Super stats for St. Johns: 72, 34-14, 98-14

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Rick Clunn walking to victory.
Andy Crawford
Rick Clunn walking to victory.

All sorts of superlative numbers came from the St. Johns River last week. But these are the ones that stand above the rest:

  • 72, champion Rick Clunn’s age;
  • 34-14, the five-bass limit Clunn caught on the final day, which topped Clifford Pirch’s jaw-dropping 34-9 the previous day;
  • 98-14, the four-day total it took to win the Power-Power Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River.

When Clunn, a four-time Bassmaster Classic champion, earned his first and only Elite Series title here in 2016, at the age of 69, he said, “Never accept that all your best moments are in your past.” 

Editor's note: More St. Johns Stats.

That victory looks easy compared to what Clunn did Sunday. Rather than starting with a 6-pound lead, like he did on Day 4 in ’16, Clunn began the morning in 8th place, 11 pounds, 13 ounces behind leader Chris Johnston. The 29-year-old Johnston, fishing in his first Elite Series event, didn’t exactly fold under pressure. He weighed a respectable 19-5 bag. Johnston’s four-day second-place total of 95-2 would have won the previous four Elite Series tournaments on the St. Johns going away. 

Just when you think you’ve seen about everything the sport of tournament bass fishing has to offer, a 72-year-old man, who started the day almost 12 pounds out of first place, maintains his confidence and exerts his willpower to the point of catching not one but two 9-pound-plus bass in the afternoon hours of Day 4 to win the championship.

“Never accept that all your best moments are in your past.” Whatever you say, Rick Clunn, whatever you say.

Clunn’s monumental achievement, however, shouldn’t completely overshadow what the St. Johns River produced over four days: 5 bags topping 30 pounds and 13 bags over 25 pounds. It got to the point where a 20-pound bag on the weigh-in stage left the big crowd at Palatka feeling let down. 

It should be noted that the Elite Series has produced one five-bass limit on the St. Johns heavier than Clunn’s 34-14 Sunday. Chris Lane caught a 37-pound, 8-ounce bag on Day 2 in 2014 and wasn’t challenged the final two days. His four-day total of 90-13, the previous high on the Elite Series from the St. Johns River, gave him a 14-pound, 4-ounce margin over second place.

It was those five 30-pound bags and four 4-day totals topping 91 pounds that made last week on the St. Johns River standout. One man didn’t run away with the title. Over four days, there were three different individual leaders. Is the St. Johns River better than it has ever been?

Davy Hite, who brought his wife, Natalie, here on their honeymoon in 1986, has a theory.

“This is a great fishery and it always has been,” said Hite, who finished 10th here in 2016 and 5th in 2014 before retiring to the “Bassmaster LIVE” desk. “It was great when I came here in 1986, it was great long before then, and it’s a great fishery now.

“I really think our fishermen are better. They all know how to catch ‘em. In the past when we had a front come through like happened in this tournament, I just don’t think we had as many people that knew how to make those fish bite.

“It’s a combination of some of the older guys that have continued to learn, like Rick Clunn, and now we’ve got thousands of young people coming up through high school and college bass fishing, like (24-year-old) Patrick Walters (who finished 4th in his first Elite Series tournament).  They absolutely take this is serious as you can get. They have no intention of this being a hobby.”