A life lesson from Rick Clunn

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Shaye Baker

The first year I fished with B.A.S.S., I had a chance to spend some time with Rick Clunn at ICAST. It was amazing – I was just a rookie in the Opens and not only was the four-time Bassmaster Classic winner talking to me, but he told me that he was envious of me. I was still young, and at that stage in my life it was easy to have a “childlike mind.” He wasn't envious of my age itself, just the fact that my mindset was different. 

I didn’t truly understand what he meant at the time, but in the ensuing four years I think I’ve figured out the meaning of his words. When you’re a kid, you think you can do anything. If someone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, you tell them that you plan to be Superman, or the President, or the Super Bowl winning quarterback. Everything is still possible and the opportunities are endless. You haven’t failed at anything so you have no concept of what failure looks and feels like.

Like every adult, I’ve experienced some successes and some failures. I like to think that the former outnumber the latter, but the failures definitely sting and they’re hard to forget. We all want to be the Bassmaster Classic champion or an astronaut or a movie star, but if you shoot for those lofty goals, you have to be prepared to take your lumps along the way. 

Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” If you’re a serious tournament angler, you’ve probably endured a few punches in our unforgiving sport. Even the best of the best – guys like Kevin VanDam, Mike Iaconelli, Skeet Reese and Rick Clunn – spend only a tiny fraction of their time in the winner’s circle. Unless you have the mental strength of those top pros, it’s easy to let the failures weigh on you. When things seem to not be going right, most of us tend to stop thinking that good things will happen to us. They start thinking that yesterday's results will be tomorrow's. It becomes a vicious cycle.

During the drive to New York prior to the Elite Series tournament at Cayuga and the Open on Oneida, I thought back to Rick’s statement. I was coming off tough finishes at Toledo Bend and Texoma, and I needed to get my Elite season back on track. While the past shapes us whether we like it or not, I had to convince myself that our past does not dictate our future.

I ended up having a decent tournament at Cayuga, and while my Oneida finish wasn’t as strong after a poor Day 1, I kept Clunn’s message in mind and it seemed to pay off. On four of the five competition days, I caught a key fish in the last three minutes or less of fishing. That’s not something that I’ve typically done in past years. I could have easily said to myself, “I never catch anything in the last five minutes,” and checked in early. Or, "If I were going to catch them, it would have happened by now." Instead, as everyone else in my flight was checking in, my biggest fish of the day was being placed in my livewell day after day. It was a reminder to stay positive, to work hard and believe that you will make good things happen, regardless of what has happened in the past. 

I know I’m a better fisherman than I was a year or two ago, and definitely much more skilled than I was back in 2011 when I first met Rick and qualified for the Elites and the Classic. At that time, though, I had a “childlike mind” and felt that my opportunities were limitless. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. While I didn’t appreciate the full meaning of Clunn’s comment back in 2011, recognizing what it means at a later date may prove to be a pivotal moment in my career. I hope that shedding light on one of Ricks Clunn’s life lessons may help you in some way as well.