6 pounds. In true, Clunn-like fashion he engineered a valiant comeback after catching 13 pounds on Day 1, then rocketed up the leaderboard with a final weight of 105-6. 
Clunn then added another career milestone, joining the Bassmaster Century Club with his catch over 100 pounds. 
Another epic Clunn-style win played out in 2016 at the St. Johns River, where the 69-year-old legend became the oldest angler to win a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament. In 31st place after the second day, Clunn staged a remarkable comeback with a limit weighing 31-7, which ranked as the third best five-bass limit of his career. He caught a 19-pound limit on the championship round to score his 15th B.A.S.S. career win.  
“Having River (his son) and Melissa to see me win was one of my greatest memories,” Clunn said. 
“Never accept that all your greatest moments are in the past.” Clunn made that statement after the 2016 win on the St. Johns. In 2019, he broke his own record for agelessness by winning again on the St. Johns River. 
Clunn’s winning weight of 98-14 was punctuated by a championship round limit of five bass weighing 34-14, which included a back-to-back caught pair of 9-pound largemouth. 
“A long time ago, I stopped paying attention to timelines,” Clunn said. “If you listen to everybody else, you’ll get premature notions about who you really are.”