John Murray, the “Rick Clunn of the West,” received Rick Clunn treatment.
Murray drew a great number of his fellow Elites out in front of the stage to watch him win Sunday’s Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend presented by Econo Lodge. That had happened to Clunn last year when he won at St. Johns. After 14 years without a title, Elites young and old paid respects as they watched their hero win.
It was Act II for Murray.
“That’s the whole key to this sport, the friendships,” Murray said.
It’d been a long time for Murray, who was a West Coast fishing legend before heading east to fish B.A.S.S. – one publication called him the “Rick Clunn of the West.” He didn’t have the great one’s resume, but Murray is liked and respected by the pros just the same.
He said he’d almost lost hope of winning one of the blue Elite trophies. His last Bassmaster victory was on the James River in 2004, and it was 14 years ago he took the Open Championship on Toledo Bend, when he won from the same area.
Although he won 31 boats out West and had two U.S. Open titles, the consummate pro, although competitive and cashing checks, only had two top five finishes since 2009. A few years back, Murray had told his young son, T.J., that he would win one someday, but those thoughts slowly faded.
“Since the inception of this (Elite Series), I’ve been trying to win one, and I always thought I would, until recently,” he said. “I really thought I might not win one. We’ve got so many good anglers, so many young guys, I said it just might not happen.”
It was Clunn’s victory, at 69 years of age, that put a little more zip in his step. He said it was kind of rejuvenating, especially after Clunn’s advice that we all shouldn’t resign to think our best moments are past us.
“Rick Clunn winning that tournament, I actually said, ‘You have a shot to do it again,’” Murray said. “To finally really do it, that’s pretty hard to imagine. It still seems like a dream. I think my alarm is going to go off in a few minutes.”
His phone was blowing up with all the congratulatory calls and texts. It’s the respect the other anglers have for him that had them celebrating for Murray. He said he cried while sitting at his computer when Britt Myers won last year, and Myers reciprocated Sunday.
Skeet Reese was the gang leader of a group that stood to the side cheering on Murray. It included Hank Cherry, Brett Hite and Todd Faircloth. Reese, who’s from California, posted a video of himself just as Murray was coming off the stage with his trophy. “That’s my boy,” Reese started, then explained. “John Murray, nobody deserves to win more than him.”
Todd Faircloth, who finished eighth, said that while he wanted to win as much as anyone else, if he couldn’t, it was good to see Murray do it.
“Seeing so many of us Elite Series pros in the audience to see John’s winning moment is a true testament to the guy John is,” Faircloth wrote. “A great angler, a great guy and a great family. Super happy for John and his family.”
That about sums things up on Murray.
THE GIGGLE THAT SHOOK FISHING WORLD
It was the giggle that shook the bass fishing world. John Murray fought and fought his first 7-pound fish Sunday, and after getting it in the boat, offered up a childlike giggle of sheer glee. It was followed by an “I don’t know.”
Emcee Dave Mercer asked Murray where that giggle, that was replayed numerous times on Bassmaster LIVE and will be replayed many more times in the future, came from.
“That came from somewhere,” Murray said. “When you get blessed like that … Everyone says when it’s your day, it’s your day. Today was my day.
“I’m just thankful it happened here at Toledo Bend. I was a big fan of the Hemphill Gang – Tommy Martin, all those guys. All those big stars that started right here on Toledo Bend. For me to win a tournament on this lake again, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”