Bassmaster.com has asked our team of writers and staff to reflect on their favorite moment of 2016. Rob Newell is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Bassmaster.com.
Without a doubt, the best moment of the 2016 BASS Elite Series for me was Rick Clunn winning the St Johns River event. And I’m sure I’m not alone in that opinion.
For many of us who are over 40 and have followed professional bass fishing since we were kids, Rick Clunn is a fishing icon. I have always thought of him as the Obi-Wan Kenobi of professional bass fishing – a Zen Master who is always trying to be “one with the force” when it comes to catching bass.
In that respect, once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, before Facebook, emails, cellphones, texting and the Internet – yes, even before the Internet – the only way to contact people was by use of a telephone plugged into a wall or by letter in a mailbox.
Back in that galaxy, when I was just a freshman in college, I wrote Rick Clunn a letter – with a pen – asking him about his philosophies in bass fishing. Clunn intrigued me because he was the first angler I had ever heard of that put bass fishing on par of other professional sports in terms of using techniques such as visualization and meditation to win national championship events. Much as pro golfers and basketball players used the “power of positive thinking” and “being one with the course” to put a ball in a hole, Clunn publicly discussed using these same techniques to make bass bite lures.
Clunn’s fishing ideology back then was not exactly welcomed with open arms. Some of his beliefs ruffled a few feathers in the world of bass fishing and he had his fair share of critics who did not approve of his messages. At times he was labeled as being “eccentric,” or “unconventional” or just down right “bizarre.”
I dropped that first letter addressed to Rick Clunn into a mailbox in Auburn, Ala., thinking there was no way I would ever hear back from him.
Several weeks later I received a hand-written letter back from Rick Clunn – the Rick Clunn – who then lived in Montgomery, Texas.
Needless to say, I was stunned and honored – still am to this day.
From that point on, Clunn and I struck up a mailbox friendship, trading hand-written letters about the very philosophies that helped him win four Bassmaster Classics. Much of the written conversations were about “being in the zone” and “touching perfection” in fishing and being able to lose oneself in the natural world in search of, in his words, “little green fish.” He always signed off on his letters encouraging me to follow my dreams, adding his famous tagline: “There are no limits”
Through those letters Clunn also encouraged me to read the works of Henry David Thoreau and Richard Bach. From there I went on a tear through the school library (long before Amazon and Kindles) devouring works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Joseph Campbell, Sun Tzu, William Golding, Joseph Conrad, John Steinbeck and of course, Ernest Hemingway.
In short, Rick Clunn, a professional bass fisherman, introduced me to the world of literature before a college professor ever had an opportunity to do so. Simply put, Clunn is the catalyst that, unbeknownst to him, melded my passion for fishing and my passion for writing into a career.
I am lucky to say that I have had the opportunity to share a boat with Clunn on multiple occasions. I actually practiced with Clunn for several events during the 1990’s, in BASS Invitationals (before they were called Opens) and when he fished the FLW Tour.
During those outings I brought rods, reels, pens, notebooks and cameras on board. But honestly, I didn’t fish much. Instead, it was the pens and paper that got a work out as I sat in the boat for hours watching a Jedi Master wave a fiberglass lightsaber trying to connect with the fishing force. Rick Clunn pursued his craft with such passion, vigor, focus and intensity that he provided me a true education on what professional fishing was really about.
It seems like forty light years have gone by since those days. Nowadays it seems there is a new winning lure every week and the fishing information highway moves at its own light speed. Each year pro fishing’s young, promising prodigies hit the circuits, looking to make their own way in this unique sport. It’s the same fabric classic literature is rooted in.
Through it all, Clunn’s remarkable legacy has helped pave a way in the sport, not only for young pro anglers, but for those of us who are fascinated with their craft through pictures and the written word.
Regrettably, I was not physically present when Clunn won at the St. Johns River. But I didn’t need to be. When he was handed the St. Johns Elite Series trophy, I could feel the bass fishing universe reunite for a moment and become “one with the force.” Anglers young and old, fishing fans, Clunn’s very competitors and even those who once considered him an eccentric renegade all came together to applaud Clunn, not just for his win, but also for all he has contributed to our tremendous sport.