Daily Limit: Clunn a legend of the fall

Rescheduling of B.A.S.S. tournaments due to the pandemic has the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers competing deep into fall, and Rick Clunn, for one, is looking forward to it.

“I’ve always liked fall events, and obviously we’re going to get an overdose of them,” he said. “Fall is my favorite time of the year to fish.”

It’s also when he’s found much of his success. Of Clunn’s 16 tour wins, almost a third have come in autumn, starting with his first in 1976 at the Lake Guntersville Classic.

“If you go back in time, you’ve got to realize the most important events in my whole career, in my early career especially, were the Bassmaster Classics,” Clunn said. “I knew for me to survive, I had to win that event, and they were all held in the fall.”

From the first Classic on Lake Mead in 1971 to Clunn’s back-to-back wins on Guntersville and Lake Toho, the bass fishing championships were at season’s end in late fall. Learning what works at that time of year sent Clunn from floundering to famous.

“I had two choices,” Clunn said. “One was either don’t figure this out and starve to death, or figure it out and win the Classic. Once I did that, I really kind of dominated the Classic until they moved it out of the fall.

“It was all a function of figuring out how to fish the Classic — that's what it really was. I figured out how to fish the fall of the year on manmade lakes.”

The first 12 Classics were held after August, and Clunn had a rather amazing run. That first win on Guntersville was on Nov. 5, 1976, then he claimed his second the following year at Lake Toho on Oct. 28. He vied for titles the next two Classics, taking second on Ross Barnett and then third on Texoma. After a 15th on the St. Lawrence River, he was fourth in 1981 on the Alabama River.

Already solidified as a legend of the fall, Clunn would later win August Classics in 1984 on the Arkansas River and 1990 on the James River. Becoming bass fishing’s Zen Master hinged on him learning to unlock fall fishing.

When Bassmaster first began holding events, Clunn said most anglers prepared by spending as much time on the fisheries as possible, learning everything they could from locals and guides. Slowly, rules changed to make it a more even playing field.

“Early on, there wasn’t even off limits. You could go hire the best guides on the lake right up till the day the tournament started,” he said. “The only guys who didn’t do that were guys like me who didn’t know anybody to talk to. We were unknown, and we went to the lakes and were kind of on our own. You had to figure it out yourself.”

Necessity had Clunn studying seasonal patterns, learning where and how previous Classic winners fished. The first six Classics were on mystery lakes, where B.A.S.S. founder Ray would announce the locale once their plane reached 30,000 feet.

“That’s the first time I ever saw fear in Bill Dance’s face, in Roland Martin’s face, in Jimmy Houston’s face, in Ricky Green’s face,” Clunn said. “At first it confused me because these were the guys I looked up to. Then it dawned on me, they didn’t know what to do, and I thought they did. That’s when I started really understanding how to prepare.”