PALATKA, Fla. — It was during the 2002 Bassmaster Classic held on Alabama’s Logan Martin Lake with weigh-ins at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.
Legendary Missouri angler Rick Clunn had failed to qualify for the event for the first time in 28 years, but those in charge brought Clunn on stage to honor his lifetime of bass fishing greatness.
Someone couldn’t resist asking Clunn if his best days were over, and Clunn’s answer was fittingly classic.
“To quote Mark Twain,” Clunn said. “‘I suspect reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.’”
The capacity crowd cheered — and at that moment, it was the most inspirational thing I had ever experienced in bass fishing.
Fast forward 14 years to 2016 and the charming village of Palatka, and Clunn proved that those rumors of his demise had indeed been premature.
A group of much younger anglers who thought they were the sport looked on in awe as a 69-year-old man walked away with the trophy and the $100,000 check.
It was the greatest thing I’ve ever witnessed live in sports — any sport.
Now fast forward another three years.
Stay with me. We’re moving quickly.
Here we are again in the charming village of Palatka.
Rumors are swirling again of a great demise.
This time B.A.S.S. itself is being discussed — or at least that’s what I’ve read on social media, where so many self-proclaimed experts go to give their opinions these days.
But once again, the rumors have been greatly exaggerated.
I’ll admit, there have been changes.
Some familiar faces departed the Bassmaster Elite Series, but they have been replaced by faces decorated with desire and illuminated by opportunity.
This new field of anglers seem to be screaming in unison, “Let’s get this party started!”
I’ve seen guys like Jake Whitaker, Drew Cook, Garrett Pacquette and Patrick Walters racing — not to get to away from B.A.S.S., but to huddle for a photo in front of a Bassmaster Elite Series logo at a recent meeting held for the anglers and their families in Birmingham (photo above).
Guys like Carl Jocumsen, Harvey Horne, Frank Talley, Caleb Sumrall and the Canadian trio of Cory Johnston, Chris Johnston and Jeff Gustafson have been lighting up social media with posts that insist they wish the season had started months ago.
Veteran sticks like Jay Yelas, David Fritts, Clark Wendlandt, Mark Menendez and Bernie Schultz — guys who’ve made millions and millions of dollars doing the very same thing they’ll do tomorrow when the Elite Series season kicks off — are present and accounted for.
I’ve mentioned 17 guys so far in this column, and there’s a chance I haven’t even touched on the guy who’ll make the biggest news this week.
We don’t know who’s going to catch them on Day 1.
We don’t know who’s going to develop that four-day sustainable pattern that leads to a $100,000 payday. We do know he will be catching big bass, weighing them in on the biggest stage, where big dreams are realized.
It’s a new season, and there will be new storylines.
But we do know one thing for sure.
Those rumors you may have heard about the demise of the Bassmaster Elite Series?
As rumors often are…they were exaggerated.