Rick Clunn: Mr. October

Rick Clunn’s unprecedented run of four Bassmaster Classic titles began with two wins in 1976 and 1977. What’s also remarkable is Clunn’s lesser-known Classic hot streak that continued for the next two years. 

Clunn became the first back-to-back Classic winner, and then finished second in 1978 and third in 1979, narrowly missing what legitimately would have been a fourpeat. 

Clunn earned the nickname “Mr. October” from Bassmaster editor Bob Cobb, and rightfully so, as the wins (and other accolades) came when the Classic happened in October. 

In 1978, Clunn lost a six-pounder on Ross Barnett in the final hour to finish second with 31 pounds, 10 ounces, or about six pounds behind winner Bobby Murray. He was in striking distance again in 1979, coming up three keepers shy of the win behind winner Hank Parker and runner-up Basil Bacon. 

The little-known backstory is that Mr. October had a less than stellar buildup to that impressive streak. In a candid and revealing podcast with Bassmaster Elite Series emcee Dave Mercer, Clunn disclosed the hardships that nearly derailed his now celebrated career, and how those wins turned his life around in short order. 

At the time, aspiring pros like Larry Nixon, Tommy Martin, Clunn and others relied on income from guiding to supplement their tournament winnings. For Clunn, that meant guiding clients from Houston on nearby Lake Conroe. 

“The income from the guide trips got me to the tournaments, but I needed the tournament checks to get me back home,” Clunn said. 

Clunn had quit a job with Exxon as a computer programmer to pursue his dream. The first two years of his career, 1974 and 1975, he competed in 13 B.A.S.S. events, earning checks in eight of those. Spread across two years, the winnings weren’t quite enough to pay the bills. The financial drought would end the next year. 

“I was a failure by all descriptions of what we call success, but I liked myself more than I ever had,” he recalled. “That was when I knew I was never quitting; I had to make it work.

“I knew I had to take it to another level that nobody had never taken it to. I recognized that winning a Classic was the solution to my career longevity.” 

What came next was definitive Clunn, even at the age of 30, when he was just beginning to hone his mental prowess that defines him today. He won the 1976 Classic at Guntersville and the next year at Lake Tohopekaliga to earn $25,950 and $25,775, respectively. 

“Everything changed overnight after the first win,” he recalled. “It went from getting a few calls a year for guide trips, to a single call from an oil company wanting to know how many days I had available.” 

Clunn answered that question with 130 available days, and the company prepaid for them all. The phone kept ringing with sponsors eager to sign contracts. Flip through the pages of Bassmaster and you’d find Clunn appearing in ads from cover to cover. More notably, Clunn set off on a quest to master his curiosity of how the mind works and apply it to his fishing, paving the way for more success and culminating in 2024 with what will be his 50th year of competing.  

Rick Clunn in 1976 with his first Classic trophy.

In 1976 at Guntersville, Clunn’s payday included a $950 bonus for weighing the biggest bass of the tournament, a difference maker for his winning weight of 59 pounds, 15 ounces, over runner up Bo Dowden’s final tally of 56-4. Clunn put together a perfect game plan — a pattern for big bass early, then an afternoon of picking over the smaller largemouth. It was Clunn’s ability to catch the big fish, weighing 7-13, 6-5, 6-3 and 4-9, that made the difference. 

Even back then, Clunn dropped hints of his philosophical mindset that drives the physical side of his game. 

“In any sport or business, the most successful have more than just ability,” he was quoted in Bassmaster. “What level of fishing success you seek will be greatly affected by your confidence, enthusiasm and dedication. The degree of these intangibles you possess will determine your eventual degree of success.” 

Two fingers for a second consecutive Classic win in 1977.

In 1977, Clunn continued the momentum at Lake Toho, although it was a tough win. He took the lead on Day 1 and eventually won with 27-7 over the 25-11 weighed by runner-up Larry Nixon. Clunn won the tournament on the first day and strictly hung on for survival the following two rounds. In the opening round, he brought in nine bass (of a 10-bass limit), including a 7-7 largemouth that anchored his 19-10 weight. The next day, Clunn had two bass weighing 5-1, and the final day, Clunn boated one keeper weighing 2-12. By all accounts, the 7-pounder turned out to be the difference maker. 

Clunn at Ross Barnett Reservoir in 1978.

The 1978 Classic at Ross Barnett came down to the wire with a final day shootout between Clunn and eventual winner Murray, who would become the second two-time Classic winner. Clunn took the lead first with 31-10 and then came Murray with a final weight of 37-9. Clunn earned $10,500 for the effort. 

“About 45 minutes ago, I had the chance (for a three-peat),” Clunn was quoted in Bassmaster. “A good fish, about a six-pounder jumped and threw the spoon.”

Clunn in 1979 at Lake Texoma.

The Classic visited Lake Texoma the next year. Of the four top finishers, Clunn was the only top-finishing angler not using a new western-borne long-rod technique called flipping. Hank Parker, Basil Bacon, Clunn and Gary Klein were those top finishers. Parker won with 31 pounds and Clunn posted 23-12 for third place for a $5,000 paycheck. 

Clunn’s combined base winnings and big bass bonuses for those three Classics totaled $67,175, not counting the lucrative sponsorships that came with those successes. Clunn’s stock with sponsors soared. He was young, quotable, and highly marketable, above and beyond his evolving skillsets. 

Clunn won two more Classics, in 1984 and 1990, making the Classic and Clunn synonymous words. From Mr. October to Classic Clunn, here are more notable statistics. 

  • 28: Most consecutive Classics (1974-2001)
  • 32: Most Classics fished 
  • 4: Classic wins
  • 11: Top 5 Classic finishes
  • 16: Top 10 Classic finishes
  • 1976-1977: Back-to-back Classic wins
  • 25 pounds, 8 ounces: Largest Margin of Victory (1984)