To younger fans of professional bass fishing, Clark Wendlandt may seem like a total newcomer to the Bassmaster Tournament Trail.
But actually, this year is a homecoming of sorts for the veteran Texas pro.
Wendlandt fished his first tournament with B.A.S.S. in 1992 on New York’s St. Lawrence River. From there, he fished 86 more B.A.S.S. events, qualifying for the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods four times and earning $319,700.
The reason fans haven’t heard his name in B.A.S.S. circles for a while is because he left for an incredible run on the FLW Tour. But now his career has come full circle, as he joins the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series.
“I’ve never been one to switch rashly and make decisions that I didn’t think I was gonna stay with for a long time,” said Wendlandt, who has 17 career Top 10 finishes with B.A.S.S. “But the more I looked at it, the more it just seemed like this was the right thing to do.”
It’s easy to see why the decision to switch tours required some thought. Wendlandt’s success with FLW was mind-blowing.
In 22 FLW seasons — some of which overlapped with his early B.A.S.S. career — Wendlandt qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup 19 times and won FLW Tour Angler of the Year three times. In 185 career tournaments, he notched four victories and 40 Top 10 finishes.
Like most anglers — especially those who grew up in Texas — fishing was a family affair for Wendlandt when he was a youngster.
“We went fishing during the spring and hunting during the fall,” he said. “It was me and my dad and my brother, and then my mother decided that if she was going to spend time with us as a family, she was gonna have to go, too.
“So that’s what we did. We spent time outdoors as a family.”
Wendlandt developed an interest in tournament fishing when he spent a day on the lake with a friend who was a master at skipping docks.
“That just showed me that if you worked at it and practiced, you could get better at it,” he said. “That’s when I got the bug.
“I remember distinctly that day that he caught eight fish and I caught one — and I just think I got lucky on the one I caught.”
From there, Wendlandt said he just couldn’t get enough tournament fishing. When he wasn’t on the water, he was watching The Bassmasters and listening to the booming voice of Bob Cobb.
“That’s where I learned a big part of what I know about making decisions and honing your instincts,” he said. “I just loved watching those shows.”
As his career blossomed with FLW, Wendlandt was featured multiple times on boxes of Kellogg’s cereal for his AOY titles — and those boxes can still be purchased on eBay today.
Despite all of his career earnings and the winner’s trophies he has on his mantle, he says he’s probably most proud of those AOY titles because they represent a season’s worth of consistency.
He says he’d love to win a Bassmaster Classic and a Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. But he’s not making any grand predictions. He’s just looking forward to a tournament format that appeals greatly to him.
“I just really love tournament fishing,” Wendlandt said. “So the thought that I can fish the way I want to fish against just 75 guys in a four-day event is really exciting to me. I love the thought of having the freedom to move around like I want to.
“FLW has more of a participation-based model, where they have 160 to 170 guys in their events, and it just makes you fish differently. It’ll be nice to get out there and do what I like to do.”
In today’s world of tournament fishing, Wendlandt knows you have to be prepared for everything. He believes the days of focusing on one technique are over.
“You’re just gonna get left behind if you do that,” he said. “Everybody’s good at flipping now. Everybody’s good at sight fishing. I just believe that you really have to be versatile.”
He says he’s not scared of any technique from finesse fishing to deep cranking. But if he has his choice, there’s no doubt what he’ll be doing.
“Shallow power fishing is probably my favorite, whether it be a squarebill or a ChatterBait or spinnerbait or whatever,” he said. “I just like fishing fast.”
While Wendlandt is anything but a rookie, certain aspects of the 2019 Elite Series season will be a new experience for him.
He’s never fished the St. Johns River, Winyah Bay or Cayuga Lake — and while he’s fished the St. Lawrence River, he’s never fished it out of Waddington, N.Y., where this year’s Elite Series event will be held.
“There’s some destinations that I’ve never fished before, and I’ve always liked that because I think you look at them objectively,” Wendlandt said. “Like when we fish St. Johns, I’m guessing it’ll be hard for Rick Clunn not to go back to where he caught a zillion pounds back in 2016. For me, I’ll be starting completely fresh.”
Most importantly, Wendlandt will be doing what he believes he was born to do.
“I was 26 when I started doing this,” Wendlandt said. “Now I’m 52, and this is pretty much my life. I fish professional tournaments, and I’m still just as driven as I’ve ever been.
“Fishing has changed so much, but I still put just as much effort into it as I ever have — and I can’t wait to get the season started.”