Inside B.A.S.S.

After qualifying for an incredible 28 consecutive Bassmaster Classics — one of the most impressive records in all of sports — Rick Clunn has been absent from fishing’s world championship event the past three years.

After watching his amazing streak end in 2002, the 58-year-old Missouri pro announced that he was going to use the occasion to attempt something he had long dreamed of trying. Clunn would no longer fish for points with extending his streak in mind. He decided to adopt more of a swing-for-the-fences attitude with the goal of winning more tournaments.

Since then, the four-time Classic winner has been through a career re-shaping that has had a couple of interesting turns.

When the $308,700 CITGO Mississippi Southern Opens, Clunn will see his first tournament action since the CITGO Bassmaster Elite 50 series ended in June (where he made a strong charge at returning to the Classic).

Why is the 14-time BASS winner competing in the Opens?

“No. 1, the fall is one of my favorite time to fish,” he explained. “But more than anything, we don’t have spring training in this sport. We don’t have a training regiment. Being able to lift weights is one thing, but that’s not the same thing as fishing tournaments at all. That’s completely different.

“The fall tournaments are my way to trying to stay in training.”

Clunn was asked to assess his progress since last qualifying for the 2001 Classic.

“I’ve done some experimenting,” he replied. “I would say that the majority of my experimenting has been just a little bit above a failure. I think last year I started returning to some of the ways that I used to fish more than experimenting.

“I actually had a better year last year than most people realized. I really was only a few points out of making the Classic on the Tour side.

“I had known for a while that my best time of year was taken away from me and that’s the fall. We don’t have fall tournaments anymore. So now I have to come in and survive at a time of year that is my worst time, which is the spawning time of year. So last year I was hoping that I would just survive those tournaments and I really didn’t do a good job of that. On top of that, those (tournaments) that weren’t spawn, especially Guntersville I have to take all the blame for that. That’s the tournament I should have made the Classic on and I didn’t perform there well (he finished 68th).

“I have to improve in the spawning tournaments. I have to at least make a top-40 type showing in those events.”

On the Elite 50 Tour, Clunn finished 13th (the top 10 earned tickets to the Classic), falling just 27 points short of his goal.

“In the Elite 50s I had a blown engine one of the days that dropped me to 48th in one of those,” he said. “I’m close, but at the same time you shouldn’t let it be close enough that a mechanical failure can take you out of it. I wasn’t happy last year — don’t misunderstand — but I feel like last year I did make progress, especially toward the end of the year.

“Again, it’s like how my whole fishing has gone in the last 10 years. It’s about simplification. Trying not to get too fancy. Really going back to what you’re good at. It’s been proven over and over again that the guys that do that are the ones that do well in the long run. Denny (Brauer) is a prime example. He does what he’s good at. So I’m basically just going to do that.

“It’s one thing to try to compete against the spawning guys and get beat, but don’t get beat when the bite is what you’re good at. Yeah, I’m not maybe as fast as I used to be as far as covering a lot of water. Motivation-wise it’s tougher, there’s no doubt. But still I’m good enough to beat most of the guys out there. I know that. And that’s what I’ve just got to get back to doing — just not making it too complex.”

A member of the BASS Millionaires Club, Clunn has abandoned his strict swing-for-the-fences approach.

“That wasn’t any fun. That was about as boring a way to fish as I’ve ever fished,” he noted. “I realized over time that how much my confidence was actually connected to catching a lot of fish. Getting a lot of bites. We’re all positive when you get to tournaments, but if you don’t get a lot of bites after two or three days of practice you’re fighting yourself.

“And practice is real critical, so I’m going back like I’ve been in the past — just try to figure them out. Don’t sit there and try to force 2-pounders or 4-pounders or 6-pounders. Let what’s going to happen, happen. Then once you’ve got your confidence that you know you’re going to catch some fish, then you might try to make some adjustments to try to catch some quality fish. That’s nothing more than I’ve done for 30 years.”

LOOKING FORWARD TO PITTSBURGH. Count 2003 Classic champion Michael Iaconelli among the pros that are looking forward to competing in the 2005 Classic in Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette recently reported: “In town for an appearance at Dick's Sporting Goods in Robinson Towne Center, Iaconelli planned to squeeze in a little fishing and scouting in advance of the 2005 Bassmaster Classic, which will be held here. But with Western Pennsylvania waters cresting at close to flood stage, all he could do was look on Friday as he met with reporters at a restaurant on the Allegheny River.

“If I had been able to launch today, it would feel like what I grew up fishing," said Iaconelli. He lives in Voorhees, N.J., just 15 minutes from Philadelphia, and considers the Delaware River his home water. “I'm ecstatic to get to a part of the country that doesn't normally host a Classic," said Iaconelli, 33. "To be in downtown Pittsburgh and catching smallmouth? I'm stoked!”

REDFISH WARRIORS. Former Classic contenders Steve Browning and Jeff Coble finished 21st in the recent Oh Boy! Oberto Redfish Cup Championship in Lake Charles, La.

The Bassmaster pros weighed in 14.38 pounds of reds in the two-day event.

CHARITY WORKERS. CITGO Bassmaster pros lend their name and efforts to a variety of charitable events in every corner of the country throughout the year. Several pros will participate in one great example, the 2004 Fish With the Pros event later this month in Traverse City, Mich., which will benefit Lifeline Youth and Family Services Inc.

The Indiana-based organization was founded in 1968 by a group of business leaders who had a vision of providing a healthy family environment to boys who found themselves in trouble.

Bassmaster pros volunteering their services this year include Kevin VanDam, Alton Jones, Kim Stricker, Chip Harrison and Kelly Jordon.

DID YOU KNOW? Rick Clunn holds the record for most consecutive Classic appearances with 28. But can you name who owns the second-longest streak? The answer is Larry Nixon with 18 (1977-94).

PRO BIRTHDAYS. North Carolina's Marty Stone turns 39 on Oct. 13. A day later, three-time CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam turns 37. California’s Mark Tyler will be 32 on Nov. 1. Missouri pro Tim Sainato turns 44 on Nov. 10. North Carolina’s Guy Eaker will be becomes 64 on Nov. 23.

IF I HADN’T BECOME A BASS PRO… Top California pro Mark Tyler would likely be juggling fishing with his former occupation as a machinist.

THEY SAID IT. “The money is so good in fishing compared to what it used to be. I’m making the kind of money that I aspired to 10 years ago and there’s so much more still to be made that I haven’t really capitalized on. And I’m not talking next year or the year after. I’m talking now. The money potential is there, and I just have to capitalize on it.” Florida pro Bernie Schultz on the growth of payouts in professional fishing.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375.