My first angling love was Bass fishing. The three greatest days of my calendar year were Christmas morning, the last day of school and the day the new edition of the Bass Pro Shops catalog arrived. And few would argue that during the 1980s Rick Clunn was the man forging the shape of what would become the archetype for the high performance tournament fisherman.
Shortly after his historic win at the 1984 Bassmaster Classic, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Clunn. It was early 1985, I was just 14 years old, and he happened to be doing an appearance at a local boat show here in San Antonio. As he was to everyone, he was personal and engaging and was gracious enough to take the time to autograph my Skeeter Bass Boat brochure. Even as a kid, I could tell there was something radically different about Rick Clunn. You could sense the intensity and dedication this man had to every detail of his craft. Not only was he skilled and knowledgeable, but he was also calm, calculated and tough. His passion was palpable and much different than the average weekend angler I was accustomed to interacting with. But perhaps most importantly, he understood the psychology of the sport better than anyone...still does as a matter of fact.
That meeting left a lasting impression on me, and was an experience I still remember vividly and cherish to this day. Although I still fish regularly with conventional spinning and casting tackle for a multitude of species, the truth is that the first time I picked up a fly rod in 1995 the style and tone of my angling were permanently altered from that day forward. Because of that abrupt change in the direction of my angling path, I have rarely if ever kept up with anything to do with competitive Bass fishing in the last 25 years. To be honest, I've never owned a Bass Boat, I've never fished in a Bass tournament, and I absolutely hate boat traffic and crowds. So it was a bit ironic that a few weeks ago I happened to catch a short piece on one of the outdoor related TV channels about Rick Clunn being in the hunt for a victory in this particular tournament. Being that Rick was a childhood idol of mine, it didn't take much for me to become embroiled in the drama that was ensuing and I found myself regularly checking the leaderboard over the next two days. On the last day, Rick Clunn boated not one, but TWO fish over nine pounds to come from behind and win the tournament. Simply an unbelievable accomplishment seeing as how most anglers never land a fish over 9 pounds in their lifetime, much less two in one day. The most incredible thing was that Rick Clunn achieved this feat at 72 years old. At an age when most fishermen are hanging up their rods and thinking about retirement, Rick Clunn is still competing and WINNING at the highest level. And he's doing it with a mental and emotional state of mind that could potentially keep him in the winner's circle for as long as he's physically capable. It is, to say the least, both impressive and inspirational for any angler to watch.
I have recently begun to follow Rick on social media, and its obvious from the content of his posts that he still loves this sport as much as he did almost 35 years ago when our paths briefly crossed at the local boat show. Regarding his ability to fish and compete with the best of the best, Mr. Clunn recently commented to B.A.S.S. reporters "Never accept that all of your accomplishments are in the past. Most of us go through a peak period. But when you start to lose that, you start to wonder. Maybe I don't have as many great moments ahead, but I still have great moments to look forward to." As I approach fifty years old, Rick's advice couldn't have been better timed or more profound. Lately, I have been contemplating the nature of what my angling life will look over the next 20 years. I often wonder if my love for this game will burn as strong as it does currently. Will I be able to sustain the pace and intensity that I fish with now? Once again I find Rick Clunn being an inspiration and role model just like when I was 14. It is absolutely possible, and Rick Clunn proved that on the St. John's river just a few short weeks ago.
Congratulations Rick. I appreciate more than ever the experience of being able to shake your hand in person, even if it was over 30 years ago. Your passion and intensity left a lasting impression on me that I still feel today. Best wishes for many more years on the deck of that Nitro, showing the younger generation how to get it done with class, style and most importantly humility. And like you told me over 30 years ago when you signed my Skeeter brochure...KEEP REELING!