ZAPATA, Texas — Rick Clunn was exhausted. The man with arguably the all-time most famous name in pro bass fishing had just spent more than seven hours hauling in big bass after big bass from Falcon Lake in 100-degree-plus Texas Brush Country heat. In his weigh-in bags — he had to use two — swam five enormous largemouth bass.
“I had 32-9 yesterday, and I think I have over that,” said the pro from Ava., Mo., back at the docks. He came off the water early and was in line to be the first to weigh in on the third day of the Rigid Industries Falcon Slam out of Zapata, Texas.
His trip to the scales proved his prediction. Clunn’s five fish weighed 36 pounds, 14 ounces, the largest single-day bag after three of the Slam’s four days. The only thing Clunn missed catching Saturday was the leader, Keith Combs of Huntington, Texas.
Combs remained the leader by 1 pound over Clunn after starting the day with a 7-7 margin over Edwin Evers.
Combs weighed in 20-5 Saturday, a disappointment to him after his huge Day One bag of 34-13 and Day Two sack of 28-1. He ran into trouble Saturday and brought in a lighter bag — even though 20-5 would be terrific on almost any lake but Falcon. His three-day total was 83 pounds, 3 ounces.
He would not even have had that 20-plus pounds if not for the good sportsmanship shown by a fellow Elite pro from Texas, Clark Reehm.
“I had some mechanical issues about noon,” said Combs, who was fishing near the Falcon Dam. “I probably lost about an hour and a half of fishing time, but Clark allowed me to get into his boat and fish. I really appreciate what he did. He didn’t have to let me fish, but he did.”
Before he climbed aboard with Reehm, Combs had four bass; the fifth came unbuttoned before he could boat it. He was able to fill out his limit fishing from the back of Reehm’s boat.
“I wouldn’t have the lead without him. I might not even had made it in if not for him,” said Combs, who is aiming for his first Elite Series win.
Combs plans to have his boat back in working order by Sunday morning and go to work.
“I sure won’t have a cushion tomorrow, so I’m going to have to crack them hard,” he said.
Clunn said he wants to bust the 100-pound mark, as well as go for the win. He’s in position for both goals.
“First, I’ll have to do some recovering tonight to be ready to go out there again,” said Clunn, the four-time Bassmaster Classic champ, who also owns a Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
Clunn said he plans to return Sunday to the lunker heaven he’s fished for three days. Although he caught two fish there in practice, he didn’t go to it until very late on Day One, when he had just enough time left to collect three bass that weighed 12-12. That left him in 79th place.
“I discovered I’d been dialed-in on the wrong size bait,” he said.
Once he made the correction the next day, he began to catch the bigger bass. He jumped to 24th place on Day Two after bringing in 32-9. Saturday he returned, hanging there all day for his five bass. Two weighed more than 8 pounds, and the others were 6-plus pounds, he estimated.
“I’m feeling surreal. I’m trying to grasp everything,” he said. “I always find it interesting that people criticize [2013 Bassmaster Classic champ] Cliff Pace for not being emotional. I can remember winning the Classic, and I was the same way. I didn’t have anything left to celebrate with. At the end of the day, if you have anything left to celebrate with, you didn’t fish hard enough. Later tonight or tomorrow, it’ll hit me.
“We’ve got one more day. It’s no time to celebrate anyway,” he said. “I am happy with what I’ve done so far. I’ll have to catch close to that [36-14] again to win this.”
Behind Combs and Clunn after the third day was Evers, of Talala, Okla., in third place with 78-15. Gary Klein of Weatherford, Texas, was 2 ounces behind Evers and in fourth with 78-13. Jason Williamson of Aiken, S.C., weighed in 32-9 Saturday to catapult from 28th to fifth place.
The last man into the Top 12 cut was rookie Josh Bertrand of Gilbert, Ariz., with a 72-0 total. First man out was Alton Jones of Lorena, Texas, who missed tying Bertrand by 1 ounce.
The largest bass of the day was a 9-9 caught by Billy McCaghren of Mayflower, Ark. It was a catch that helped him into the Top 12 at 10th place. But the 10-13 lunker weighed Friday by Matt Greenblatt of Port St. Lucie, Fla., still led the Slam’s contest to bring in the Carhartt Big Bass and collect an award worth $1,000, plus another $750 if the angler was wearing Carhartt apparel.
Clunn’s catch of 36-14 became the top candidate for the event’s Berkley Heavyweight Award competition for a $500 bonus, beating the previous big bag, a 35-3 weighed Friday by Cliff Crochet of Pierre Part, La.
The pros will leave the docks at the Zapata County Public Boat Ramp (3079 County Road, Zapata, TX 78076) at 7:15 a.m. CT. The weigh-in is scheduled to begin at 3:15 p.m. CT. Starting at noon, the Bassmaster Elite Series Expo will showcase new boats, tackle, Rigid Industries LED lighting systems, vehicles and other equipment for fishing and boating. All Bassmaster events are free.