Ava, a town of about 3,000 in southwest Missouri, can now claim its citizens have an astounding 33 berths in the Bassmaster Classic after Cody Huff’s victory last Thursday in the Bassmaster College Classic Bracket.
Huff, a senior at bass fishing powerhouse Bethel University, will be making his first appearance in next year’s GEICO Bassmaster Classic. Ava’s more famous angler, Rick Clunn, accounts for the other 32 qualifications, including a record-tying four wins.
Despite 50 years separating them, the two have become friends. During the live broadcast of Huff’s win over Bethel teammate Carter McNeil, Clunn, 73, spoke highly of the 22-year-old as he skyped into the show.
“One thing I’ve admired about Cody is he is always in control. I think he’s translated that over to fishing,” said Clunn, adding that college competition better prepares anglers for the next level. “They got better information, they got better coaching. They’re spending more time at an early age on the water. I’m fishing against a lot of them now at the Elite level who came out of college. They embrace the science of it. They all have a competitive background.”
And Huff has surely benefited from his friendship with the bass fishing legend, who offers nuggets of wisdom in nearly every breath. Huff knows he has probably the greatest mentor ever in Clunn.
“I can’t tell you how lucky I’ve been to becoming such good friends with him,” Huff said. “I talk to him every week or two. We stay in touch. I call him to see how his tournament went when he goes off and fishes an Elite event. It’s pretty cool.
“We get to sneak off and go off fishing every now and again together, but it doesn’t happen as often enough as we like, both being so busy. I’m super lucky being to be such good friends with him.”
It stands to reason two people in the same town with similar interests might cross paths and develop a relationship, but Huff wasn’t taking any chances after he figured out he really wanted to fish competitively. He said he has looked up to Clunn since he was very young and sent him a message on Facebook.
“I thought I’ll never hear back, but I thought it’s worth a try,” Huff said. “In no time, he got back to me. We started talking from there, and we hit it off and became really good friends. He’s done a lot to help me out.”
On the live show, Clunn said it was something Huff actually did at tournament that helped the connection grow. Clunn’s youngest son, River, was watching the boat but needed an assist, and Huff was there.
“I didn’t know this until later,” Clunn said, “(River) fell in and Cody went over and pulled him from the lake. That’s how we kind of got to know him a little more personally.”
Clunn gave glowing reports on Huff, especially his connection with nature. Always professing a zen-like approach to fishing, Clunn said the opportunities on the water and in the woods growing up in Douglas County afford Huff a great advantage.
“One thing that I see that Cody has that may give him an edge is his connection to nature,” Clunn said. “That connection allows him to really stay more focused on what’s going on with the nature itself. He’s kind of like the wildlife; he feels the heat, he feels the cold, he feels the wind. And he has a lot of confidence in his feelings.
“I’ve been around him awhile. He’s got a great support system with his family, his mother and father. All of us know you have to have that kind of support system. But again, he’s just one of those kids who has special gift when it comes to the outdoors, and he had good control of his emotions.”
Clunn has helped bolster it. Huff knows he’s benefited from simply being around Clunn — that knowledge on what it takes to be successful in bass fishing is shared through time fishing together and even just talking.
“There’s so much I can’t begin to name it all,” Huff said. “From Day 1, he’s always talked about it’s 90 percent mental. Just all the time to just be able to keep your head right. To get in a situation like this and you’re under this much stress, if you can’t control the mental side of things, you sure as heck not going to catch a fish.
“He’s helped me out a ton on that aspect, just the way you look at things. If you’re confident in what you’re doing, just relax and trust your instincts, you’re better off. Don’t overthink everything.”