Editor’s note: 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of B.A.S.S. As part of our celebration we’re publishing stories, videos and photos about the history of the sport, including the one below.
When Rick Clunn won the Bassmaster Classic on the Arkansas River in August of 1984 I was still a few months away from my ninth birthday. Even though I was consumed with bass fishing at that point in my life, I can’t really say that I followed the tournament trail closely back then. Remember, there was no internet or Bassmaster LIVE, so we sometimes didn’t find out who had won a given tournament until a few weeks or even months down the road.
The years immediately after Rick’s win coincided with the start of my own tournament fishing, and I often watched the footage of his third Classic victory as a template for developing my own career. It was a “light bulb moment” for me because it helped me to realize that you don’t just have to go down the bank fishing for one here and one there. Instead, he was targeting fish sitting on an offshore drop, nowhere near the bank, and they were schooled up. He was also throwing a variety of crankbaits, and I remember going out afterward and buying as many of each as I could afford. That was the start of my cranking obsession, and it’s a category of lure that has become one of my strengths, producing many of my best professional finishes. His strategy in that one event had a substantial impact on the way that I fish.
Just a few years after Rick’s win, one of the first tournaments I fished was an Angler’s Choice team tournament on the Arkansas River at more or less the same time of year. I was still young, but I studied his strategies relentlessly and ended up fishing the same general area in Pine Bluff Harbor.
Things came full circle during my first year on the Bassmaster Elite Series when we fished a tournament on the Arkansas River out of Little Rock. On one morning of competition, I lined up my boat before takeoff to make some last minute adjustments, and the boat next to me was none other than Rick Clunn’s. We greeted each other and talked a little. There wasn’t time for any meaningful conversation, but it dawned on me that there I was, fishing at the highest level, next to one of the pioneers of the sport, more or less at the location where he’d first imprinted his influence on my brain.
As we kick off the 2018 season, seven years after that particular tournament and 34 years after his win in the Arkansas River Classic, he’s still here, and he’s still competitive, as demonstrated by tournaments like his 2016 Elite win on the St. Johns River. That’s one of the things that really differentiates our profession from many other major sports – you can continue to participate for decades, as long as you have the physical stamina and the desire to get after it. I hope that when I’m Rick’s age I can be anywhere near as good and as passionate as he is.
Even though I’m now competing against many of the anglers I followed when I was younger, I remain every bit as much as a fan of the sport as I was back then. It doesn’t matter if it’s an Open or even a local tournament, I devour as much information as I can about what’s going on. I feel like I would’ve been passionate about bass fishing no matter what, but having influences like Rick Clunn is what really got me going.