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Fifty Years of Professional Bass Angling with Rick Clunn

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Avid bass fishing fans, fellow professional anglers, and experts of the sport alike have labeled Rick Clunn as the ‘Greatest Angler of All Time’. With 50 years of professional fishing, multiple championship wins, impressive titles, and over 500 tournaments under his belt, it’s no wonder he’s deeply admired. Clunn’s humble approach to his victories and focus on returning to the basics of fishing will leave a legacy for years to come.  

Rick Clunn Makes History 

Rick Clunn with his truck camper

In the faint light of the early morning, on October 26, 1977, 26 of the nation’s best professional bass fishermen lined the shores of Lake Toho in Kissimmee, FL. As the sun began to rise, boat engines revved as the anglers headed out on the water in search of a limit of bass. This three-day event, “billed as the Super Bowl of bass fishing,” would culminate in one angler receiving the coveted title of Bassmaster Classic Champion.  

Since 1971, this event hosted the highest-ranked anglers from the previous season, and competition was fierce. Among the lineup in the 7th annual Classic were four previous champions, but in a field of this caliber, it was anyone’s game. One week before the event, the location was announced, ensuring no one could gain an unfair advantage. Following the announcement, anglers traveled to Lake Toho, were given a single day of practice, and then, the tournament began.  

The 1976 champion, Rick Clunn, finished practice with minimal confidence but quickly took the lead on Day 1 despite being 1 fish short of a 10-fish limit. Larry Nixon was at his heels, just 4 pounds and 6 ounces behind. On Day 2, Clunn endured challenging conditions, only catching two fish but maintaining his position and extending his lead to 5 pounds over Nixon. By the end of Day 3, it came down to the final two to weigh in, Nixon and Clunn. Nixon’s four fish jumped him ahead of Clunn by 1 pound, and with only one fish, Clunn made history.  

    Rick Clunn Fishing

By a small margin of 1 pound and 12 ounces, Rick Clunn became the first professional angler to win back-to-back Bassmaster Classics. Following this feat, he earned himself instant fame and notoriety just four seasons into his professional fishing career.  

From Computer Programmer to Professional Bass Fisherman 

Growing up, Clunn remembers fishing with his dad as soon as he was able to hold a pole in his hands. At six years old, he vividly remembers his dad allowing him to fish the bank with his favorite rod. His first time using an artificial lure, he cast out a Lucky 13 topwater bait and reeled in his first bass. “I thought I caught [the bass], but looking back, it caught me.”  

From then on, Clunn was hooked on bass fishing. While he continued fishing recreationally, it wasn’t until his mid-twenties that he got into tournament fishing. In the late 1960s, the newly created Sam Rayburn Reservoir gained renown for being the best place to go fishing. After making the trip there with his dad, Clunn watched anglers weigh in lines full of fish during a tournament and immediately joined the league.  

Rick CLunn with a fan

While fishing tournaments on weekends, Clunn was working for Exxon as a computer programmer. As the second largest computing company at the time, he had an incredible job and an amazing retirement plan but didn’t feel fulfilled. In 1971, Clunn watched from the sidelines as Ray Scott started the Bass Angler Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S). When Bobby Murray won the first Bassmaster Classic and $10,000 that October, the trajectory of Clunn’s life completely changed.  

As the walls of his office closed in on him, Clunn was yearning for something more. In early 1974, Exxon offered him a raise, a promotion, and a tiny room with no windows, and in March, he submitted his resignation. Clunn gave up everything to pursue Bass Angling and spent the next two years struggling financially.  He made a commitment to go back to Exxon if he didn’t start making money in 1976. Clunn won the Bassmaster Classic that year and went on to win it back-to-back the following year.  

Rick Clunn Becomes the Greatest Angler of All Time 

Immediately following his second Classic win, Clunn’s phone wouldn’t stop ringing. With countless sponsorship offers and guide trip interest, his professional bass fishing career officially began. He quickly transitioned from only fishing on weekends to fishing more often than not. Falling in love with spending 12–15-hour days on the water, Clunn found himself more deeply connected with nature than ever before. While becoming a full-time fisherman brought its own challenges, especially financially, the uninterrupted time in nature fueled Clunn’s passion to persevere through the hard times.  

Although not every year of his career brought fame and fortune, Clunn’s last fifty years are defined by his success. Winning back-to-back Classics was just the foreshadowing of what the rest of his career would bring.  He went on to win the Classic again in 1984, the U.S. Open in 1983 and 1986, the Redman All-American in 1985, and be named Bassmaster Angler of the Year in 1988. Following these years of victory, Clunn was crowned the Bassmaster Classic Champion for a fourth time in 1990, tying with seasoned angler Kevin Van Dam for most Classic wins 

As the 20th century came to a close, it was clear that Clunn was making a name for himself as the Greatest Angler of All Time. This was echoed in 2001 when he was officially inducted into the Bassmaster Hall of Fame and later voted America’s “Favorite Angler of All Time” following an ESPN poll. Clunn even broke the record for the oldest person to win a Bassmaster tournament in 2016 and 2019, at 69 and 72. With over 500 tournaments and more than 100 top-ten finishes, it’s no wonder why 25 of the current Bassmaster Elite Series pros have listed Clunn as the angler that they admire most.  

Professional angler Rick Clunn fishing

Technological Innovation Forever Changes the Sport of Bass Fishing 

Having fifty years of professional fishing under his belt, Clunn has witnessed his fair share of technological innovation and change, especially in recent years. “In the last five years, [bass fishing technology] has taken a quantum leap in change.” As live scopes and fish finders become more accurate and can see further distances, the technique professional fishermen are using has completely changed.  

In the early years of his career, Clunn and his counterparts became the best by simply making more casts than anyone else in a single day. Without being able to see where the fish were, anglers simply had to follow patterns and make their best guesses at where the fish would be. Simply making more casts would drastically increase the chances of catching a fish.  

Now, professional fishing boats each have multiple high-tech screens, live scopes with a 1,000 ft range and 360-degree view, and powerful trolling motors give them eyes under the water. Young anglers can win tournaments by only making 200 casts a day, compared to the 2,000 Clunn was used to making. By waiting until the fish are in the optimal position, professional anglers can fish more efficiently and accurately with fewer casts.  

Battle Born Batteries powering a trolling motor

Although these electronics have simplified many parts of professional angling, anglers were presented with the challenge of finding reliable power. When Clunn’s old, lead-acid batteries couldn’t keep up, he stumbled across Battle Born Batteries at the Classic 3 years ago. Desiring to have more power and fish more sustainably, Clunn upgraded his angling boat with 4 – Battle Born LiFePO4 batteries. His new system has allowed him to fish tournaments for multiple days in a row without recharging and has never left him without power. Clunn recently joined professional angler Chris Zaldain for an episode of the Bilge Podcast, where he shares about his career and how Battle Born Batteries have changed the game of bass fishing.

What’s on the Horizon for Rick Clunn? 

As his 50th year on the Bassmaster circuit looms on the horizon, Clunn is looking forward to simply getting out on the water. At this point in his career, he’s happy to take it one year at a time, not thinking too far ahead. When media and fan pressure threaten to get to him, Clunn remembers why he started fishing in the first place and focuses on reconnecting with nature and continuing to grow his technique. Something that Clunn uses to inspire himself and other anglers is the reminder to “never accept that all your greatest moments are in the past.” Whatever this year brings, Clunn knows there is always an opportunity to achieve greatness.  

Rick Clunn with 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series champion trophy

Clunn’s looking forward to continuing to share in his trials and successes with his wife Melissa. They initially met at a tournament decades ago, and Clunn recalls that he was “hooked the minute he saw her.” After two sons and 27 years of marriage, Clunn couldn’t imagine his life without Melissa and considers her the greatest thing he got out of being a professional bass angler. 

For those young anglers aspiring to make a name for themselves and fish in the world’s best circuits, Clunn has one piece of advice, “Be true to who you are.” Above all else, maintaining the passion for fishing that got them started in the first place is the most important way young anglers can maintain their love for the sport.  

Rick Clunn and his wife Melissa

To keep up with Clunn as he tackles year 50 as a Bassmaster Elite Series Angler, follow him on YouTube and Instagram! 

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