Clunn makes up for early-exit at U.S. Open with opportunity of a lifetime for co-angler

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WON BASS ANGLER James Clayton shows off a couple bass (including his 3.3-pound smallmouth) he caught while fishing with Rick Clunn in a memorial tournament at Missouri’s Table Rock Lake.
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BY MIKE STEVENS

LAUGHLIN— It’s always cool listening to an angler look back on his first WON BASS U.S. Open experience. The paths taken to get there vary quite a bit, but the key components to almost all of the stories surrounding the event itself are the opportunities to compete with and against the best western anglers on the biggest stage. That was certainly the case with one AAA angler who made his WON BASS debut at the 2024 U.S. Open at Lake Mohave, but there was also an element to his story that will likely never be replicated.

Prescott, Arizona angler James Clayton decided to fish the U.S. Open after a 15-minute phone call with WON BASS Tournament Director Billy Egan. In a recent interview, he told Western Outdoor News it was the “co-angling thing” that meant he got to fish with three different pros that ultimately drew him toward jumping into the WON BASS deep-end and making the storied U.S. Open his first WON BASS event. After the first two days on the water, Clayton found out that his Day 3 pro was not only a former U.S. Open champion but arguably the top competitive bass anglers in the history of the sport.

“I was in shock to hear I was fishing with Rick Clunn,” said Clayton. “It was surreal. At the same time, I was really on a high from being around all these other pros. But it was absolutely amazing.”

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Later that evening, Clayton received a phone call that would take the wind out of his sails, to say the least.

“I got a call from a strange area code, and it was Rick Clunn actually calling me to explain that he was not going to be able to fish the third day because of a previous injury,” said Clayton. “I was crushed, but I did get set up with a different pro for Day 3. On that same call, Clunn said I want to bring me to Missouri.”

Specifically, Clunn offered to fly Clayton to Missouri to fish with him in a memorial tournament on Table Rock Lake. Already riding an emotional rollercoaster brought on by the spectacle of his first U.S. Open, competing with two established pros, finding out he was going to fish with Clunn only to later hear from Clunn himself that he couldn’t make the final day but he was invited to fish with him at a later date in Missouri, Clayton still had a day of fishing ahead of him on Lake Mohave. He’d finish in 58th place with a three-day total of 25.23 pounds, and he’d get another call while he as driving home reflecting on everything he’d just experienced.

“After the tournament, I was on my way home and Rick called and wanted to know how I did.” said Clayton. “I talked to him for 45 minutes, and he told me again that he wanted to bring me to Springfield, Missouri and Table Rock Lake to fish that tournament. I was elated.  Long story short, he paid for everything: my flight, rental car, and he put me up at the anglers lodge at Bass Pro Shops which is an amazing experience in itself.”

Clayton went on to tell WON “the 8-hour tournament felt like 20 minutes,” and since the event wasn’t really competitive, there was plenty of time to share stories.

“He is very fond of the U.S. OPEN he won, and If there is anything about Rick, at heart he loves tournament fishing, and he has an amazing relationship with his wife. I can tell she means the world to him, but he’s still very much a competitive bass fisherman.”

Keeping in mind the fact that bass anglers of all levels would love to know what it’s like to fish with Clunn, Clayton shared the goods.

“Something I will never forget that stood out, and I’m going to use it, is he uses identical 7-foot-6 heavy-and-fast rods and takes the guessing game out of it,” said Clayton. “He said when he finds something that works, he doesn’t fix it. He’s also a very tough fisherman. I cast a lot, and I guarantee he outcasted me. He’s still very hungry. I was blown away by the amount of casts the man makes as well as the distance and accuracy.”

Fishing was tough that day, but the Clunn/Clayton duo found plenty of biters even though not many were keepers, but there was one fish that Clayton will never forget.

“I was elated and almost jumped off the boat when I caught a 3-pound, 3-ounce smallmouth on a spinnerbait that Clunn put in my hand and told me how to work it. Rick was more in tune with how I got bit than me.”

To that last point, Clayton said after he landed that smallie, Clunn recapped exactly what happened with incredible accuracy (considering he wasn’t the one who hooked the fish) down to what log the fish big from and how fast the blade was spinning.

“It’s great what Rick did,” said Clayton. “He didn’t have to do any of it. That’s something I’m going to carry forever. I was thinking, God has really done some amazing things in my life. That’s the only way I can really explain some of the top things that have happened to me. This bass fishing thing has really given me a second wind of sorts. This WON BASS thing jumped out in front of me, and now it’s everything to me.”

RICK CLUNN and James Clayton in Springfield, Missouri.

 

 

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