There’s not much that Rick Clunn hasn’t accomplished in the world of bass fishing. Four GEICO Bassmaster Classic titles, 32 Classic appearances, a Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year award, 15 B.A.S.S. wins, innumerable honors and some legendary moments that are ingrained in fishing’s collective conscience ⎯ like his dominance at the 1984 Classic attended by George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton … or his miraculous final round comeback at the 1990 championship on the James River.
But you knew that, right? It’s part of the legend and the lore.
Here are a few things you probably didn’t know about Rick Clunn:
Photo: B.A.S.S. Captions by Ken Duke
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1. He’s not from Texas.
Clunn was actually born in Raisin City, California (near Fresno), but moved to Texas with his family at a young age. He’s also lived in New Mexico and Missouri (where he and his family now reside). Clunn is one of three anglers to have qualified for the Classic while residing in three different states (or two states and another country). Roland Martin and Kotaro Kiriyama are the others.
Photo: Rick Clunn
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2. He had some tough high school sports competition.
As a teen, Clunn played baseball for La Porte High School in Texas. Just up the road in Alvin was a young pitcher named Nolan Ryan. “The Ryan Express” was locally famous back then for his explosive fastball and almost total lack of control. He once struck out 21 batters in a seven-inning high school game. (Do the math.) In the Major Leagues, he would throw a record seven no hitters, strike out 5,714 batters (nearly a thousand more than second best) and walk 2,795 more (ditto). When La Porte High School faced off against Alvin High School with Ryan on the mound, Clunn explained the situation like this: “I was a second baseman, but I wasn’t a starter. No one wanted to be a starter that day.”
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3. He wrote a book after his second Classic win.
After going back-to-back in the 1976 and 1977 Bassmaster Classics, Clunn teamed with legendary outdoor writer Steve Price on Rick Clunn’s World Championship Bass Fishing (1978). It’s a great read that juxtaposes elements of Clunn’s journey as an angler with lessons designed to help any bass fisherman improve his approach to the sport.
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4. He endorsed a board game.
In 1977, a Maryland company called King’s Kids, Inc., produced “LUNKER,” a fishing board game (1-8 players; ages 8 to 80) that used Clunn’s image in the packaging and quoted him as saying “LUNKER is the closest thing to real fishing I’ve ever experienced.” Players used their game pieces to maneuver around the board (lake) and identify the best places to fish, then rolled the dice to see if they caught something and how big it was. The dice part was luck, but selecting the right area to fish (based on season and weather parameters) was not.
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5. The Zone.
In Nick Taylor’s account of life on the bass tournament trail, Bass Wars (1988), Clunn is quoted as saying, “I can control the outcome of a tournament if I really want to do it.” It was a bold statement that drew a lot of attention, but it really only hints at Clunn’s beliefs about tapping into something much deeper and more significant and more fragile than just chunking and winding. Many call it “The Zone,” but few have been able to reach it on a regular basis.
Photo: James Overstreet
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6. He published a four-part fishing course in 1996.
Angler’s Quest sought to supplement traditional teaching with more focus on “the intuition and the spirit,” noting that “the infinite, uncontrollable variables that anglers experience requires the use of all our abilities.” Clunn’s metaphysical approach to the sport led to his nickname, “The Zen Master.” Other Angler’s Quest staff included Phil Whittemore, Gary Klein and Randy Blaukat.
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7. He tailored his tournament style to fit the Bassmaster Classic.
Early on, Clunn realized that if he was to have a career in professional bass fishing, he needed to win the Classic. So he developed his tournament approach to fit that model. At the time (mid 1970s), the Classic was a mystery event. The qualifiers met at an airport and were flown to the destination with no hint as to where it might be. Then they had just one day of practice before competition started. To best prepare himself for that format, Clunn approached regular season events “cold,” used only information that he gleaned himself during practice and essentially fished every tournament like it was a Classic. “It was the smartest thing I did early in my career,” he has said.
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8. So many honors.
Most fishing fans know that Clunn was honored as the best of all-time in 2005 as part of ESPN’s Greatest Angler Debate, but you probably didn’t know that he was the first recipient of B.A.S.S.’ Outstanding Achievement Award in 2002. The award has also been called the B.A.S.S. “Lifetime Achievement Award” though it hasn’t been bestowed since 2007. The award was created “to honor those whose contributions have helped make bass fishing one of the most popular sports in the nation.”
Photo: Rick Clunn
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9. It’s been almost 40 years since his first win.
To be exact, the gap between Clunn’s first B.A.S.S. win (the 1976 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville) and his most recent victory (the 2016 Elite event on the St. Johns River) is 39 years, 4 months and 15 days. It’s also the longest such stretch in B.A.S.S. history by more than a decade. The time between Woo Daves’ first and most recent wins is just over 29 years. That was the record before Clunn won the St. Johns River Elite.
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10. He’s not the oldest angler to compete in the Elite Series.
That distinction belongs to Guy Eaker, who was more than 70 when he retired from the Elite Series in 2010. In fact, this is the first year that Clunn is the oldest angler in the Elite field. Since Eaker’s retirement, Dave Smith was the oldest until now. Clunn cannot surpass Eaker’s record as oldest Elite pro until the 2017 season opener.
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11. He wants to play in the World Series of Poker.
What do Rick Clunn and poker legend Doyle (“Texas Dolly”) Brunson have in common? For one thing, they each won back-to-back world championships in 1976 and 1977 ⎯ Clunn at the Bassmaster Classic and Brunson at the Main Event of the World Series of Poker. For another, Brunson is a staple at the WSOP Main Event and Clunn wants to be. Unfortunately, Clunn’s tournament and appearance schedule prevent that from happening. One day though, expect to see him on the felt at the feature table. Clunn already knows what it’s like to pull out a miracle on the river. Just ask him about the James in 1990.