PALATKA, Fla. — Dozens of anglers from the Bassmaster Elite Series joined an already-giant crowd of spectators Saturday afternoon to watch Rick Clunn weigh in his Day 3 catch.
They sensed something special was about to happen — and they were right.
The 69-year-old Missouri angler, who has fished more than 400 events with B.A.S.S., proved he still has plenty of fight left with an eye-popping five-bass limit that weighed 31 pounds, 7 ounces. The tournament-best catch pushed Clunn’s three-day total to 62-15 and lifted him from 31st place into the lead in the Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River presented by Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels.
Clunn, a four-time winner of the Bassmaster Classic and a 14-time champion on the B.A.S.S. circuit, said it was one of the better rounds of tournament fishing he’s ever had.
“It was just one of those days that was magical,” Clunn said. “This is the third-largest five-fish limit I’ve ever weighed in. Everything went right. Every fish that bit, I caught.”
Clunn said he had known all week that the fishery had the potential to produce a big bag. As it turned out, he needed two bags to carry in his monumental catch – one of which was carried up the walkway from the boat dock by fellow Elite Series angler Skeet Reese.
It was a change in the weather that Clunn said made all the difference.
“I knew how to catch the big ones, but I also knew I had to have the wind and the rain to catch them,” he said. “I had it today, and I caught all of the big ones in about an hour.
“When the wind shifted and really started to blow, I knew I could probably catch them — and I did.”
With the weigh-in winding down, Clunn waited to remove his fish from his livewell until his family could make it in from the airport. His young son, River, helped him sack the fish and accompanied him onto the weigh-in platform.
“To him, all of my accomplishments are purely in the history books,” said Clunn, who hasn’t won a B.A.S.S. event since the 2002 Central Open on Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas. “I wanted him to witness the catch. Hearing about it later is just not the same.”
Despite going into the final day with a 6-pound lead, Clunn said anything can happen on a fishery full of big bass that are right in the middle of the spring spawning run. He expects a hard charge from second-place angler Greg Hackney (56-15), third-place angler Justin Lucas (56-3) and the rest of the Top 12 anglers who qualified for Sunday’s championship round.
Hackney said he has fished three different areas each day of the event so far and plans to fish a fourth new area Sunday. His Saturday catch of 17-9 was anchored by a 7-10 largemouth.
“That biggest fish would get on the bed and wouldn’t stay,” Hackney said. “I was probably a little too close when I first set up.”
So Hackney left the fish, moved down the shoreline and came back a few minutes later.
“The fish would get up on the bed and sit if I wasn’t there,” Hackney said. “I was worried about it a little bit when I came back because the wind was blowing so hard that I couldn’t tell if she was there or not. But as soon as I got the bait right the first time, she bit.”
Lucas caught 19-9 Saturday to put himself in position for his second career B.A.S.S. win with a three-day total of 56-3, while Florida pro Terry Scroggins stayed in contention with a Saturday catch of 16-11 that pushed his overall mark to 55-3.
But all of the buzz after the weigh-in was about Clunn — and he used the moment to inspire.
“Never accept that all of your best moments are in your past,” Clunn said. “Most of us go through a peak period. But when you start to lose that, you start to wonder.
“Maybe I don’t have as many great moments ahead, but I still have great moments to look forward to.”
Sunday’s take-off will be at 7:15 a.m. ET from Palatka City Dock, with weigh-ins set for 3:30 p.m. at Palatka Riverfront Park. The winning angler will receive $100,000.