The winner of ESPN's Greatest Angler Debate in 2005, Rick Clunn is a living legend among bass anglers. With four Bassmaster Classic titles and a Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award on his résumé, there's almost nothing he hasn't accomplished with a rod and reel. Now he's answered our 20 questions.
1. Where are you from, originally?
Just outside of Fresno, Calif.
2. How did you get started in bass fishing?
My father. He got me into all aspects of the outdoors. I got into bass fishing on my own, but we were all-around anglers. The reason I became so enthralled with bass fishing is because a largemouth bass was the first fish I ever caught on an artificial lure. I mean, using live bait, cut bait or dead bait isn't the same as using artificial. It's more fair with fake lures. You have to impart action to it yourself and make it imitate something by studying them.
3. Who were some of your earliest fishing heroes?
Hero is a word I don't use because, to me, fishermen aren't heroes. Heroes are people who live their lives to save family and friends, and maybe even some strangers, and all they ask for in return is respect. Professional fishermen give people that motivation factor to show them what is possible on the water. As far as fishermen I admire, first and foremost would have to be my father. He worked so hard at fishing. He never fished a tournament, but he worked so hard at it that it was inspiring. We'd go wading through streams everywhere we went, whether it was in Oklahoma or California. He'd be up to his waist, and I'd be neck deep. He worked at it not to win a trophy, but because he loved it so much. As far as modern day fishermen go, I admire Roland Martin. I admire his ability to show you that there is an art and science to winning a tournament, and that it's not luck. Thirty five years ago people thought it was all luck.
4. When did you realize you had made it in the bass fishing industry?
I haven't yet. I will say no such thing. To have "made it" means you're at the top — the pinnacle — of something and you don't ever have to worry about anything, which is not true about fishing. You always have to keep working. Now, there were a few things I've accomplished that I knew would give me some longevity, and that was winning my first Classic in 1976 then backing it up again in 1977. Each of these gave me some longevity and let me know I'd be a part of this for some time.
5. What's the biggest bass you've ever caught?
Thirteen pounds, 15 ounces. I got it from Ray Scott's private lake during a charity event. However, the one I'm most proud of was a 12-8 I caught during competition on Sam Rayburn. That's a more realistic fish that the everyday man can catch, and I had to work for it. That 13-pounder was a tilapia-fed pet.
6. What do you love most about bass fishing?
Freedom mostly. I'm allowed to get up when I want to and I can say when I'm going to have a coffee break or a lunch break. Besides that, I get to experience nature on a much more intimate level. I've seen infinitely more sunsets and sunrises being a fisherman that I would have otherwise. Every day I'm out on the water I see something I've never seen before. I've always loved the outdoors and this lets me get closer to it.
7. What is your greatest strength as a bass angler?
The ability to locate fish fast with no outside help. If there were no practice and no talking to other people before an event, I'd be a lot harder to beat.
8. What is your greatest weakness as a bass angler?
In a way, it's the same as my strength. Weaknesses are created by what you accept as your strength. A lot of guys have one thing they're better at than anything else. For me that would be crankbaits. Since that is my strength, it can become my weakness if I use it when I shouldn't. For instance, Denny Brauer likes to flip a lot, and if that is working, he's hard to beat. But if he does that when flipping is not the best way to get them, he's at a disadvantage because of his strength. It has become his weakness.
9. Where is your favorite place to fish for bass and why?
Lake Powell. It's very isolated and in the middle of a Navajo Indian reservation. There is very little light penetration there, and at night the stars shine on the water as bright as they do in the sky. It's beautiful. As far as a fishery goes, it's alright, but it is as secluded as any body of water in the United States. I'm old school in that sense, I like it because it is one of the few places you can go and not see another boat the whole time you're out there.
10. What question do you get asked most by fans and how do you answer it?
"How do you find fish?" is what I get asked the most, and I usually don't answer it. It's not because I'm being disrespectful or dismissive, but if I only have five or ten minutes with a person, that doesn't come close to being enough time to explain it. I have seminars that are two, three and four days long on that subject. I'd rather give him no answer than a quick response that's incorrect.
11. What's the biggest mistake you see from casual anglers?
I don't see them making any mistakes. As long as they're out there having fun and enjoying nature, they're not doing anything wrong. That is more important than catching lots of fish.
12. Do you have any fishing superstitions?
No, you have to believe in luck to have superstitions.
13. How big a part does luck play in fishing?
That is up to the individual. If you don't study fishing and the water and don't apply the art and science to fishing you need to, luck will play a much larger role. Also, luck factors into tournaments depending on how long they are. If you're in a one-day event, a 10-pound bite will go a long way, whereas the longer the tournament goes, the more skill neutralizes that luck. In a one-day tournament, I'd say there is 30 percent luck; in a two day, 10 percent; three day, less than three percent; and in a four-day event, luck is reduced to less than one percent. The analogy here is golf. Tiger Woods is the best there is, and so the more tournaments he plays, the more wins he's going to have.
14. What has been your greatest accomplishment in the fishing industry?
I can't really say. That's not for me to decide.
15. What goals have you yet to accomplish in your bass fishing career?
I want to win my fifth Classic for my boys. My first wife and two daughters got to see me win four, and it was after that fourth one that the girls noticed I had a real job.
16. What keeps you motivated to reach those goals?
I want to give my boys the chance to experience that and take away from it what they will. I don't know how they'll take that experience, but I want to give them the chance to.
17. What has been the greatest regret of your fishing career?
I don't have any regrets. Sometimes I think to myself I wish I had started earlier, I got in at 26. The flip side of that is that I had a real job for six or seven years at an oil company in downtown Houston. I dealt with rush hour traffic, and I had someone tell me when to eat and drink my coffee. Now I see these guys who get started in their late teens and early 20s and see they have no appreciation for just how lucky they are being able to do this. When I did become a professional angler, I appreciated how fortunate I was to do it. If I go out and do a good job, at the end of the day I'm better off than 90 percent of the population.
18. When you're not bass fishing, how do you like to spend your time?
Without a doubt, I like to spend my time on my farm in the Ozarks away from most humans, except the humans who are called my family. I don't have any male friends. I don't go out with my buddies for a drink. That's not my idea of fun. My idea of fun is spending time with my wife and boys and the few people that are worth spending time with. The things I like doing are feeding the chickens and elk, wading the creeks or going to baseball games and being a normal parent.
19. How do you maintain a balance between work and fishing?
I was never much of an athlete, so I can't really say for myself. But looking at sports today, I'd say for my boys the best thing would be golf. There are fewer hazards, the rewards are high, and you're not going to be sacked by a 500-pound linebacker. And even though a golf course is plastic nature, you're still outside.
20. When it's all over, how do you want people to remember you?
I don't really care. The only people I care about remembering me are the people I have the most emphasis on, my family. I would like them to say that my presence made their lives better and I left this world better. If I'm out on the water I'll pick up a floating cup or some line on a tree, so in that sense I want to have an impact as well.