Rick Clunn and family celebrate his record fourth BASS Masters Classic win on the James River. Photo: The Montgomery Advertiser Friday Aug 31, 1990 Associated Press.

Today in BASS Masters Classic 1990 we continue the celebration of Rick Clunn’s 50 years on the Bassmaster trail.  For the past four days, we’ve featured Clunn and his first three Classic wins.  This will be the final look at his reign on the BASS Masters Classic, the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing.

1990 represented the year he won his record fourth Classic and this time he won it in the most dramatic of ways.  From practice into the second day of the event, nobody paid him much attention.  Then when everyone least expected it, he blew the doors off the event.

But I’m not going to spoil the story for those who don’t know about it.  Let’s get on with practice and pre-tournament prognostications.

Pre-Tournament

More than a week prior to the anglers arriving at Richmond, Virginia, the bass world was abuzz with predictions of who would take this year’s trophy.  Local outdoor scribes of course chose their local hero.  Examples would be Stan Fagerstrom’s pick of Renaud Pelletier or Steve Koehler’s pick of Randy Blaukat.

Then there were others who took the easy route picking anglers such as Hank Parker and Guido Hibdon, who’d won the last two Classics on the James River.  When it came down to it, the names that kept popping up were pretty much all the same.  Parker, Hibdon, Cochran, Roland Martin, Tommy Martin, and Gary Klein.

As stated earlier, Parker and Hibdon were no-brainers.  Cochran was another easy pick.  Then you had Tommy Martin, who’d placed fifth on the venue in 1988, but took a nosedive in 1989 with a 32nd place finish.

Roland Martin and Gary Klein were two anglers that were always on everyone’s radar.  Roland was the most accomplished angler at the time and had yet to seal the Classic win and Klein was also a perennial favorite who hadn’t tasted Classic victory yet.  We all knew it was only a matter of time before each of these individuals won their Classic.

Then there was Woo Daves, the local favorite amongst Virginians, but not just because of his birthplace.  Daves was participating in his 9th BASS Masters Classic and in the last two on the James, he’d placed 2nd (1988), and 5th (1989).  Daves was a real threat.

The crazy thing I didn’t find in my research of over 300 newspaper articles was there was only one mention of Rick Clunn, and the author didn’t talk about him as a possible winner but asked him what he thought it would take to win in 1990.

Then on media day, the day before the first day of competition, two of the favorites came down with illnesses.  Guido Hibdon contracted the Flu which started to turn into pneumonia, and George Cochran was afflicted with migraines.  Both were bed ridden but vowed to be in their boats the next morning.

Guido Hibdon was one of the favorites going into the 1990 Classic for his win on the James in 1988. Photo: The Springfield News Leader Tuesday August 21, 1990.

Another important event that took place early in the week was former 2-time Classic Champion, Hank Parker, announced his retirement from professional fishing.  This took the bass fishing world by surprise but Parker explained that it was time for him to concentrate on family and his other responsibilities in the industry.  He was there to defend his title and then he’d hang it up.

Don’t think this was just “another” event for Parker.  He stated that he would love to win his last event and being the competitor he was, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind he was serious about winning.

Hank Parker was one of the favorites going into the 1990 Classic for his win on the James in 1989. Photo: Daily Press Thursday August 23, 1990 Valenda Campbell.
Woo Daves was one of the local favorites going into the 1990 Classic. Photo: The Montgomery Advertiser Sunday August 12, 1990.
The Bass Prognosticators had their favorites going into the 1990 Classic. They overlooked one important angler though. Photo: Bryan College Station Eagle Thursday August 23, 1990.

Day One

The first day of the event opened with rain but the water hadn’t dirtied up too much for 19 anglers to bring in limits of bass.  Tommy Biffle took the early lead with a limit of fish that went 15-09.  It was the biggest limit of fish ever weighed in Bassmaster event on the James.

In second place, fighting the flu, was 1988 winner Guido Hibdon with 11-12.  Hibdon was asked about his thoughts on Biffle and whether he could catch him in the following days.  Hibdon, who won with barely 30 pounds of fish, told ray Scott that, “Tommy’s already halfway there to the win and there’s two days left.”  Hibdon may not have been relinquishing the win to Biffle, but he was alluding to the fact it would be hard to catch him.

Roger Farmer sat in the third spot with 11-09, Ken Cook stood in fourth place with 10-14, and Texan David Fenton rounded out the top-5 with 9-13.

Biffle wouldn’t talk about what he was doing but it was obvious the famous flipper was fishing the long rod with the short line.

Others in the top half of the standings were Roland Martin (10th, 8-07), Randy Blaukat (11th, 8-04), George Cochran (12th, 7-14), and Rick Clunn (14th, 6-14).

Day Two

With continued rain, the river swelled overnight and began to wreak havoc on the water.  Biffle went out first thing to his number-1 spot and found it blown out.  He fished the area until 10 am before he went to one of his other productive areas.  He was able to catch his limit in 20 minutes and culled up the rest of the day.  He weighed 9-15 for the day giving him a total of 25-08.

Second place was shared by Hibdon and Fenton, each had 18-14.  This put them a little over 6 1/2-pounds behind Biffle.

Fenton reported he’d caught two fish on a Sluggo, two on a crankbait, and one on a jig.  He was fishing in one area and pounding it.  He said he knew there were a lot of fish in the area and he felt confident it would last for him.

David Wharton moved from 8th place to fourth place with a total of 17-12.  Local favorite, Woo Daves, made the jump from 9th place into a tie for fifth place with Larry Lazoen.  Each had 17-09.

Hank Parker made a valiant leap from 24th place on day 1 to 7th place on day 2 with a total of 16-11.  John Hale (16-04), George Cochran (16-03), and Rick Clunn (15-14) rounded out the top 10.

Day Three

Rains continued to batter the river and was taking miles of river out of the picture with its dirty water.  Both Hibdon and Biffle’s areas were completely blown out, which left them searching for clean water.  Biffle’s only hope was his 6 1/2-pound lead coming into the final day.

Tommy Biffle took the Day-1 lead with the help of these two four-pounders. Photo: News Press Saturday August 25, 1990 AP.
Guido Hibdon, fighting a bout of the flu, fished hard and ended in the second spot at the end of Day-1. Photo: Richmond Times Dispatch Friday August 24, 1990 Bob Brown.

As anglers continued to move farther and farther downstream to find clearer water, Rick Clunn headed downriver as he had each day of the event.  Clunn was concentrating on feeder creeks feeding into the James.  His pattern was fishing a crankbait in the cypress trees.  At low tide he fished a shallow running Poe’s RC1 and at high tide an RC3.

Over the course of the day, he boated 15 fish but when he got his third fish in the boat, he knew it was over.

With a winning limit in the well and enough time to hit one of his other spots on the way in, he buckled down his rods and set off towards the marina.

When he got to his spot not far from the ramp, he stopped the boat, put down the trolling motor and made a few fruitless casts.  He then got in the driver’s seat and turned the key.  Nothing.

The same thing happened the day before and he needed to be brought in to weigh in.  Today was no different, but there was a lot more on the line.  He jumped up and flagged down the first boat he saw.  It was Larry Nixon.

Clunn transferred his fish into Nixon’s boat and Nixon hit the throttle.  Once they were on plane, Nixon pulled the kill switch.

Rick Clunn broke the James River one-day catch record on the most important day. His 18-07 limit of fish vaulted him to his fourth Classic win. Photo: The Pittsburgh Press Sunday September 2, 1990 Bassmaster.

The look on Clunn’s face was nothing but horror.  Here’s what Larry said about the stunt.

“When I pulled the kill switch, Rick’s face turned as white as a sheet and he instantly jumped onto the front deck to flag down the next boat.

“That’s when I started laughing and Rick saw that I was playing a joke on him.  He sat back down and we headed in.”

The Weigh-In

The weigh-in would be held in front of a standing-room only crowd at the Richmond Coliseum.  In standard BASS Masters Classic fashion, Anglers would be brought into the scales based on their standing and their predicted finish would be.  Tommy Biffle would be the 40th man to weigh out of41 contestants.  This would leave Rick Clunn as the last to weigh in.

When it was Biffle’s turn to weigh, his boat was brought to the weigh-in stand, and he took up one fish to the scales.  This gave him 27-06 for the three days of competition.  He was still 11-pounds, 8-ounces ahead of Clunn.  Clunn would have to have to huge bag for the James River to take over the lead.

Clunn had a huge bag.

Clunn first pulled his smallest fish out of the livewell and showed the audience before placing it in his bag.  He then commenced pulling bigger fish after bigger fish out of the well and placing it in his weigh bag.  The crowd went silent.

He took his bag of fish up to the scales and it was certain what had just happened.  Dewey Kendrick dropped the bag onto the scales, and it read 18-07.  The biggest limit of fish ever weighed in a Bassmaster event on the James River.

Rick Clunn hoists his fourth BASS Masters Classic trophy high in the air. Photo: The Atlanta Journal Sunday September 2, 1990 Gary Laden

His Day 3 limit gave him a three-day total of 34-05 and his record fourth BASS Masters Classic win.

It was the biggest Classic comeback in the event’s history.  The only one close was Basil Bacon’s second-place finish in 1979 at Lake Texoma where he blanked on the first day, rallied the next two days and came in second place to Hank Parker.

At this point in time, Rick Clunn was the BASS Masters Classic.  He held nearly all the records for the event including:

1) Only angler to win back-to-back Classics (1976 and 1977)

2) Overall largest weight for a Classic win (1976, Lake Guntersville, 75-09)

3) The largest one-day weight in a Classic (1976, Lake Guntersville, 33-05, 10-fish daily limit)

4) The largest one-day weight in a Classic (1984, Arkansas River, 27-05, 7-fish daily limit)

5) The first angler to win a Classic Wire-to-Wire (1977, Kissimmee Chain)

6) The angler with the most Classic wins (4)

7)  Biggest comeback for a Classic Win (1990, 11-08 deficit, James River)

The only record he didn’t hold anymore was the record for lowest Classic Winning Weight and he was beat on that in 1983 by Larry Nixon (Ohio River, 18-01), and then again by George Cochran in 1987 (Ohio River, 15-05).

There is no doubt why Rick Clunn was chosen in 2005 as the greatest all-time bass angler in the ESPN Greatest Angler Debate.  Over his career he won 4 BASS Masters Classics, 1 Bassmaster AOY, 16 1st-places finishes, 14 2nd-place finishes, 12 3rd-place finishes, and 247 Top-30 Finishes in 497 events.  His total poundage with BASS is 13,565-pounds, 12-ounces and he won 2.6-million dollars with the organization.  This doesn’t include the money he won with Operation Bass, FLW, US Bass/Western Bass, and other organizations.

History will tell that Rick Clunn was the most influential angler of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s and he continues to amaze at the age of 77.

Mr. Clunn, thank you for such an amazing career.  You have inspired so many anglers with what can be accomplished in this sport by showing us nothing is impossible.  Your humble actions have shown us how to handle ourselves on the water and off.  For 50 years you have been an unknowing mentor to countless anglers.  You have been a joy to watch, on good days and bad.

Thank you for your 50-year commitment to the sport we all love.  We hope you’ll be around another half century.

 

To read the first three posts featuring Rick’s first three Classic Wins, please click the following links.  1976, 1977, 1984.