After getting their thoughts on the upcoming Elite Series and what it means for them and professional fishing in Part One of this two-part interview, BASS Senior Ken Duke probes the minds of legendary angler Rick Clunn and 2004's Rookie of the Year Greg Hackney even further. You'll be surprised what you'll find if you look closely.
To hear the complete audio transcript of this two-part interview, check it out on BASS INSIDER.
BASS: Well guys we've talked a little about the Elite Series, but next year we've also got another new thing coming up and those are the Majors. Now over the past two years you all have had a chance to participate in the Elite 50s, but these events are a little bit different. We're going to — for one thing we're going to have a really big first place prize money of $250,000. Rick, are you looking forward to the Majors? Obviously, you're going to be one of the featured participants.
CLUNN: Of course I am. You know the Majors are ... I'm always sad that we're not having more of them. We were actually having one less this year than we've had in the past. It's one of the better opportunities for an angler. Your expenses for this ... what you have invested versus what you have to gain is the greatest of any event we fish, by far. Plus, I like the majors because it's probably ... I know in the past I would have said that the Major's was the finest field of anglers you were competing against ... I've ever competed against. It has been diluted somewhat this year, and that's kind of unfortunate. They're pulling too many other people in, that, you know, I don't personally think should be in the Majors, and I'm just going to be frank about it because the Majors was the Elite...truly last year what they called the Majors was the Elite, so we don't get confused here, but truly that was the most elite field I've ever fished against in my whole career and there was something special about that.
BASS: Well, Greg, how about you? What are your thought's about the upcoming Majors and the big money that you all are going to be fishing for?
HACKNEY: You know, I think that I haven't seen a part on who qualifies for next year. I'd only fished it one year ... like I was able to get in my first year as the Rookie of the Year, and I pretty well stayed in awe the whole time during the Majors because it was the elite of the elite. I mean everybody that was there was a household name. The Majors is something that has really pushed everybody to fish harder. You know, something to reach ... I've been trying for two years to get back in the Majors and the deal with it is, it rewards the fishermen that do the best. You know it gives them an opportunity to really fish for the big money. It's a total different format, you know, we're fishing later in the day, later ... you know, we start later in the morning to later at night. I think it's more of a crowd pleaser than probably the Tour events have been just because it gives people the opportunity to come out in the morning and see us blast off and a chance for them to kind of mingle with everybody ... and another thing I really like about it, it's really laid back. It's more so laid back than say the Tour events have been. You know, and it's just, it's awesome. It's an awesome deal. And I'm really looking forward to next year if I can catch some fish starting off in the year I'll have an opportunity to get in next year.
CLUNN: He'll be there. If I had to bet on somebody, he'd be one or two I'd lay my money on.
BASS: I think so, Rick. I think Greg Hackney doesn't need to worry too much about getting in the Majors for the 2006 season. Guys you mentioned the later start Greg, and you guys in your business you're used to getting up well before the sun comes up, getting out on the water, spending as much time on the water as you possibly can, and then all of a sudden for the Majors, you know, you've got maybe a 10 or 11 o'clock start time, a much later weigh in, does that mess with you internal clock, does that mess with your ability to focus and concentrate? Rick you're renowned for that...your ability to focus and tune other things out. Does the change in time affect you in any way?
CLUNN: Well, I think we're technically maybe incorrect about that being the case next year in the Majors. I, uh, did like that last year and my first two years in the Majors. And mainly from the standpoint that I saw more kids at the weigh in than I've ever seen which is very, very important. More young kids bringing their dates, more kids by themselves coming to the weigh-ins. I actually think they — if you'll look at the stuff — I think they've changed that back to early start again which I don't understand why they've done that because that definitely was working. It was working, it was getting the crowds there, it was getting, you know what, bigger crowds than we've ever had so I hope that was a misprint but, I am afraid that from what I looked at in there that they were going to have an eight o'clock start time. Which is still a little later, but I hope it doesn't affect the attendance and especially the kids being at the weigh-ins.
BASS: Rick, five or six years ago, you told me something that surprised me a little bit, you said that even after all those years as a professional fisherman, you were still not a morning person.
CLUNN: No, I'm not. I hate getting up in the morning. And even though ... if you go down the ramp I'll be the first one down there, it's not like I enjoy it. You know I don't get started until that sun comes up. So the Majors fit right into my internal clock.
BASS: How about you, Greg, did you like the later start times? What are your thoughts on that?
HACKNEY: Yeah, I really did, but the thing about it, I probably still got in bed at night, you know, probably as late or later than I had, and, uh, I still got up early every morning. You know, even thought we didn't start until later, I'm kind of a creature of habit. You know, when I get in the habit I get ... I'm a routine type person, you know, when I get in that routine I'm not that overwhelmed, you know, when I don't have to get up early, I don't. And that's a real peaceful time for me — early in the morning.
BASS: Well guys another thing that the Majors are going to do, that we haven't seen before, is they're going to honor a particular individual. For example, the Bassmaster Memorial, which is coming up on Eagle Mountain Lake in May, that's going to be the Don Butler Memorial. The Bassmaster American is going to honor Bryan Kerchal, the only Federation angler ever to win the Classic, and the Bassmaster Legends Tournament on the Arkansas River is going to honor Ray Scott, the founder of BASS. Now, we haven't seen this in the past. Rick, I know that you know all these gentlemen, or knew them. Greg, I don't know if you had the opportunity to meet them, but what do you think about that? Honoring some of the legends of the sport? Rick I'll let you tackle that one first.
CLUNN: I think it's necessary to retain the history of the sport. I think it's necessary for the fans to be able to appreciate the sport. But, it's probably even more necessary for the participants themselves to understand where the bar got set, how it got raised at different times in history and where it is now, and how it got to that point. That's one thing I've always admired Tiger Woods for — he knows the history of golf. He knew who he had to match and how that bar got where it was. He knew how he had to get there and he knew what he had to do to push the bar even higher. So that's why history is important. These types of things, in some ways, that's what they're doing, they're allowing the history of the sport to be brought back to the forefront.
BASS: We are glad to see that, certainly, here at BASS. That's a big part of what we're trying to do. Greg, I don't know if you had a chance to meet any of these gentlemen. Obviously, you've met Ray Scott, but Bryan Kerchal and Don Butler may have been a little bit before your time on the tournament trail Are you a historian of the sport Greg? Is this something you grew up with and immersed yourself in?
HACKNEY: It has been. I've been reading about it. I've never met Bryan Kerchal, but I was at the Arkansas River tournament when qualified for the Classic. I was at the weigh in. I think that's one of those things that is so great about BASS is the history. It's the only tournament trail out there that really has a history. If it wasn't for BASS I wouldn't be doing this. I would probably still be fishing, because I've always loved to fish, not only for bass, but for everything. That's one thing that BASS has done is brought the history back and that's really what this sport is based on. They have such a long history. Like Rick Clunn, he's history in bass, and he's still making history. That's one thing that is awesome about this sport.
BASS: Well Rick, that's going to transition nicely into the next thing I wanted to talk about with you all, and that's the upcoming 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic on Lake Toho. Of course, this is not the first time that BASS has held a Classic on Toho. Back in 1977 ... I guess that was the first that wasn't on a mystery lake isn't that right?
CLUNN: Now you're testing my history because that was the time frame, but I'm not going to let you hold me to that.
BASS: OK, I think it was, but I could certainly be mistaken. Rick won that tournament, and I think he won with about 27 pounds.
CLUNN: Yeah, I won that one because none of us were from Florida except Roland [Martin] and none of us knew what we were doing. I got lost in the fog. True story. The first morning of the tournament, I was trying to go someplace else and I couldn't find the lock. I pulled over and I caught a 7 pound fish on a buzz bait, and from that point on that was kind of how that tournament went for me. This is going to be a lot different Toho Classic than that one.
BASS: Both of you guys have had success in Florida. Greg, I know you finished second on an Open in Okeechobee last year. Rick, obviously, you've won a Classic on the very same body of water. This is a little ironic, but Rick you were 36th and Greg you were 37th at the recent tour event on Lake Toho. You guys were back to back there. What are your thoughts coming into the 2006 Classic, February and all the thoughts of Dean Rojas and his 45 pound string? What's it going to take to win this Classic, Greg?
HACKNEY: The one good thing about going to Florida, is that it changes every year. I don't really think that you can have any preconceived notions going into the Classic. Even though we've been there, and the whole field will have been on Toho before, the weather will be the biggest factor. Water clarity will be another big factor. I think that there are so many variables that there is really no way of telling how that tournament is going to be won. I'm always excited to go to Florida, because the one thing that stays the same in Florida is the fish are always shallow. That suits me. That's one thing that I always look forward to. I know that I don't really have to look out for the fish. They'll be up in some good cover, but other than that I think it's going to be kind of a wide open tournament.
BASS: It should be really interesting. Rick, you've fished 29 Classics already, that will be your 30th. You've seen a lot of records come and go. You've set most of them. A lot of people are talking about how your all-time Classic tournament weight from 1984 is going to be eclipsed; Ricky Green's lunker record from Guntersville is going to be eclipsed. Do you think those records really are in danger or is that a lot of hype?
CLUNN: No, I really think that any time you move the Bassmaster Classic from what is historically the toughest big bass time of the year, July and August, to what is the best big bass time of the year, January and February, it will happen sooner or later. That's reality. It will happen sooner or later if the Classic stays in those months because those are the months that tend to produce a lot bigger and a lot better quality fish. Plus, another thing that is going to take place in this Classic, if I read the rules right, is that we are going to be better prepared practice wise than we ever have been in a Classic because we are going to be able to practice within close proximity of the time of the tournament. We're only going to get three days of practice, unlike the past where we got five or six. But that five or six came a month ahead, and a lot can change. This practice is going to be three days the week before. That makes a big difference as far as how prepared these guys will be. This may be the best prepared group we've had for a Classic in the history of the Classic.
BASS: Guys, it seems like you just came off the Classic. It wasn't that long ago that you were in Pittsburgh, the Three Rivers area, and you guys struggled. And, I'm not saying that lightly because everyone struggled including Kevin VanDam and he won the tournament. Now you've got another Classic coming up in about seven months. Does that cycle seem different? Is it going to be easy to get up for this event?
CLUNN: The Classic is the Classic. It doesn't matter when or where you have it. If you can't get up for it, you're not going to be able to get up for any of them. I've fished a lot of Classics in my early career in the fall and then they switched them to the summer. So it's not like this is the first time the Classic has changed what quarter of the year it's in. No, I don't think so. Not for me. And, most of us are not going to have fished in so long that we are going to be like these thoroughbred race horses that go crazy out of the starting gate. I think the key is to get your self physically ready for that Classic because you haven't been fishing in a while.
BASS: How about you Greg, is it going to be easy to get geared up for this one?
HACKNEY: Yeah, I think it really will. I'm always really excited every year to start the first tournament. Sometimes I think maybe I'm too excited.
BASS: Wasn't that the case, and I don't mean to interrupt you there, but there was some statement earlier this year about how you had fished so many events last year, that you'd gotten so busy that it was hard to gear up for the upcoming season. I hope I'm not misquoting you on that.
HACKNEY: No, you're not. It's funny, I don't need a lot of off time, but every year it really helps me if I have a month or so off before we start fishing again. Last year, it took me a while to get geared up. I wasn't necessarily ready. I hadn't spent enough time at home doing my normal routine. I kind of got out of my routine. Like I said before, I'm a creature of habit. So I'm really looking forward to next year's Classic and it being the first tournament just because I'll be ready to fish. I will have been off all fall and will have taken care of some other things that I've been putting off. I'll have some time to relax. I'll probably prepare for the Classic more so for this one than I have in the past, just because I'll have an opportunity to fish. That's something that I don't get much opportunity to do, just go fishing. And I really still enjoy doing that. Even though I enjoy the fishing tournaments and I enjoy the practice forum, something that I haven't been able to do in the last few years is fish in the winter. This year, I am going to spend some time fishing. I will probably go to Florida the week before our practice and just fish some lakes in Florida that I haven't gotten to fish in the past. I'll just spend some time fishing because I like to do that. I'm really looking forward to it being the first tournament. Probably more so than I am the last just because you've been through everything all year. It's always the Classic. It doesn't matter if they hold it in the desert or wherever. I always get up for it. But, next year with it being in Florida and being the first tournament, I'm really looking forward to it.
BASS: How about you Rick? What do you think about starting the season with the premier event?
CLUNN: I think a lot of big deal is being made about that. I don't have a problem when it is. You know, the Daytona 500 was always the elite race in NASCAR and it was always the first one of the year. The only thing I hope to see that is not affected is, again, the family attendance at the Classic. Obviously, there's Disney World and I doubt that you're going to see any negative effects there. That will attract the families on its own as well as the Classic. We've had such a loyal, loyal following family wise in the Bassmaster Classic that it goes way beyond what most people even know. If you haven't been to 15 or 20 of them, I've seen pregnant women come to them with their family. And now I see them out supporting their kid in the Junior Bassmaster Classic. That's how long I've been fishing. I just hope that the family attraction for the Classic is maintained. I think it will be if they're wise about their site selections. I don't think it will be affected negatively at Toho.
BASS: Well, we certainly hope not. We're excited about it. It's going to be in the backyard of BASS in 2006. We think it's going to bigger, better than ever and we're really looking forward to it. I want to thank you both for spending the time with us, answering those questions and talking with us a bit. We really appreciate it. We know you're busy. We look forward to seeing you very soon at a tournament.
CLUNN: I appreciate it. Thank you for having us.
HACKNEY: We will see you there.
BASS: Take care, guys.