Rick Clunn believes he’s now bona fide in the eyes of his sons.
Clunn’s victory in the Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River presented by Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels was his first since 2002, and it backed up why folks for years had been telling his boys, Sage and River, that their dad was a bass fishing legend.
One of Clunn’s favorite movie lines comes from O Brother, Where Art Thou? when the daughters dismiss George Clooney’s character, saying, “But you ain’t bona fide.” Clunn relates to that somewhat because he’s lived it … twice.
“We as fishermen don’t realize that what we do is very, very strange in the context of modern society and what most kids look at their fathers as having jobs,” he told the audience on IKE LIVE last week. “They hear from friends all the time, ‘You’re dad’s a fishing legend, your dad’s this, your dad’s that,’ to the point where they get sick of it.
“To them, I’m not the fishing legend. I’m Rick Clunn, dad. But all the sudden they do get to see what everybody is talking about. There is some truth to what other people have been saying.”
Winning does that. The boys have witnessed – River firsthand – that pops can run with the wolves and be top dog. Clunn had to prove the same years ago, too.
His daughters, now grown with their own families, often wondered what dad did, he said. He’d leave for weeks at a time then come home and hang around the house with Brooke and Cortney. One day, Cortney, looking up to him from his lap, asked, “When are you going to get a real job in a store?”
“Basically, what she was saying was she didn’t know what I did,” Clunn said. “I don’t have a job like the other dads do who go off every day and come back every night. When I did do my job, most of the time they’re not around to witness it.”
But when kids travel, see some launches and weigh-ins, actually live it, they can see dad is indeed bona fide, not some gypsy flitting about. Clunn thinks that’s been an issue for awhile, and maybe not just with the anglers’ children.
“When you told people you were a fisherman, it wasn’t like being a football player or basketball player,” Clunn said. “You weren’t bona fide. You didn’t have a job. You were playing hooky from school or work, or whatever. This kind of makes you feel like they maybe understand a little better more what you’re doing.”
Mike Iaconelli said he can certainly relate. His Classic title and Angler of the Year came years ago, and picking up an Elite Series win in his home state in 2014 was huge for him and his family.
“When I won on the Delaware River, in front of all my kids, it was very similar,” Ike said. “For Drew and Riley, to see me win as teenagers was very emotional for me. And it was important.”
Both anglers are for sure the pater familias, and Clunn said he thinks it’s great to have kids see dad’s success for themselves, of course he joked his might be short-lived: “They’ll forget that tournament in a few weeks when I chew them out over something.”
BEST MOMENTS STILL TO COME
Iaconelli commended Clunn for inspirational words that any person’s best moments don’t have to be behind them, no matter their age. Clunn added that he was guilty of forgetting that.
“Human nature, unfortunately, we have the tendency go through a period where we’re at our highest point. Hopefully that lasts for a while, maybe 10, 15, 20 years,” Clunn said. “When you get older and come out of that peak period – I’m using myself as an example – human psyche wrongfully tells us your best is behind you.”
In 2013 on Falcon Lake, Clunn caught the biggest bag of his career on Day 2 then topped it with 34 pounds the next day. He topped 100 pounds for the first and only time in his 42 years of tournament fishing, although he ended second to Keith Combs.
“It just kind of turned on a lightbulb in my head, maybe I can’t maintain the peak I was at, but there’s still great moments to be experienced,” he said. “If you just go out and engage life aggressively. That’s true at all levels – with family, children, our jobs, our recreation, whatever.
“I repeated that intentionally because I was guilty myself of thinking my greatest moments were in the past, and they’re not.”
Ike and crew often mention winning comes because “things are meant to be,” and that was the case in the St. Johns victory. Clunn said finding Brent Chapman in his area after he left it turned fortunate. They raced to the spot on Day 3, and Chapman was catching the “dog out” of 2-pounders, so Clunn left the confined area. He went to his secondary spot where he hoped to get a limit of smaller fish then return and try to cull up alongside Chapman.
“Where I thought the little fish were, I caught the 31 pounds when the weather came,” he said. “It was just one of those things. Going with the flow is just so critical. Him being there is why I ended up on that right spot at the right window of time, doing the exact right thing.”
Clunn said that window was only about an hour. Then those early big bites on Day 4 helped cement that the victory was meant to be.
STRIKE UP THE BAND
To say Clunn’s victory sent huge shockwaves around the bass fishing world is pretty much an understatement. Like Jerry McKinnis said, it’d be comparable to Ted Williams winning a batting title at the age of 69.
Clunn’s 15th victory in B.A.S.S. reached the far ends of the bass fishing world, and Clunn certainly said it felt different from his others.
“My early victories, the only people there were the local high school band and my family,” he said to laughs. “I’ve never experienced a victory with this much attention ever, not even close … The immediacy now is completely different.”
His previous victories might show up in a couple newspapers after that weekend, then a month or two later appear in magazines and on TV three to six months later. This time, Clunn said he was amazed at how many folks acknowledged his win on the drive home from St. Johns to Ava, Mo. In the past, there might be one or two folks on a trip recognize his wrap and say something.
“I swear, all the way from Florida, a truck driver or somebody would come up, ‘I saw you win,’” he said. “That’s not counting the phone, email, Facebook. It’s all been very, very positive, but also overwhelming.”