Clunn looks back

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All photos B.A.S.S.

For those who were there, and perhaps for some who read about it afterward, the 1990 Bassmaster Classic on the James River is still remembered as Rick Clunn’s fourth Classic victory, with a lure he designed specifically for both the tournament and the river. Nearly 10 pounds behind leader Tommy Biffle at the beginning of the final morning of competition, Clunn boated more than 18 pounds that day and won by more than 7 pounds.

The untold story of that Classic occurred on the second day, when Clunn’s press partner was a Chicago-based writer who barely said a word to him the entire time they were on the water. Instead, he simply took notes.

On the drive back to Richmond, the writer did start talking. He was actually a statistician who covered the Chicago Cubs, and he had recorded every one of the 2,343 casts Clunn had made that day. Of those casts, Clunn had 25 strikes and caught 24 fish.

“I had never heard numbers like that before,” remembers Clunn, “and initially, it sounded like I’d had an incredible day of fishing, catching 24 bass. Then it hit me. I was making nearly 100 casts per bite, and that’s a pretty poor percentage. I was throwing to cypress trees on virtually every cast, so I was not making purely random casts. I knew fish were using those trees.

“I kept thinking about this, about how to improve my percentage of nonrandom versus random casts, and the next day I probably had the finest fishing day I’ve ever had on the water, execution-wise. I’ve had a lot of days where I had maybe two hours during a day that were perfect, but never a full day like the final day of that Classic.

“In my fishing today, more than 25 years later, those numbers the writer told me about are still on my mind. I wonder how many casts we make to places where there aren’t even any fish, and I have worked even harder, trying to improve those percentages in my fishing.”

Clunn’s memory bank is filled with lessons like these, not at all surprising from the fisherman many consider to be the greatest bass angler of all time. Clunn fished his first B.A.S.S. event, the Texas Invitational on Sam Rayburn, in March 1974, and today at age 72, he is the oldest Bassmaster Elite Series competitor. Now, he has competed in more than 400 bass tournaments from Texas to Florida, New York to California. The boyish, almost innocent features so noticeable in his mid- to late 20s have been replaced by a short, trying-to-turn-gray beard and occasional glasses, but overall, he’s still slim, sharp and, at times, surprised at the influence he has had on the sport.

Words and statistics do not adequately describe his career; more than any other angler, Clunn has symbolized and defined the sport of competitive bass fishing around the world for more than four decades, and no one can guess how many youngsters he has influenced to start bass fishing or become tournament anglers.

Because statistics are important, however, here are a few: In B.A.S.S. competition, he has 15 victories, including four Bassmaster Classic wins. He also has two second-place finishes, one third and three fourths — a total of 15 Top-10 finishes in 32 Classic appearances. In 1988, he won the Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. While competing on the FLW circuit, he won three FLW Tour events, finished in the Top 10 a total of 20 times and competed in six Forrest Wood Cups. He was the first angler to win the U. S. Open twice, and before there was an FLW, he won the 1983 Red Man All-American.

He has always been a student of bass fishing. It began with his earliest experiences walking behind his father, Holmes Clunn, as they waded and fished Oklahoma streams, and continues to this day. Looking back, he attributes much of his success to that intense passion for the sport and his ongoing desire for knowledge.

“My first thoughts of becoming a bass pro came during my time with the Pasadena [Texas] Bass Club,” he says. “But I probably really started thinking seriously about it right after Bobby Murray won the first Bassmaster Classic, in 1971. I read about it in Bassmaster Magazine, and when he was handed that check for $10,000, it struck me as a pretty fun way to make a living.