The Clunn Factor


A really cool thing happened in the fishing world last weekend. In Florida, Rick Clunn won his 15th career B.A.S.S. event at the age of 69. Only three anglers have won more, but Clunn became the oldest ever to win a major tournament, surpassing Shorty Evans who was 65 when he won a B.A.S.S. Invitational in 1978.

But what’s cool isn’t the record-breaking win. It’s that a spotlight is being put on a man who is great for our sport yet he’s been mostly off center stage for the past decade.

Clunn’s résumé is beyond impressive. It starts with four Bassmaster Classic titles, 32 Classic appearances (including 28 in a row), over $3 million in tournament earnings, wins with every major bass circuit ever conceived and the title of “Greatest Angler” following an ESPN poll in 2005.

Unless you follow professional bass fishing very, very closely, you can have no idea of the esteem in which pro bass anglers hold Rick Clunn. It’s universal, and that’s unique.

Like other sports, the competitors have their share of run-ins, disagreements, battles and even the occasional outright confrontation. The major circuits like to play this down as much as possible. They want the public to think that everybody gets along and it’s one big happy family out there. In truth, it’s not. There are cliques, outcasts, animosities and jealousies that go along with the camaraderie and good times. It’s a little like a traveling soap opera, but that’s what you get with more than 100 competitors and their families caravanning all across the country in search of little green and brown fish.

And no one has been doing it longer than Clunn, who joined the pro tour in 1974 when Bill Dance and Roland Martin ruled the waves. Forty-two years is longer than most people work at “real” jobs, but Clunn has been performing at the highest level of a sport that’s far more athletic and demanding than many realize. His win reinforces that he’s still a factor, still a threat, still a competitor and not just someone taking up a place in the launch line.

Photo: BASS

The respect Clunn gets is not because of his résumé (though four Bassmaster Classic championships don’t hurt). The résumé gets him noticed; it means everyone knows who he is and what he’s accomplished.

But what gets him respect is the way he carries himself and the respect and regard he shows to others, whether we’re talking about fellow competitors, sponsors, media or fans.

Clunn treats people with respect. He’s smart and articulate. A conversation with him guarantees that you will see an issue from a different and insightful perspective. He understands what he means to a legion of fans, and while he’s not necessarily comfortable with the idolatry, he handles it well everywhere he goes.

Clunn asks for and offers no excuses. Think about that for a moment. The man is nearly 70, has fished more than 500 national tournaments, trailered a boat back and forth across the country millions of miles, suffers the aches and pains you might expect from his years, career and lifestyle, but never uses any of it as an excuse. For a while, he used the Eagles’ song “Get Over It” as his stage music for weigh-ins. Here’s my favorite lyric; I bet it’s one of his, too:

            Complain about the present and blame it on the past

            I’d like to find your inner child and kick its little ass.

How can you not love that?

Another thing I admire about Rick Clunn is that he’s evolving. He knows that what earned him accolades early in his career will not carry him to his goals today. His win last weekend is evidence of that evolution. The game has not passed Clunn by, though he might tell you that it’s a challenge to keep up.

Clunn is a teacher, but not one who demands that you sit up straight, pay attention and take notes. He believes that if fishing brings you joy, you’re doing it right even if you’re not catching anything. And if you want to catch more bass, he can offer advice for that, too.

In fact, today’s pros rely on many of the theories and methods that Clunn, Dance, Martin and others developed decades ago … and more recently. Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese, Aaron Martens and Edwin Evers stand on the shoulders of giants like Clunn, just as the next generation is learning from them.

I love that the spotlight is back on Rick Clunn not simply because he deserves it, but because it’s great for our sport.

We need Rick Clunn. There is not another like him.