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.”
CLUNN WANTED TO FISH, NOT SELL
Ike asked Clunn if he’d ever considered marketing his signature floppy hats, and the response was expected and classic.
“I come from the old era,” Clunn said. “I fish for a living. I didn’t fish to make it into a business.”
He did point out one product that he felt he missed out on, and that’s Teva sandals. Sold only to Grand Canyon rafters at the time, Clunn helped popularized them while fishing a U.S. Open.
“They went bigtime. Now every company in the world has some type of Tevas,” he said. “I’m not really good at marketing stuff like that …. I’ve thought about it with those hats.”
PERSPECTIVE IS EVERYTHING
- Clunn’s first career victory, the 1976 Classic on Lake Guntersville, was a long, long time ago. Chew on this. That year, President elect Jimmy Carter was Time’s Man of the Year, Happy Days was the most popular TV show, Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert won at Wimbledon, Nadia Comanici scored perfect 10s and the Olympic decathlon winner was still a man.
- Great friends with Ken and Tammy Cook, Clunn dedicated the victory to them along with his family. Ken Cook, who ran Tarbone hunting ranch in Oklahoma after a great Bassmaster career, died in January. “Saddest thing was,” Clunn said, “they were probably at the happiest point in their life. I don’t care if you believe in God or the devil, I bet Ken chews both their asses out, because he wasn’t ready.”
- Clunn said folks shouldn’t be so hard on Iaconelli for being overzealous on the water. A fan said he was happy Clunn “never threw a fit like Ike does fishing. I said, ‘Wait a minute guys, I did throw fits.’ One time in a Megabucks on Harris Chain, I broke two rods and almost pushed my partner out of the boat. Fortunately back then, Ray Scott and Bob Cobb were scared to death to put anything like that on TV … There’s not a camera on me every second I do something … so take it easy on Ike.”
MANSUE’S 11-POUNDER PROVES CLUNN RIGHT
Didn’t take long for someone else to prove Clunn’s best moments parable. Longtime pro Dave Mansue had such a moment last weekend when he caught a tagged 11.03-pound largemouth while guiding on Toledo Bend.
“It ranks right up there,” Mansue said of his catch. “I caught an 11 at Falcon a few years ago, lots of 9s, including one that was big bass for a B.A.S.S. Tour event on Toho (2005), but the 11s are my only two double digits.”
There was a bigger bass, in the Florida event Dean Rojas set the five-fish record, but Mansue released the foul-hooked behemoth immediately.
His latest lunker is worthy of the Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program, and Mansue’s pretty proud about that. If an angler catches a fish 10 pounds or larger and weighs it one of several official scales around the lake, it will be tagged and released. The angler is later presented with a fiberglass replica. (Ish Monroe received a replica of the 10.15 he caught in the 2012 Elite event there.)
The number of lunker bass brought in has grown since the inception of the program four years ago, from 59, to 65 and 81. Mansue’s fish is No. 111 this calendar year, which starts mid-May.
Part of a new Hemphill Gang, Mansue, 62, had two Louisiana clients on the boat when he landed the brute. They caught a couple 8-pounders before they went in to weigh his fish. The tag offered info that Mansue’s fish weighed 12.11 in January when it was caught by Mike Nolen.
“This was the second fish that was caught twice this year that I’m aware of – proof positive that catch and release works,” said Mansue, who works at Johnston’s Guide Service.
WHERE YA GONNA GO AT WINYAH?
Elite angler Hank Cherry of South Carolina has fished there before, just not for bass. The Huk Performance Bassmaster Elite at Winyah Bay might not be the best bass fishery the pros will encounter this year, but there will be intrigue coming out of Georgetown, S.C., this week.
“Winyah is not a great fishery to begin with,” Cherry said. “I’ve been around the area, flounder fishing and red fishing my whole life. I’ve never bass fished there. It’s not like a bass fishing place if you just want to go bass fishing.”
The question will be risking a run of more than two hours to the Cooper River, where Brian Tyler caught a five-fish limit of largemouth bass weighing 42-3 pounds to win the B.A.S.S. Nation Southern Divisional last March.
“The Cooper River has a lot of big fish in it, but you’re talking a 2- to 2 1/2-hour ride,” Cherry said. “The weights are going to depend on how many fish come out of the Cooper and how many guys can get to the Cooper and come back.”
The forecast calls for storms early on Thursday’s first day, pushing a cold front through that will drop daytime highs into the 60s, while Saturday’s morning low will be in the upper 30s. The real concern for those running the intracoastal and bays will be winds predicted to blow in the upper teens the first three days.
- Might have noticed I went over the five-fish limit. Instead of taking a penalty and throwing the biggest back, let’s just go old school in honor of Clunn and make it a seven-note limit.
- Photo of the Week goes to the Ronnie Moore’s shot of the Carhartt College Western Regional on Lake Mead in Henderson, Nev. See the Texas Tech team fishing? The B.A.S.S. crew is doing double duty on Lake Mead, site of the first Classic in 1971, with a B.A.S.S. Nation Western Regional running Wednesday to Friday.
- Fans visiting the Winyah Bay tournament in Georgetown, S.C., will have a huge list of things to do, starting Tuesday with a Clay Dyer presentation. For a full list of activities, from artists to the state duck calling competition, check out fishgeorgetown.com.
- Congrats to Jesse Wiggins for winning the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open #2 on Smith Lake. He’ll join Classic champ Edwin Evers and Southern Open #1 winner Wesley Strader in the 2017 Classic if he fishes the third and final event on the circuit next month. “I’ll be there with bells on,” Wiggins said.
- Here’s the thought of the week courtesy of Opens tournament director Chris Bowes, who was forced into cancelling Day 1 due to impending storms. “Always a very tough call to cancel a tournament day. Right or wrong I go with what I feel is the best decision for the anglers, volunteers, fans, sponsors and staff. I appreciate all the support. Now, sitting at the ramp making sure all our constituents received the message. Never a dull moment, but I love my job.” We appreciate you putting your heart into it too, Mr. Bowes.