Joel Shangle's favorite moment of 2016

“You hear? Clunn has 35.”

That’s what Greg Hackney said as I walked by him at Palatka Riverfront Park on Day 3 of the 2016 Elite Series season opener on the St. Johns River in Palatka, Fla.

“Huh? Wait, what?!?” I replied. “Did you say ‘35’?”

“Yep,” Hackney said, “that’s what they’re sayin’: Clunn has 35.”

Hackney being Hackney, he said this with his usual half-smirk smile on his face, so I thought maybe he was joking. Surely, Rick Clunn hadn’t caught 35 pounds that day, and Hackney was just goofing around. But as I looked further down the dock, to where Clunn’s Nitro was tied up, it was pretty clear that something was up.

The weigh-in was in full swing – actually, we were about halfway through – and there were more “lurkers” hanging around that dock than I’d ever seen at any Elite event: Hackney. Alton Jones. Steve Kennedy. Skeet Reese. Justin Lucas. Britt Myers. Bradley Roy. Marty Robinson. Cliff Crochet.

All milling around near Clunn’s boat.

And right in the middle of it all sat Clunn, perched on his back-deck butt-seat like the Sphynx. Or, rather, the Sphynx with a cellphone to his ear. Turns out that Rick was on the phone with his wife, Melissa, who at that very moment was making a mad dash from the airport with her and Rick’s youngest son, River.

You see, Rick hadn’t won a tour-level event since 2001, before River was born, so he’d never been able to share that experience with the youngster.

“I’m not bagging my fish until River gets here,” Rick said matter-of-factly.

Just like that. No River, no fish. And so we waited. And waited. And waited.

When River and Melissa finally hustled their way down the dock and River joined his dad on the back deck to bag Rick’s fish, you could’ve sworn that the entire Elite Series field had crowded onto Clunn’s Nitro, and the two boats tied on either side of him.

And what a bag it was: 31 pounds, 7 ounces. Not quite the 35 that Hackney had mentioned, but easily the biggest bag of the event, and Clunn’s ticket to his 15th B.A.S.S. win.

Which, finally, brings me around to my favorite “moment inside the moment” of the 2016 Bassmaster Elite Series.

As the Clunns struggled to offload Rick’s two overloaded weigh-bags from his boat to the dock to begin the 50-yard slog to the stage, Skeet Reese – who has long referred to Rick as “my hero” – jumped in to help.

Of the thousands of snaps I took in 2016 – and, honestly, of all that photos I’ve ever taken of bass tournaments and fishing – this one is my favorite: Rick and River Clunn sharing the load of one bag, Skeet Reese following right behind with bag number two.

I suspect that memory is one of Rick, River and Skeet’s favorites, too.  

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