CELEBRATION, Fla. — Rick Clunn has achieved many milestones in his long and storied fishing career. Yet another milestone will come when he competes in the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic this week on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla.
The Missouri bass pro, who last year was voted by fans the greatest angler in ESPN's Greatest Angler Debate presented by John Deere and is ranked 7th on the Bassmaster Elite Series Power Index — averaging 23 pounds, 8 ounces per tournament, is the only angler to win four Classics as well as the only one to win back-to-back Classics. A former CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year, he has a total of 14 Bassmaster victories.
When Clunn takes off from the launch site at Kissimmee's Lakefront Park, it will mark the 30th time he has fished in the Classic. To put that into perspective, that's like a golfer qualifying for 30 U.S. Opens or a baseball player competing in 30 All-Star games.
"I always admired Jack Nicklaus and the other athletes who performed at a high level over a long period of time," said Clunn. "That was always in the back of my mind, to keep elevating my game. But, I was only thinking in terms of 15 or 20 years. Our sport is unique in that you can compete for a long time."
Clunn, who set a Bassmaster record by qualifying for 28 Classics in a row, is looking forward to competing on Lake Toho, which is at the top of a chain that includes Lake Cypress, Lake Hatchineha, Lake Kissimmee and the Kissimmee River.
Toho made international headlines in January 2001 when Dean Rojas caught an opening-day stringer of five bass that weighed a record 45 pounds, 2 ounces. Rojas, who was sight-fishing, won that tournament with a record four-day catch of 20 bass weighing 108 pounds, 12 ounces.
Although most of the 51 anglers fishing in the Classic are hoping the bass move onto their beds for the tournament, Clunn said the weights will not approach those in that magical Toho tournament.
The reason? Extended periods of cold weather that year kept the bass from spawning. Then, the weather warmed just before the tournament and the bass moved onto their beds in droves.
"That was unique that year," Clunn said. "It got cold in December and January and nothing had moved up [onto the beds] until we got there. You had three flights of fish waiting to move up."
Still, Clunn expects some 30-pound stringers to be caught during the Classic. "I think there'll be some bedding fish caught, and maybe some big ones," he said. "The guy who plays the daily conditions the best is going to do well. The guy who makes the right moves at the right time is the one who's going to win."
One such move would be to catch one or more of the big bass that Toho is known for. When Clunn won the 1977 Classic, he caught a 7-pound, 7-ounce fish on his third cast of the tournament. That fish was a key to his victory, as he beat out Larry Nixon by less than 2 pounds.
"The big fish in Florida always puts the luck in the tournament," Clunn said. "Also, if you're behind, you always have that hope of catching a big fish. One cast and you've caught up."