Amazing. Or any other superlative you can think of. Just put it in front of Rick Clunn’s name. I guess “Legendary” would be most appropriate. When it comes to fishing, there are all kinds of big-name anglers, TV hosts, tournament champions and the like.
But the amazing Mr. Clunn just added another star to his bass fishing sky Sunday evening. But first, remember this. He’s 72 years old. Fishing in pro bass tournaments in all kinds of weather is tough. Up early. Out late. Exposed to almost any kind of elements. It’s the only pro sport that you can’t actually see the goal. And you have to fool Mother Nature. I’d like to see Tom Brady compete like that.
After becoming the oldest angler ever to win a Bassmaster Elite Series event in 2016 on the St. Johns River, Rick Clunn provided what has become one of the most famous quotes in professional bass fishing history when he said,
“Never accept that all of your best moments are in your past.”
Now there’s a quote an old man could love.
On Sunday, he walked it like he talks it. Clunn, who turned 72 in July, broke his own record for agelessness, winning the Power-Pole Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River with a four-day total of 98 pounds, 14 ounces. His amazing week was punctuated on Championship Sunday with a tournament-best limit of five bass that weighed 34-14.
It was the 16th career victory for Clunn, whose $100,000 first-place paycheck put him over $2.5 million in career earnings with B.A.S.S.
“I think this just reinforces what I said after I won here in 2016,” Clunn said. “A long time ago, I stopped paying attention to timelines. The terrible twos, the ugly teens, the midlife crisis, retirement time — I don’t pay any attention to any of that.
“If you listen to everybody else, you’ll get premature notions about who you really are.”
This week, there was no doubt about it. He was “Rick Clunn: Legend.”
The Ava, Mo., angler started modestly with a limit of 17-5 on Day 1. But he inched his way up the standings with 23-11 on Day 2 and then caught 23-0 on Day 3 to make Sunday’s Top 10 cut in eighth place with a three-day total of 64-0.
He joked after Saturday’s semifinal weigh-in that he might need a 10-pounder and a 12-pounder on Sunday to have any chance of winning. While he didn’t quite make those marks, he came close by weighing in two fish over 9 pounds, including a 9-14 that ranked as the biggest bass of the day.
His three key baits all week were a big lipless crankbait from Luck-E-Strike called a Hail Mary, a 3/4-ounce Luck-E-Strike Trickster Spinnerbait with a shellcracker-colored skirt and a Texas-rigged gatortail worm.
“I thought the bream pattern was important for the spinnerbait this week,” Clunn said. “The bass are bedding here, and I know how much the bass really don’t like the bream around their beds.”
The spinnerbait bite improved steadily throughout the week, thanks to a cold front that brought wind and cloud cover to the region. After catching bass on the deeper ends of boat docks in practice, Clunn said the fish had moved so shallow they were under the walkways of the docks by the weekend — and that made for a perfect spinnerbait situation.
In the event that he missed a strike on the spinnerbait, he would follow up quickly with the worm. That was the key to landing his biggest bass Sunday.
Personally, I’ve been blessed to actually share the boat with Rick Clunn a couple of times back in the day as a press angler in the BASS Masters Classic. One of those times was on the Arkansas River out of Pine Bluff in 1984 (no, that wasn’t before electricity). Rick noticed everything. When it was sunny. When it was cloudy. When the wind blew, from which direction and how hard. He even noticed when a squirrel or raccoon might be active on the bank, or when turtles climbed up on a log and when they didn’t. He put it all in his bass fishing computer head and came out with a plan.
I’ll never forget that practice day when he was fishing the edge of an old flooded creek in the river. He had noticed a row of deeper stumps on his flasher (that was a depth finder before they were 12-inch color TV’s) and backed off deeper to fish them with a deep diving crank bait, with no luck by the way. Then one time as he pulled the lure through the stumps, something happened and made him stop his retrieve. When he began it again a couple of seconds later – BAM – his lure got nailed with a four pound bass. Many of us might have missed that subtle different. He didn’t. He started repeating that and after landing about three good fish, he put his crank bait rod down, trolled down the bank and started fishing a worm up in the shallows (where there were no fish, by the way) in case anybody was watching.
Three days of competition later, he had milked that spot for 21-fish weighing 75 pounds, pounds and won his third BASS Classic title. Another thing that made that even memorable was that he shared the stage at the final weighin with George H. W. Bush and then-Governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton just a few feet in front of me.