While he’ll give it his all in hopes of an unprecedented three-peat, Rick Clunn said it’s against the odds for him to win this week in the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns.
“I’m going to approach it similarly to how I did last year,” the 73-year-old legendary angler said. “The probability of winning back to back is very, very, very rare. The odds of doing that three times in a row is probably 10 times greater.”
Clunn stunned the bass fishing world in the 2016 Elite at St. Johns with a monster Day 3, bringing in 31 pounds, 7 ounces to nearly equal his total from the first two days. In holding off the field to win for the first time in 14 years, Clunn became the oldest Elite champion. His sage advice after was, “Never accept that all your best moments are in your past.”
Last year, Clunn one-upped himself, again winning at St. Johns and eclipsing his age record. He was 72, 7 months and 14 days old when he landed two 10-pound class bass in a Championship Sunday bag of 34-14 for the 98-14 winning total.
It might appear as if he’s got the St. Johns all figured out, but he’s not buying into that.
“The worst enemy we all have when we win an event is we go back and try to recreate how we won before. And I’ve learned, and most anglers who have fished very long know, that’s the kiss of death,” he said. “Because it’s rarely going to be the same when you go back.
“It wasn’t last year because the hurricane had blown all the milfoil off the year before and the lake was off color. I had to go find other fish, and I was successful in doing that. That’s the same way I’m going to approach it this year.”
Now, there’s a touch of confidence one takes into a fishery where they’ve had such success, but Clunn said it’s critical to try to put that in the back of your mind.
“Yes, I’m fully aware how I won those last two, but I’m going to have to act like I’ve haven’t ever been there before. That’s the whole key,” he said. “It just like when you have a 25-pound day. The biggest mistake on the second day is you go out and try to catch those same fish. You already weighed them in 50 miles away and let them go. You can’t catch them over, so you have to maybe go there and hope there are more, but you’ve got to keep an open mind.
“A childlike, open mind is still the most important thing. That’s what I have to do. You have to look at current water conditions, habitat and try to find them. You find all those things, you’re probably going to be around big fish, and then you just have to catch them.”
Ah, that’s the trick, and it should be fun to see if he can pull another rabbit out of the hat.
Elite field grows to 88
Clunn will face more competition this season as the Elite Series has expanded to 88 anglers, up from 75 in 2019.
Added to the mix are Basspro.com Open anglers who finished atop the points standings and accepted Elite invitations. They are John Cox, Destin DeMarion, Bob Downey, Austin Felix, Buddy Gross, Takumi Ito, Caleb Kuphall, Wes Logan, Bryan Schmitt and Kyle Welcher. Cody Hollen of Beaverton, Ore., grabbed the Elite invitation bestowed to the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation champion.
Back to the Elites are Gerald Swindle and Brandon Palaniuk via Legends exemptions for anglers who have won a Classic or Angler of the Year. Palaniuk, winner of three events and a nine-time Classic qualifier, won the 2017 AOY. Swindle, who’s qualified for 18 Classics, won AOY titles in 2004 and 2016. They are among the 24 pros to hold AOY crowns in B.A.S.S., with Swindle among the 11 who have more than one.
The full field will fish the first two days of the four-day Elite tournaments, with the top 40 advancing to Day 3 and the Top 10 battling on the final day for the title.