As the world mourned President George H.W. Bush last week, Rick Clunn recalled some memorable interactions with him, and he believes Bush should receive more credit for helping professional bass fishing.
Clunn and Bush crossed paths several times, but those limited encounters offered Clunn some unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, including surreal trips on Air Force One and fishing with the First Couple on B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott’s lake.
Clunn spent enough time with Bush to discern that the 41st president of the United States was a “truly good man far above his position of power and influence.” And it was Bush appearing at B.A.S.S. events that put a national spotlight on bass fishing, Clunn said.
“Our sport kind of came bona fide after Bush came to the 1984 Classic,” Clunn said. “Bass fishing became more of a legitimate career.”
Visiting fairs and kissing bass
Bush’s first visit to a Bassmaster Classic actually occurred at the 1979 event on Lake Texoma. Bush, who had served in Congress and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was working on his first presidential campaign, and he even hired Scott to chair his Alabama efforts.
Clunn was coming off a spectacular run, becoming the first man to win back-to-back Classics (1976-77), and he was second in 1978. He was in the mix again at Texoma, eventually finishing third, and he most likely would have won if not for a late penalty, something he laments to this day.
Clunn didn’t even meet Bush at Texoma, but he said the Texas oilman turned politician was appreciated for focusing the national spotlight on the Bassmasters.
“The Classic had been a secretive deal, but that was the first time that any major media showed up,” Clunn said. “The Washington Post, The New York Times, all these big papers that had never been at a Bassmaster Classic before.
“Then in 1984, he came to the Classic in Pine Bluff, Ark. It was one of our first drive-up weigh-ins, and the crowd went nuts. Of course, he was vice president and Bill Clinton was the governor. Here’s two big politicians, both of them standing on each side of me. That, all the sudden, I felt bona fide.”
The photo of a triumphant Clunn with two future presidents on the weigh-in stage holds high status in the 50 years of B.A.S.S. At that time, Scott’s organization was growing in small increments before Bush’s major boost.