James Overstreet's photo (above) of Rick Clunn after his victory Sunday is reminiscent of the epic shots of sports heros from bygone eras, and truly fitting.
March came in like a lion for B.A.S.S. – the season-opening month has been heralded in by loud roars.
Legendary angler Rick Clunn, 69, considered the best tournament angler of all-time by many, came from nowhere to capture the first Elite title just two Sundays after Edwin Evers posted a dramatic come-from-behind victory in the Bassmaster Classic.
At the same time Evers’ final-day heroics of a 29-pound, 3-ounce bag played on the ESPN2 show chronicling the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro, Clunn began his attempt to close out the Bassmaster Elite on the St. Johns River presented by Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels on Sunday.
Clunn’s win was emotional for many, especially a lot of self-proclaimed “old farts” who watched Sunday’s early flurry on Bassmaster LIVE. Yet Clunn’s best friend, Jerry McKinnis, couldn’t watch. He cried Saturday when Clunn surprised everyone with a 31-7 bag to jump 6 pounds ahead of his nearest competitor.
Although he said he’s waited for the day a long time, McKinnis said that watching Sunday would be too stressful on him. He would work moving rocks all day then check the outcome on his computer afterward, saying “I'm such a baby.”
When he did find out, he cried again. Clunn’s Ruthian feat sent shockwaves all around the bass fishing world, especially among anglers who look at him as their idol. Clunn is the No. 1 hero to many of the current pros. He's even more to guys like Skeet Reese, who see him as a father figure. Clunn's also a mentor, a zen guru, a sage soothsayer. Like EF Hutton, when Clunn talks, anglers listen.
James Overstreet and the guy who employs him as a photographer, Steve Bowman, have waged words of war over who should be assigned the task of taking on-the-water photos of Clunn. JO got the nod at Falcon, when Clunn vied for the title. It was Bowman’s turn this time, and it meant the world to him.
“This wasn't the best gallery I’ve ever shot, but it was truly a special gallery for me,” said Bowman, who’s reported on close to 30 Classics and has developed Internet coverage of fishing. “Rick Clunn is an icon of this sport and to watch him win this event at 69 years old will go down as one my career highlights.”
And the victory is important to Clunn and his family. Saturday's flight of his wife and son to get to Florida and the weigh-in was late, but Clunn had other anglers stall for him. He wouldn’t weigh his fish much less bag them until his son, River, arrived.
“I just kind of waited,” Clunn told Davy Hite for First Look. “I kept telling all the guys to tell longer stories than you’ve ever told before – most of the time, it’s ‘Get off the stage.’ They got here about 15 minutes before I weighed in.”
Bowman said he certainly understood Clunn’s desire to have his son see him win, and he thought it also inspired him.
“He is more determined to win than any event that he’s ever fished because of River,” Bowman said. “And that’s it. It’s not about beating 11 guys and making 100,000 dollars. It’s about winning for his son. We as parents, we get that.”
Clunn did explain the victory will hold more meaning for him and his family.
“It will because – you’ve been through it,” he told Hite, “it took me four Bassmaster Classic wins for my daughters to realize I had a real job. My sons were not going to get that opportunity.
“They hear about your history, but that’s just like reading a book or something. This is more important as a family.”
Clunn last won an event in 2002, a couple years before River was born and while Sage, now a senior in high school, was young. River certainly enjoyed the experience, first telling tournament emcee Dave Mercer a victory would be “pretty friggin’ cool.” He stood next to his dad after his 15th B.A.S.S. win, and said “I’m speechless.”
Then Clunn spoke, leaving everyone, especially those up in years, with a provocative thought.
“Never accept that all your best moments are in your past,” he said. “I’m not in my peak, everybody knows that, but that doesn’t mean you’re still not going to have great moments.”
Courtesy of Clunn, Sunday certainly was among the greatest moments in the history of B.A.S.S. And after an epic Classic, this March might end up being the all-time king of the jungle.
A huge crowd (below) came to the Palatka Riverfront in hopes of seeing Clunn crowned.