GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — It was 30 years ago on this very Lake Guntersville that Rick Clunn captured the first of his record four Bassmaster Classic wins. And he did it by steering headlong into the kind of weather that kept him and the other 107 Bassmaster Elite Series pros off the water Thursday.
He entered the deciding day behind by 10 pounds, he recalled Saturday. As the 25 anglers in that tournament hit the water, a black storm cloud churned to the north. Clunn raced up the skinny lake to a sprig called Brown's Creek. He proceeded to sack more than 20 pounds in the few minutes before the storm fell in like an avalanche, forcing even him to seek shelter.
Clunn wound up winning the event by fewer than 3 pounds.
"That would never happen today," he said at the take-off dock in the dark, chilly moments before Day Three of the Southern Challenge presented by Purolator. "There would be no Rick Clunn."
Thursday's cancellation guaranteed that for better or for ill — and an angler's final standing may influence his opinion — this tournament will be remembered for its weather. The storm system that deluged Lake Guntersville on Thursday never metastasized into tornadoes, and in fact gave way to a glorious, sunny day.
"Everybody's paranoid," said Clunn, who sits in 36th place with 15 pounds, 1 ounce.
Every sport contains inherent risks, he explained. He expressed empathy for the BASS officials who had to weigh the desire of its anglers to hit the lake Thursday with their need to protect against lawsuits, in the unlikely case of catastrophe. But he nonetheless questioned the call.
"Lawyers dictate that we live our lives by fear instead of by adventure and excitement," he said. "I enjoy the adventure of life, and don't want to be encapsulated."
Saturday's conditions are predicted to look a lot like Friday's. The morning forecast called for temperatures in the low 70s and a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms.
Exciting, it won't be. But anglers still were faced with deciphering a complex lake in a shorter time than usual. With the first day washed out, the tournament will not feature a cut from 108 to 50, instead going straight to the 12-person cut for Sunday.
"A thunderstorm isn't going to hurt us any," said Steve Daniel (t-84th, 9-3). "These topwater lakes always fish better in bad weather. I would love to have some clouds and even some rain."
Jeff Reynolds (15th, 17-7) was hoping for the inverse, "dead calm and sunny," so he could sight fish. He said that many of the shallow fish he expected to plunder on Thursday had moved down by Friday, either because they were just finishing their spawn or because the storms Thursday morning pummeled the shallow water.
"I think the front we had the other day messed a lot of stuff up," said Rick Morris (56th place, 13-7). For one, he said, it moved the post-spawn fish even further from the shore, to depths of about 6 or 7 feet, where about half the field is catching them, he estimated.
Mark Tucker said Saturday was going to bring "ideal fishing conditions," with temperatures cool enough to keep the fish from retreating too deep into the lake, as they would if more summer-like conditions were upon northern Alabama this week.
Variations in the atmosphere did not concern Clunn, so long as they're not enough to affect the water temperature.
"This time of year, the weather is almost irrelevant," he said. "It is (relevant) within only small diameters."