Mercury pro Rick Clunn makes Elite Series history on St. Johns River

In the 10-year history of the Bassmaster Elite Series, there has never been a backstage audience like the one that watched 69-year-old Team Mercury pro Rick Clunn bag his fish on Saturday.

Day 3 of the Elite Series tournament on the St. Johns River in Palatka, Florida, was coming to a close, and of the 49 anglers who had already weighed in, more than half waited at the dock for the 14-time winner to open up his live wells and transfer what was rumored to be a giant limit of largemouth into his weigh bag. Clunn did not disappoint: with his son River helping, the Missouri pro loaded 31 pounds, 7 ounces, the heaviest limit of the tournament by more than 7 pounds, and the anchor of an 81-pound, 15-ounce four-day total that propelled the four-time Bassmaster Classic winner to his first tour-level win since 2002.

"Don't ever accept that your best moments are in the past," Clunn said matter of factly after locking up the champion's trophy the next day with 19-0 to beat Mercury pro Greg Hackney (77-15) by 4 pounds. "They don't have to be. People go through times where they feel like they're not at their peak, but that doesn't mean they still won't have great moments in their life."

Clunn has depended on Mercury outboards since before he started fishing professionally.

"I'd estimate that I've had 45 Mercury motors," Clunn said. "They have as fine a product as you can have. Bass fishermen are high maintenance on everything: We're going to push our equipment to the max, just like we push ourselves. If you're able to combine your ability with the ability of the engine, it'll do exactly what you need. It's just a perfect tool."

Hackney, who appeared to be in control of the event after weighing in a combined 56-15 over the first three days, was among the gang of anglers who lingered on the dock on Day 3, waiting for Clunn to bag his fish and weigh in. Several other anglers – including Mercury pros Skeet Reese and Britt Myers – jumped aboard neighboring boats so they could record Clunn's moment with their smart phones.

"That was one of the coolest things I've ever seen," said Reese, who carried one of Clunn's two loaded fish bags to the tanks while Clunn and River wrestled with the other. "Rick means so much to a lot of us – and to the sport in general – that we're all happy for him. That was a moment that I'll never forget."

How Clunn got it done
Clunn's road to his 14th B.A.S.S. tour-level win took him and his Mercury 250 Pro XS on a 35-minute daily run to the east side of Lake George, where he shared a shallow spawning flat with a handful of other anglers. While the majority of the 103-man field focused their energy on visually locating and presenting ultra-slow-moving baits to the St. Johns' population of giant spawning females, Clunn focused more on docks and grassy shorelines, where he fished faster-moving baits (bladed jigs and swimbaits).

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