The greatest bass angler of all time talks about intellect, intution and being in the zone

Updated: March 1, 2007, 2:10 AM ET
By Mark Hicks | BASSMASTER Magazine, March 2007
During ESPNs Greaest Angler Debate in 2005, fans voted legendary angler Rick Clunn the greatest bass fisherman of all time. Given Clunn's 31 Bassmaster Classic appearances, 14 BASS victories (including four Classics), and nearly $2 million in winnings, he's certainly earned the title.

If ESPN were to hold a Quirkiest Angler Debate, Clunn would win that, too, and by a landslide. Most pros dwell on where to find bass and how to catch them under the varied conditions they face. Clunn also does this. He calls it the intellectual side of bass fishing.

But on the mental side of the game, Clunn enters the Twlight Zone. He's not content to fish with a positive attitude. His goal is to let intuition take over and tell him what to do. He calls this "being in the zone." Clunn is convinced that intuition trumps intellect in bass fishing.

To help him understand how intuition works, Clunn has looked into Zen, Buddhism, Native American Indian cultures, and, more recently, quantum physics. This conversation with Clunn is sure to enlighten.

BASSMASTER: Is there a correlation between quantum physics and bass fishing?

CLUNN: I've studied quantum physics only from a general level, but I know there is [a correlation] from a scientific standpoint. Quantum physics incorporates everything. It really confirms a lot of things that even primal man did. Native American Indians believed that all things are connected.

Bassmaster: Can you explain what quantum physics is?

Clunn: It's basically the study of the microcosmic world. The world of atoms and protons and neutrons. It's the little universe. Whatever exists at the microcosmic level exists at the universal level — at the macro level.

Bassmaster: I'm reading the book you recommended on quantum physics, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, by Gary Zukav. Zukav states that, "the philosophical implication of quantum mechanics is that all of the things in our universe (including us) that appear to exist independently are actually parts of one all-encompassing organic pattern, and that no parts of that pattern are ever separate from it or each other." Is that the kind of thing you're talking about?

Clunn: Yes, the book deals with how quantum physics applies to the real world, and fishing is part of the real world. Essentially, we think there's space between us and everything else. In quantum physics, everything is connected. I'm just a first-grader when it comes to quantum physics, but it's helped me understand some things about intuition that I wasn't sure of.

All the knowledge in the universe is accessible to everyone. You don't have to read a book to get it. One cell in your body contains the whole genetic makeup of the body. [The movie] Jurassic Park was based on that theme, that if you could find one cell, you could re-create the whole creature.

If you apply quantum physics to that theory, and if you're one cell in the universe, then all the knowledge of the universe is contained within you.

Bassmaster: Is the quantum physics connection where intuition comes from?

Clunn: It's really complicated. But there's knowledge beyond the intellectual level in fishing. Intellectually, I can study everything that's ever been written about fishing and yet, in my 30-year career, I have understood things that did not come from any of that intellectual knowledge. It came from intuition, gut instincts — that type of thing.

Even though the intellectual part of our sport is very important in the beginning, it eventually gets in your way. Because you start to think that's all there is. Somehow, someway, you have to reopen yourself and allow intuition to play a role.

Intuition is part of our primal being. But, intellect keeps trying to shut that down. Even though intellectual knowledge is important, it's kind of like your ego. It wants to dominate because we put so much emphasis on it in our society. What I have learned is that your intellect should be the servant of your intuition.

In quantum physics, they basically say if all the intellectual knowledge in the world is in a room, it's just one speck of dust. The rest of the knowledge in the room is accessible only through intuition.

Bassmaster: How do you describe intuition?

Clunn: It's a gut feeling, but it's more complete awareness than a gut feeling. In other words, the primal hunter, his senses were completely in tune with everything around him. He didn't only have one ring of awareness, he had multi-rings of awareness. Where his senses would end, the call of a bird would allow him to read past his senses. To me, intuition is complete sensory awareness and it's complete extrasensory awareness.

Bassmaster: Extrasensory awareness?

Clunn: Sensory awareness is what we smell, we hear, we taste, we see. If we're using every one of our senses to its absolute potential — which we don't — what kicks in is your extrasensory awareness. It's more of a metaphysical thing. It very difficult to explain. But, that is the source of intuition; that's its path to you.

Even when I've been at my best, all my awareness skills were probably only 50 or 60 percent of what they were capable of. But, even at that level, you tap into more and more intuitive knowledge. That's why quantum physics appeals to me. It really does try to explain intuition in a scientific way.

Bassmaster: Can you give a specific example of a quantum physics connection to fishing you've experienced?

Clunn: When I was guiding [on Lake Conroe, Texas] I had clients that could not catch fish no matter what I did. And this happened to the same people over many, many trips. It was like some type of force was at work.

This one guy stood out. I mean, it's like he repelled other things around him. He was a very negative person. He complained a lot about the wind, the heat, the way we were fishing. Over and over, this guy could not get a bite when the other guy in the boat could catch them every cast. I'd give him my rod. I'd give him my lure. I'd even make the cast for him. I tried to remove every physical variable I could.

There's one instance that will always stand out to me. The year after they killed all the hydrilla in Lake Conroe, gigantic schools of bass moved to brushpiles because they had no other cover left. I had one brushpile that held thousands of bass. All you had to do was hit that brushpile with a crankbait and you'd have a 4-pounder on — every single cast.

I would make the cast to make sure the crankbait would come through the brushpile. I would hand it to this guy and watch his rod tip jump when the crankbait hit the brush. I would expect his rod to load up, but it never would.

And then I would think, "That can't be possible. A fish can't possibly know that this guy has a negative attitude. They're over there, and he's over here." And yet, if you look at it from a quantum physics level, yes they can.

Bassmaster: This seems to fall into the realm of confidence, in believing in what you are doing. Are you saying that if you're not confident the bass sense it and refuse to bite your lures?

Clunn: Exactly.

At the quantum physics level, it says there's a negatively charged particle and a positively charged particle and these particles are related. When one of the particles changes its charge, the other one immediately changes its charge. This happens even though, in universal terms, they're light years apart. How does a message go from this particle to that when there's no known communication that could move that fast? It happens at the quantum physics level.

What I'm getting at is that there are connections that we don't understand. A dog at a distance can sense whether it likes a person or doesn't like him. It sounds wild, but it's the unexplained things I've always been curious about. Stuff goes on that we just don't have any clue about.

Bassmaster: What's it like to be fishing in the "zone"?

Clunn: Anytime I've achieved what other sports call being in the zone, everything that would have been a negative becomes a positive. A boat cuts you off. Instead of looking at it as a negative, you think, "I'm not supposed to go that way," and you immediately turn in another direction and catch a 6-pounder.

You get hung up and go over and get your lure. Then you see a log lying at a perfect angle that you wouldn't have seen if you hadn't been hung up. You make a cast down the log and catch a 5-pounder. The days that I have had the most perfect one, two, three hours, or even one whole day of being in the zone, everything that took place was showing me where the next fish was.


Rick Clunn's fishing views are so askew from the norm that reports abound of strange things he has done to catch more bass. Some people call these Clunnisms. Some are true; others are fiction.

Has Clunn ever crawled around on the ground watching ants to learn how the bass were going to bite? No.

Has he slept outside in his boat in freezing weather to acclimate his body to a sudden cold front? Not true.

However, Clunn has driven to Western tournaments with his air conditioner turned off in temperatures well above 100 degrees to become acclimated to the heat. He prefers camping to motels to avoid the tournament buzz and keep his body acclimated to being outdoors.

Clunn participates in Native American Indian sweats to purify his body and has studied many forms of meditation. He meditates regularly, including just before a tournament takeoff and sometimes while actually competing. He calls these brief interludes dynamic meditation.

"The most valuable meditation I've learned is dynamic meditation," Clunn says. "I use it when I feel like I'm discombobulated, or I have had a lot of distractions, or maybe I have an over-talkative partner, whatever. One minute of silence in meditation contains infinite information."

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