What Rick Clunn means to the sport of bass fishing is immeasurable.
He’s a legend fishing among anglers a half century younger. There are 51 Elites who weren’t even born when Clunn won his first of 16 tournaments, the 1976 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville.
Many on the weigh-in stage Thursday offered wonderment how the 74-year-old continues to defy age. They marveled that the Zen master weighed in 29 pounds, 4 ounces to lead after Day 1 of the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife on Lake Fork.
Many offered a snippet about Clunn, their personal interactions, and most anglers who’ve fished alongside him have at least one. Some are just coming out, like this recent post from Clunn’s memory banks, a touching tale from 40 years ago.
Around the time Clunn won the third of his four Classic titles, a young admirer from New York City called him and politely asked if he could pick his brain. His questions about fishing were advanced for the early 1980s, Clunn thought.
“About 5 minutes into the conversation, an operator interrupted our conversation and instructed the young caller to deposit more money into the pay phone if he wanted to continue,” Clunn wrote. “I can still hear the sound of the coins being deposited into the phone, and we talked for another 5 minutes until he said he had to go.”
Clunn received another call from him a few weeks later, with more good questions on the minutia of bass fishing before an operator again asked for more change. Clunn asked why he was using a pay phone.
“He replied that his family did not have a phone in their New York City apartment complex,” Clunn wrote. “Before our call time expired, I quickly told him to call me, if he wanted future conversation, once a month collect. I heard from him the following 2 months and I never failed to be impressed with his knowledge of bass fishing.”
Finally asking the caller’s age, Clunn learned he was a 13-year-old who sounded older.
“Then I asked him another question that his answer still sends chills up my spine. He said, ‘Mr. Clunn, I have never been fishing, but I read everything I can find on bass fishing.’ Tears came to my eyes and my heart hurt and still does to this day. There is no happy ending to this story. We agreed that the next time a tournament came close to that part of the country, I would take him fishing. We talked two more times and I never heard from him again.”
There has been tremendous response to Clunn’s post. It’s been shared numerous times, with many leaving remarks of their experience with Clunn. Foremost, commenters are hoping that the caller will be found and get his day of fishing with the four-time Classic champion.
“Truly a very touching and beautiful story,” Bill Decoteau wrote.
“This is why we love you! I got tears in my eyes … My husband still idolizes you,” wrote Jennifer Penrod.
“Incredible … As always, you’re a great fishermen but a better person,” Tom Smith said.
“Boy, that’s a tear jerker! We just need to take the time and reach out to those who have the desire to be outdoors but need a means to be there,” Barry Dismukes wrote.
“Wow,” Bob Scheurer wrote. “… You have always intrigued me. I am 67 years young and enjoy every one of these stories that shows who Rick Clunn is. Still I am amazed.”
“Awesome story, Mr. Clunn,” Gene Alvarez wrote. “Thank you for all you've done for the sport of fishing.”
Steve Bowman, who’s worked for B.A.S.S. the past three decades, said Clunn has done more for bass fishing than anyone will ever realize. He said hearing previously untold stories like this, or how he had to pawn a rifle to get to the 1976 Classic, just add to the legend of Clunn, who’s long been an iconic figure in the sport.
“That is the Rick Clunn that those in the industry know. That’s him,” Bowman said. “Rick Clunn has always been available for my benefit, for someone else’s benefit. Every angler fishing tournaments today has gotten something from him, and he’s giving it to him willingly.”
Examples are plenty. Many Elites have stories of Clunn taking them aside and offering a simple pointer or two. At an Open years ago, Clunn hung around the Bass Pro Shops weigh-in to personally congratulate the winner after everyone else had already left. Chris Zaldain related one of the most recent experiences, where Clunn clued him in on why he was losing fish.
Those stories appear to be endless.
“That’s the story of Rick Clunn,” Bowman said. “He’s why many of us fall in love with this sport. He’s a man above all others in many regards.”