With the stoic formidability of Texas longhorns, 2020 Bassmaster Elite Angler of the Year Clark Wendlant unapologetically defended the requisite drive that delivered his career’s defining moment. Speaking at Thursday’s Night of Champions banquet, the decorated pro from Leander, Texas, offered a glimpse into a driven mind.
“I’ve been accused of being too competitive, but what is ‘too competitive?’” he asked. “There’s no such thing as too competitive in my mind.
“I would venture a guess that every fisherman in this room who tries to fish for a living has had a family member or friend say, ‘You’re too competitive,’ but nah. We’re not too competitive; we’re maybe obsessively competitive. It serves us really, really well.”
Sparking the flame
Noting that his parents, Fred and Shirley, made significant sacrifices to ensure a childhood filled with hunting and fishing opportunities, Wendlandt points to his grandmother, Evelyn Myers as the one who drove him to succeed — even if that meant exploiting strategic vulnerabilities.
“My grandmother was a very competitive person, and she loved to compete against me in so many things,” he said. “We played pingpong, badminton, card games, table games, but pingpong was my favorite.
“She was good. She’d slap that backhand by me so fast, and I was like ‘aww.’ But you know, when two people (consistently play against one another), you improve and I started doing better against her.”
Part of that was Wendlandt’s burgeoning skill; the other part was his keen eye. Just like sight fishing stubborn spawners, you just gotta know where to put it.
“I figured out that she had a blind spot on the far side of one of her eyes, so I started whacking the ball to that blind spot,” Wendlandt said. “Then she got mad, and she cheated herself over that way just a little bit. So then I’d just hit it to the other side of the table.
“I started beating her bad. I beat her every time because I knew that blind spot was there.”
Going gangster on grandma — wow.
But don’t judge, Wendlandt said the experience of playing against a loved one who simply did not give him a break prepared him for climbing the AOY mountain and rising above a field of incredibly talented competitors.
Wendlandt’s AOY victory came down to a very stressful Day 3 at the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefitting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Having run out of fish by Day 2, he gutted it out and found four keepers for 7 1/4 pounds to edge Dave Mullins by three points.
No doubt, grandma Evelyn’s mean backhand helped prepare Wendlandt for such moments.
“The great thing about it was if I was gong to beat her, she was going to make me earn it,” Wendlandt said of his grandmother’s subtle training. “She taught me a lot about competition.”
The mark of maturity
That competitive drive served him well throughout his career. Even when the final scores didn’t favor his cause, Wendlandt never stopped looking for where he should have hit that pingpong ball.
“Early on in my career, I was so laser-focused that if I didn’t win — and you don’t win very often — I was mad,” he said. “Second place was absolutely not good enough, top five was not good enough, top 10 didn’t matter.
“A lot of times, after a tournament was over, I’d stay at the lake and go back out and try to figure out why I didn’t win the tournament.”
Realizing now that some of those early fixations have wisely yielded to a more sustainable approach, Wendlandt said his AOY win bespeaks the consistency he’s diligently worked to establish.
“I’ve learned to enjoy successes in my career. You’re not gong to win them all and whether it’s a top five or a top-20, learn to enjoy those successes.”
Calling B.A.S.S. legends Larry Nixon and Clunn his fishing heroes, Wendlandt said his dream to fish professionally emerged from episodes of the Bassmasters TV show; particularly through the engaging storytelling of former director/producer/host Bob Cobb and B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott.
“I used to love watching Bob Cobb; they didn’t have nearly as many cameras back then as we do today, but he could set up a tournament,” Wendlandt said. “I remember Larry Nixon when he set the hook on a 7-pounder and it jumps out of the water on a big pad bank on the St. Johns River.
“That’s what kindled my dream, and it’s the same dream that we kindle in kids today. To me, that’s pretty amazing and it’s pretty humbling.”
Back where he belongs
Wendlandt started fishing B.A.S.S. events in 1992 and qualified for the Bassmaster Classic four times. He spent most of his career at FLW where he notched three AOY titles (each earning him a spot on a Kellogg’s cereal box), 19 Forrest Wood Cup berths, four wins and 40 Top 10 finishes.
Wendlandt was comfortable, but when significant roster shifting occurred in 2018, he saw the opportunity to return to his roots as a no-brainer.
“B.A.S.S. is the iconic brand; it’s the dream that I started with, and B.A.S.S. is what I felt like I needed to go back to,” he said. “I’m so grateful I did. What B.A.S.S. has going on now is as good as I’ve ever seen.
“The award I wanted more than any other was to win Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year. To me, it’s the pinnacle of fishing. The fishermen are so good, they’re hungry and they’re passionate. That’s what makes it such and honor.”
A grounded champion
Wendlandt admits he often finds himself just staring at his AOY trophy and relishing the well-earned sense of achievement drawn from that craft of wood and metal. However, he noted that, despite this milestone’s impact on his life, it does not define his life.
Noting that his family has been the biggest constant throughout his career, Wendlandt thanked his wife Patti whose commitment to supporting his career included home schooling their daughters Emily and Katie so they could all travel together.
“Our daughter’s got a great education, and they go to do field trips all over the country,” Wendlandt said. “Now they’re both nurses, they’re married and I’m really proud of them.
“Patti is amazing. She’s a great teacher, a great supporter, a great companion and a great friend. She’s the best example I’ve ever seen of how to treat people and how to live your life.”
Reflecting on what his AOY win means to his life, Wendlandt closed with a profoundly poignant sentiment.
“Winning this award is the highlight of my career,” he said. “It’s something I’ve dreamt about from when I was a little kid. I’m as proud as I can be, and I’m as humbled as I can be.
“I look at that trophy on my mantle, and I can’t get enough of it. But I’m fortunate because my life is not defined by trophies. My life is defined by friends and family and God who created me, redeemed me and sustains me. Without Jesus Chris as part of my life, I wouldn’t be here.”