One of the greatest advancements in the sport of Bassmaster history was the elimination of the “draw” format used in the Bassmaster Invitationals around 20 years ago.
When I started with B.A.S.S. in 1985, there were no Pro-Am formats, only a pro-on-pro Bassmaster format that was universally disliked by nearly all competitors.
However, over the years of fishing the draw events, I did fish with some of the biggest names in the sport — Roland Martin, Hank Parker, Larry Nixon, Tommy Martin and Rick Clunn.
In an incredible twist of fate, I drew Clunn in four different Bassmaster events over the years, which was mathematically unbelievable.
Over the years, Rick and I have not only fished together in competition, but during personal trips as well, and each time with him has been a memorable experience.
One odd thing about each of the times we have drawn out, both of us struggled … I mean really struggled, like just weighing in a couple of fish each time. After the fourth time we joked with each other that, due to some universal mystery, we neutralized each other in the boat together.
Like many anglers, I had been in awe of his accomplishments before I met him, and he has always had this mystical energy to him that is hard to explain.
The first time I met him was at the Redman (now FLW) Regional Championship at Kentucky Lake in 1984. Both of us were competitors and were standing next to each other in the bag line the final day of the tournament.
In my bag was the biggest bass of the tournament, and Rick peeked inside and said “nice fish.” As a 21-year-old kid outside of Missouri for the first time, it was like President Kennedy or a movie star looking in my bag.
In the following years when I began my B.A.S.S. career, we drew each other on those four occasions. The first time being in 1988, the year he won Angler of the Year.
I fished with him that year on Bull Shoals. He was leading the event the first day, and we drew out the second day. True to the form of struggling when we fished together, Rick went down from his nearly 20-pound bag on Day 1 to just 6 pounds on the day we fished.
However, on the next day, the final day of the tournament, he bounced back with the biggest bag of the tournament and won the event.
As much as I love Rick, fishing with him in competition was no fun. I was torn between just wanting to observe and learn from him and wanting to compete myself to my fullest potential. I tried to do both when we fished.
Over my years of fishing with him, as a student of the sport I took note of the following:
He doesn’t talk much. This was okay because I don’t either when I fish. I understand the mind cannot efficiently do both — fully focus on fishing while trying to carry on a conversation.
His focus is unmatched. Focus is not the best word for it. The more accurate word would be awareness. His awareness for fish positioning, movement, casting angles, fish personality and anything going on in the natural world on the bank or in the water was amazing.
His strength is in his mind, not in mechanics. I felt he would be on a completely different level mechanically, but he was not. His mechanics were excellent, but not any different than other pros I had fished with or even my own casting abilities. It was at that point I understood the mental aspect of the sport was more important than the mechanics. He set the bar for the mental game.
He is meticulous. His ability to dissect shallow cover was on another level. He could maximize the water he was fishing like no other I had seen. It made no difference that we did not catch them … I knew this is how he approached every situation and could see how productive it could be more times than not.
His energy was truly mystical. Few people in today’s world of fishing understand what I mean by mystical. Some do, and those that do know it is a special quality that is rare in humans. It’s that wild, ancient, primal energy that has largely been lost in today’s tournament world with social media and electronic technology and an unfortunate gravitation away from the history of the sport.
As a veteran myself — as well as a historian and student of our sport — my biggest wish for this sport is that we could return to the true magic of 1984 to 1990 Clunn. Those who were there know what I mean. There was a purity and magic to this period that is hard to describe unless you lived it. I feel like the sport has lost a lot of its primal energy and magic with the constant onslaught of new technologies.
I will always remember my days in the boat with Rick. Although those four days are a speck in time relatively speaking, the lessons I learned still stay with me each day I am on the water competing.
Thanks for taking the time to read, and if you would like to hear more about some of my old school Bassmaster stories, check them out on my Youtube channel: Intuitive Angling with Randy Blaukat.