Rick Clunn quit his job with Exxon in Texas to take on the bass fishing tournament trails, and the final push was him saying that he didn’t want to lament never giving it a shot.
Coming off his historic victory in the Power-Pole Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River, Clunn visited the JM studio recently. While he got a touch of make-up for his TV shoot, the Daily Limit snuck into the green room to pick his fertile mind. A big takeaway was what exactly made him go all-in to fish.
“What really gave me my courage to quit Exxon was my father-in-law was an armchair golf quarterback,” Clunn said. “Every weekend, he and I would be watching Tom Watson or Jack Nicklaus, and he would go ‘Ugh, I could have beat them.’
“It finally hit me one day. I was thinking about B.A.S.S. – that’s going to be me some day. I’m going to be sitting saying, ‘I could have beat them guys.’ Naw. I got to try.”
Tried and succeeded, the Jedi master has. He’s the active leader with 16 B.A.S.S. victories, which puts him fourth all-time. His first win, in the 1976 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville, came 43 years before his most recent. Clunn’s four Classic wins tie for that record, and he’s won a Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. He’s one of 12 anglers who hold Classic and AOY titles.
How he repeated on the St. Johns to eclipse his record as oldest B.A.S.S. tournament winner was one for the ages. Never think your best moments are behind you. Clunn again proved that by landing two fish weighing more than 9 pounds each in the final hours to rally from a huge deficit. His Day 4 big bag of 34-14 gave him 98-14 and a winning margin of almost 4 pounds.
Clunn wasn’t counting his chickens when he began Championship Sunday in eighth place, 11-13 behind leader Chris Johnston. Emcee Dave Mercer interviewed Clunn at the dock, where Clunn reconstituted an absurb line he heard some 35 years earlier en route to winning the 1984 Classic by the largest margin ever, 25-8.
“I jokingly made a statement to Mercer, ‘Yeah, I probably need a 10 and a 12 for a chance to make up 11 pounds,’” Clunn said. “That’s not the first time I ever heard that statement. When I won the Classic in Pine Bluff in Arkansas, I had a huge lead over Hank Parker going into the final day. Hank made the statement jokingly, ‘If I go out there this morning and catch a 12 right off the bat and a 10, I might be able to catch him.’
“So I was telling Mercer, ‘I’m going to use Hank Parker line.’ Here’s the big difference. It ain’t going to happen on the Arkansas River in July. It can happen here. And it did.”
Just making the Top 10 and getting to fish on Sunday was a thrill for Clunn, he said, because there was an incredible wave of fish coming in to spawn. He said there were obvious places to catch them off beds, the reeds and dollar pads, but he knew those fish were getting beaten up so he added something different by casting for staging bass.
“Five or six of the top 10 went there (near Drayton Island), and we were all feasting on them,” Clunn said. “I figured out one thing the others didn’t – the in between fish.
“They were setting up just on the inside line, and the spinnerbait was really what kept showing me those fish. That was a process of a lot of random casts in between the docks, which you had time to do in between the reeds.”
The first two days, Clunn included his 3/4-ounce Luck-E-Strike Trickster Spinnerbait in his rotation with a Hail Mary crankbait and Texas-rigged Gator Tail Worm. He said he might have gotten only one or two bites with the spinnerbait, but they were all quality 5-plus pounders.
“Not all fish are spawning on the obvious – the pilings and the reeds – some are spawning on a good hard spot you can’t see,” Clunn said. “The spinnerbait is what I needed to search for those and cover more of that water in between. They weren’t completely committed to the bed yet, which is good because they still have some aggressive nature to feed.”