If there’s one thing Rick Clunn learned while Bassmaster Elite tournaments were postponed during the pandemic shutdown, it was that his career was far from over.
Not that the notion had occurred to him despite people asking when he might retire.
“The whole (shutdown) situation challenged us all mentally and physically,” the 74-year-old legendary pro said. “One thing I certainly learned is I now know I don’t want to retire. Having nothing to do makes you grow old quickly.”
So, when there was so much uncertainty about when Elites might resume, he scheduled surgery for a partially torn rotator cuff to make use of the down time.
Doctors said it would be at least an eight-week recovery period. When B.A.S.S. scheduled the DEWALT Elite on Lake Eufaula four weeks later, accepting a medical exemption was not an option.
Clunn was going to fish.
He didn’t tell anyone; not Tournament Director Trip Weldon, the media or other competitors.
Nor his doctor.
“He didn’t want any sympathy and was afraid he wouldn’t be allowed to fish,” said Clunn’s wife Melissa.
Clunn attributes the tear to his high school football days and making 1,500 to 2,000 casts a day during his storied 46-year career in which he has won four Bassmaster Classics and 16 Bassmaster events.
In addition to the tear, he had bone spurs that abraded the muscles every time he used his shoulder.
“Until recently, it hadn’t bothered me much during fishing, but it did while I was sleeping,” he said.
Melissa said her husband was a “man on a mission” after the surgery. He wouldn’t wear a sling and took no pain meds after the first night.
“I caught him practicing casting with a 7-foot rod in his office within a week of the surgery,” she recalled. “He would get angry with me when I scolded him for lifting or doing anything the doctor told him not to do. He wasn’t the ideal patient.”
Again, Clunn shrugs that off. He was confident he could cast and set the hook with just a little pain.
“I’ve known this body for 74 years – what it can do and what it can’t do – and what it needs to do to recover,” he said. “I was going to push it but not too far.”
Satisfied he could cast and set the hook, his biggest concern was driving the boat. He doesn’t use a foot pedal, so he had to control the boat speed with his right arm and steer with the surgically repaired left.
“I found out I could drive just fine but had to drive different speeds and had to learn what I could and couldn’t do,” he said. “When I found out I wouldn’t have a partner (Marshal) the first day, I was relieved.”
Clunn said he had no pain while fishing and had no problems through three days of practice.