Each year that Rick Clunn qualifies for the Bassmaster Classic, he is making history. He has appeared in more Classics than any angler and along the way he has scored four wins, another Classic record. In those four wins are the only back-to-back wins, his 1976 and 1977 victories. Clunn's Classic record is the stuff legends are made of, and each year offers him a host of chances at more records.
For starters, if Clunn wins this Classic he will be the oldest angler (63) to ever win a Classic, an honor currently held by Woo Daves, who won on Lake Michigan in 2000 when he was 54. With a win this year, he will have won a Classic in every decade starting in seventies. 1976 was the first of his back-to-back wins. Along with 1976, Clunn won in 1977, 1984 and 1990. This year's event is his last chance at keeping this streak alive. He is the only one to whom this record will ever be available.
A Different Animal
Having fished the vast majority of Classics, Clunn feels nostalgia for the way the Classic used to be. He feels that the modern Classics have lost some of the purity found in earlier years by announcing the event's location in advance, but also sees the virtue in this arrangement.
"By knowing where the Classic will be held, we can go and fish it ahead of time and some guys will seek out local help," he said. "We used to not know where it was until all the anglers were on a plane 30,000 feet in the air. However, switching to the current setup has allowed the sport to grow. Now more fans and media can be there and get involved."
The extended practice periods of today allow anglers to be much more familiar with the body of water they're up against. Clunn feels that this has taken away some of the "test" part of the test of the best.
"Back then, we only had one day to prefish. Now we can have months. This takes away some of the advantage guys like me and (Kevin) VanDam have, our ability to find fish," he said. "He and I are the best in the world at finding fish. If we were still under the old format, I would've won at least a dozen of these things by now, and Kevin would have seven or eight."
Even though the current format allows anglers to seek help from locals, Clunn refuses to take the advice of anyone else.
"I don't need anyone else's help. That's not me boasting, but simply saying I have confidence in my abilities, something that can't come from any local no matter how good they may be at a body of water."
Factors And Detractors
Clunn says his "fish sense" helps him when other anglers may be hard pressed to figure the fish out.
"Because I can find fish, things like bad weather are my friend," he says. "If there's a cold front, like there is now or high winds, these things all affect the fish and where they're at. If you can't find them in changing conditions, you're not going to do well. In good weather, 75 percent of the field has high hopes. In bad, that number drops to 10 percent — the guys who have confidence in their ability to find fish."
Despite the wealth of practice time, Clunn has not changed his approach to the Classic. He maintains that his fish-finding ability goes farther than any locals' help ever could. He also says this is the reason for his longevity in the sport, and success in tournament fishing.
"I've never admired the one year wonders. They set the bar too low for themselves and don't give themselves the chance to expand their skill set," he says.
What's Old Is Still New
Clunn still feels every Classic he fishes is special, regardless of how he qualifies. Seeing as many Classics as he has seen has given him the chance to solidify his legacy as one of bass fishing's greatest anglers.
"For the new guys, they can get beside themselves with excitement. Just being here is enough for them. For me, each Classic is special because I have longevity. It's the accumulation of my success that makes everything worthwhile," he says. "The fact that I have been successful doing what I love to do for 35 years is incredible. I get my gratification from doing this on a long-term basis."
How long will Clunn fish at the highest level?
"As long as I feel the sport is still about fishing. While sponsors are a necessary part of the sport, it is still about fishing. That's the way it should be. If I could go out there and not have a single sponsor, I'd do it."