Editor's note: Rick Clunn and Roland Martin are the two finalists in the Greatest Angler Debate presented by John Deere. Go here to vote through July 17 and help decide who is the greatest of all time. The debate will conclude in Pittsburgh — at the 2005 Classic — when two champions are crowned. One will be given the Classic trophy and the other — or perhaps even the same angler! — will be hailed as the greatest angler of all time.
It had to hurt, even for an angler as steady as Rick Clunn.
The pain was obvious as Clunn told the story of a fan who approached him at the 2002 CITGO Bassmaster Classic and inquired how he did that day. Clunn couldn't answer because he wasn't competing. It was a sobering realization for the man who had become a fixture at fishing's biggest event.
And, although he couldn't know it at the time, the near future wouldn't be any brighter. He wasn't going to qualify in 2003 or 2004 either. For most pros that wouldn't have been the end of the world. After all, qualifying 28 years out of 31 is an achievement — something to be proud of, something to brag about. Clunn didn't see it that way.
"I lost my motivation. I'll take the brunt of the blame, my part of it. It's true that the circuits over the last five years have taken away from the (older) anglers. Most of them are spring tournaments now. The older guys didn't spring fish. We didn't bed fish and that didn't help us. That's no excuse. I'll take my part of it," he says when musing about his three-year absence from the Classic.
That's typical of Clunn. He's never been one to blame others — human or otherwise — for his own shortcomings. It's his job to get in sync with nature, to get her rhythms and his working together, to make sure everything's in harmony. If that doesn't happen it's his fault, no excuses. He'll take the blame.
He's serious about the harmony thing. During most tournaments, unless his family is with him or the weather is unbearably hot, he sleeps in his camper. He likes it that way. It helps get him in tune with nature, with what's going on around him. It keeps him in harmony.
"If I wake up and it's 30 degrees but going to go into the 50's my day is going to get better, like nature. For the guy getting up in a motel room that's 70 degrees, his day is going to get worse," he explains.
But Clunn doesn't let his spiritual side detract from a hard and practical work ethic. He's legendary for doing his own homework. Clunn doesn't rely on others at the bait shop or local gas station to tell him where the fish are or what they're biting. In fact he doesn't even want to hear about it. He'll find those things out for himself.
He's also a stickler for preparation and organization. An amateur who once fished out of the back of Clunn's boat got a first-hand lesson about that. He was told to be at the dock three and a half hours before their scheduled launch time. When he arrived Clunn was sitting in his boat, on the water, waiting.
The 2005 Classic
After his three-year absence Clunn qualified this year. He claims not to have thought much about it. "I'll start thinking about it when practice starts," he says. "The Classic is tough. So much of the time is not yours & It's difficult to organize your day around fishing, fans, the media and all the other distractions. I'll know more about how it affects me when I get there."
Clunn's biggest problem — according to Clunn — will be motivation. He believes that his experience will be both an advantage and a disadvantage. "I'll need to get motivated but from a different direction. My situation is different after winning four. My experience is an advantage but then there's the negative, too. Some of the guys will be fishing for the first time and will have great motivation. They're just happy to be there. That can work to their advantage."
He doesn't talk much about the venue or the expected conditions, whether they'll help or hurt. But then again, if you're in harmony, those things shouldn't make much difference. That attitude shouldn't come as any great surprise. After all, this is an angler who's won more than $3 million in his career and still sleeps in a camper.
He does talk about the future, however. He believes that the new schedule — year long fishing — will be a positive change. "Spring is my weakest season. Fishing all year will help," he says.
The only drawback to the year-long circuit he sees is that it may interfere with his fishing school — Advanced Angling and Outdoor Awareness School — which has traditionally been held in the fall. "I might not be able to do it. We'll have to see," he says with a twinge of regret.
When asked about the Greatest Angler Debate that's currently underway, Clunn will offer some very firm opinions. He quickly points out that he has always said that four anglers, and only four, have the credentials to claim the title; Denny Brauer, Rick Clunn, Roland Martin and Larry Nixon.
That said; he'll also tell you that the title is rightly his. (He says this with an odd mix of certainty and resolution in his voice but not a hint of conceit or arrogance.) He defends his choice by pointing out that all the great champions of sport won the big ones, the championships, the "majors."
Using that standard he has a point. His record includes two U. S. Open wins and four Classic wins — no other angler has won more than two Classics — along with so many lesser titles that it would be impossible to list them all. Just as impressive, he's won in rivers, reservoirs, natural lakes and just about every other place there are a few gallons of water and a couple of bass.
How does he do it? "In most majors the rules are different & outside information from guides, bait shops, tackle stores and gas stations is strictly controlled & that helps me," he answers. "I do my own preparation & find my own fish."