Rick Clunn – forever young

Rick Clunn and Cody Huff pose with Clunn's two Bassmaster Elite Series trophies.

PALATKA, Fla. – Let 24-year-old Cody Huff tell you how 75-year-old Rick Clunn feels as he begins another Bassmaster Elite Series season. The two Ava, Mo., residents left town early last week to avoid the winter storm that swept through the Ozarks. Official practice was still a couple of days away, so Clunn took Huff around to all the various boat ramps along the St. Johns River, which Huff would need to make official practice days more efficient. 

“He knows it all by heart,” said Huff, an Elite Series rookie.

And as for Clunn’s attitude on the eve of his 48th B.A.S.S. tournament season, “He’s just as excited as a 12-year-old kid,” Huff said. “It’s crazy.”

Crazy inspirational. Think about it this way: Clunn has been fishing B.A.S.S. tournaments – 48 years – twice as long as the 24-year-old Huff has been alive. And he’s still exhilarated by it.

“The neatest thing about fishing is it doesn’t reduce you to being an armchair quarterback,” Clunn said. “You can do it if you’re six or 60.” He pauses and adds with a laugh, “Now I’m pushing the envelope beyond that.”

The St. Johns River is the site of Clunn’s two greatest late-career accomplishments. He won Elite Series events here in 2016 and 2019. The final day weigh-ins both years, where a legend proved he’s still got what it takes to win, left many an adult in tears. He’s as much an inspiration to the over-60 age group as he is to the under 40. Clunn has no expectations of success – or failure – this week. He finished 99th – last place – here a year ago.

“It’s what I call the curse of greatness,” he said. “Everybody around you has these expectations. Your expectations become your measuring stick. That’s why I like being around young anglers. Young anglers don’t have those expectations. It’s all new to them. They’re here for one reason – to be a good fisherman.”

That’s why Clunn is here too. If expectations were still swirling in his head, he would have retired years ago. Clunn’s record includes four Bassmaster Classic titles, 32 Classic appearances and more than $2.6 million in B.A.S.S. winnings. However, he hasn’t qualified for the Classic since 2009. It’s all about staying in the moment for Clunn. There’s no lingering on past accomplishments or energy spent on expectations of the future.

“I have historically tended to gravitate toward younger anglers,” Clunn said. “You get old and you get grumpy. It’s not a good environment.” 

Huff and Clunn have a long relationship that began over a decade ago when Clunn moved his family to the Missouri Ozarks. He’s watched Huff have success in local tournaments, on the college level and through Elite Series qualification in the Bassmaster Opens Central Division last year.

“I’ve got a good young coach,” said Clunn, noting how Huff has been particularly helpful in educating him about the latest advancements in sonar.

Clunn often begins a seminar session for young anglers by asking them if they believe in zombies. It’s not something they are expecting to hear. “They start looking around the room, thinking, I’ve been out in the sun too long,” Clunn said.

But it’s a memorable introduction to a key point of Clunn’s philosophy. A zombie, by definition, is a creature capable of movement and incapable of rational thought. We can become “zombies” in so many scenarios of life by doing things the same way we’ve always done them, rather than using our five senses and our minds to see all the possibilities in front of us, according to Clunn.

Doing just that – being fully awake and aware – is what Rick Clunn’s philosophy of life in general and bass fishing in particular has always been about.

“It’s what makes us alive,” he said. “Fishing does that for us. It forces us to be alive more than we normally would.”

And it has kept Rick Clunn, forever young.