Season at a Glance: 1977 Bassmaster Trail – Part Five

Not a "natural lake specialist," Rick Clunn would fight his demons and end up winning the 1977 Bassmaster Classic on Florida's Lake Toho despite the fact he had never weighed more than 13 pounds in any event held in the sunshine state. Photo from a Bagley's ad in the Feruary 1978 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

Not a “natural lake specialist,” Rick Clunn would fight his demons and end up winning the 1977 Bassmaster Classic on Florida’s Lake Toho despite the fact he had never weighed more than 13 pounds in any event held in the sunshine state. Photo from a Bagley’s ad in the Feruary 1978 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

[Editor’s Note: This is the final part of the five-part series on the 1977 Bassmaster tournament trail. To read the other parts, click on the appropriate link – part one (the first half of the season), part two (the second half of the season), part three (the Federation Championship), part four (the Classic Contenders).]

Since 1971 Bassmaster Trail anglers fished not only to win, but to qualify for what had become fishing’s biggest event of the year, the Bassmaster Classic. Through six events anglers would accumulate points in hopes of making the year-end event that, even at that time, was being billed as the Super Bowl of bass fishing.

In 1977 the rules stated that the top 24 anglers from the AOY race would be selected plus an additional angler from the Federation Championship. There was also another rule, one that actually brought the Classic contender list up to 26, that stated if an angler fished every event in the year and won one, he’d also qualify for the Classic. Dave Gliebe did such and was the 26th man invited.

The Classic list of contenders was stacked in 1977. Nearly 70 percent of the anglers had Classic experience and 12 of those anglers had fished a minimum of three prior Classics. Of the six previous Classic winners, four of them would be at the 1977 event – Bobby Murray, Rayo Breckenridge, Jack Hains and Rick Clunn.

Anglers you’d expect at the Classic but didn’t qualify were 1974 Classic winner Tommy Martin, 1976 Angler of the Year Jimmy Houston, and 1972 Classic winner Don Butler.

The big questions for the ’77 Classic were; would this be the year for Roland Martin or Bill Dance to win and, would an angler be the first to win two Classics? One of these questions would be answered “yes” by the end of the three-day competition.

For the second year in a row, Radio Shack provided radios for Classic Control. Photo Ron Wright, February 1978 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

For the second year in a row, Radio Shack provided radios for Classic Control. Photo Ron Wright, February 1978 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

A twist to Classic VII was that it was the first time a Classic was announced prior to the event. The week prior, the location was announced in order to allow media and sponsors the time needed to make arrangements to cover the event. Some were happy, while others didn’t like the change.

The reporting of Classic VII also changed from the previous years. This year the tournament reports were stellar, documenting each day of the event. The main report, written by Dave Ellison, is the way tournament reports should be written in my opinion. Full of daily quotes from the anglers and a blow-by-blow account of what happened one the water and at the scales.

For the second year in a row, hourly reports were furnished to Classic Control via CB radios by the press observers. Radio Shack provided the radios and each boat was given a number that only Classic Control knew. That way anglers, or anyone else, couldn’t figure out who was catching what.

Now on to the event.

Practice

Bo Dwoden at the locks. Photo February 1978 issue of Bassmaster Magazine. Tom Gresham.

Bo Dwoden at the locks. Photo February 1978 issue of Bassmaster Magazine. Tom Gresham.

The one-day practice round found most anglers scratching their heads while others reported catching a few. Classic VI winner, Rick Clunn fished all three lakes in the venue and didn’t feel confident at all. In fact, he felt luck was going to be the major factor in winning the event. Here’s Clunn’s thoughts as written by Ellison.

“On Toho, it is going to take more luck than skill to win the Classic, and for me that’s bad. I never want to go into a tournament thinking I have to win by luck….but here I am.”

Fellow Texan Harold Allen didn’t feel any better. Here’s his account of his Classic practice – again written by Ellison.

“I was working the back end of a canal in a big hyacinth patch….saw the three foot alligator about six feet away. I had to see what that ‘gator would do, so I swung my worm toward him. On the second flip, the worm landed about two inches from his nose and all hell broke loose!

“My partner climbed up on his boat seat and turned pale….the gator toward us, fast….then changed directions and pulled off the hook. I’m right proud he did….I don’t rightly know how I would have boated him. I didn’t catch many fish, but I did find a good pattern for gators. If things go the next three days like they did today, the alligators will bite better than the bass.”

Day One

Bo Dowden, Larry Nixon and Roger Moore discuss the tough bite. Photo Tom Gresham, February 1978 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

Bo Dowden, Larry Nixon and Roger Moore discuss the tough bite. Photo Tom Gresham, February 1978 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

Day one started with mixed results for the anglers. Right out of the gate, Bill Dance broke down. The Johnson crew tried to find him on the foggy lake for an hour but Dance fixed the problem himself by clearing the weeds from his lower unit. He kicked over the motor and it started working.

Clunn’s boat was the first to report in. Clunn’s observer reported that he had a 6-pounder. By the end of the day Clunn’s boat reports they have nine bass for approximately 18 pounds. He was one fish shy of a limit.

Ricky Green, Hugh Massey, Al Lindner and Larry Nixon were reported as blanking the first day. The Nixon report was untrue, though, due to the fact Nixon’s radio had been out of service the entire day. The problem goes back to the assigned boat numbers. Someone in another boat had been reporting Nixon’s boat number by mistake. Nixon ended up coming in with a limit, the only limit on day one, of fish for 15-04.

Nixon reported catching 20 fish that day, of which 10 were keepers. Here are Nixon’s words as told to Ray Scott at the weigh in.

“They’re not too awful hard to catch…there’s definitely a trick. Once I had three fish all trying at the same time to get my worm….I caught two bass while waiting to load my boat. It was easy!”

Clunn’s estimation of 18 pounds was slightly off. He ended up weighing 19-10 and had big bass of the day at 7-07.

Clunn reported he found a pattern within the first hour of being on the water. This one day’s weight was nearly seven pounds heavier than anything he’d ever weighed in a three-day event held in Florida.

“They’re hitting a bait they’ve never hit for me before down here….found my pattern the first hour….caught the seven pounder on my second cast on a topwater type lure…had 16-17 hits, caught nine.”

Bo Dowden weighed in seven fish for 13-03 and took the third-place standing. In fourth place was Billy Westmorland and fifth place was held down by Steve Goodwin. The rest of the top 10 was; Bill Dance, Bill Ward, Paul Chamblee, Doug Odom, and Bill Stephens.

The first day 75 bass were weighed in for 128-13. That’s just shy of three fish per contestant. There was only one limit weighed.

Day Two

Dave Gliebe weighed in the big fish on day two despite driving a hook in his finger on practice day.  Photo Ron Wright, February 1978 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

Dave Gliebe weighed in the big fish on day two despite driving a hook in his finger on practice day. Photo Ron Wright, February 1978 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

A cold front rolled through the area Wednesday night and shut the fish off even more. Only 36 bass were brought to the scales for a total of 70-02.

Clunn weighed in two fish for 5-01, retaining the pole position, while Nixon weighed two for 4-02 and stayed in second place. Nixon was now 5-05 behind Clunn.

Bo Dowden managed to weigh in three fish for 4-05 and stayed in the third spot. Doug Odom weighed six fish for 8-15 and moved from 9th place to 4th, while Roland Martin moved from 19th place to 6th with three fish that weighed 8-10. Nixon reported he didn’t have a fish until 2:30 and then caught his second at 2:31. They’d abandoned his pattern.

Californian Dave Gliebe brought the second-day big fish to the scales, a 6-10.

Day Three

After a dismal start, Bobby Murray brings the second limit to the scales on the final day. Photo Ron Wright, February 1978 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

After a dismal start, Bobby Murray brings the second limit to the scales on the final day. Photo Ron Wright, February 1978 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

Early in the last day, Bobby Murray’s press observer reported that Murray had nine fish that weighed approximately 13 pounds. Prior to that, Murray had only weighed one fish for 1-10. He ended up weighing a limit for 17-00, one of only two weighed the entire event.

Roland Martin, who had jumped from 19th place on the first day to sixth via an 8-10 stringer on the second day still had fish going. But an illness that struck his observer almost ruined his charge for the win. Here are his words as written by Ellison.

“He vomited three or four times, and although I was worried about Henry, I had mixed emotions about taking him in. For one thing, I couldn’t afford to lose any time, and secondly all the time Henry was sick, I was catching bass. Had Henry been fishing instead of vomiting, he probably would have caught some of those fish, and knocked me down a few places in the standings. As it turned out, I finished fourth. Thanks Henry.”

Larry Nixon, Rick Clunn, and Ray Scott all pay atention to Harold Sharp as he weighs in Clunn's final fish. Photo Ron Wright, February 1978 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

Larry Nixon, Rick Clunn, and Ray Scott all pay attention to Harold Sharp as he weighs in Clunn’s final fish. Photo Ron Wright, February 1978 issue of Bassmaster Magazine.

When it was time for Nixon to come to the scales, he promptly put four fish down. Their weight was 6-05 and he jumped in front of Clunn by exactly one pound.

The pressure was now on Clunn, who only had one fish to weigh. Although he only had one, it was the right one. It weighed 2-12 and put him ahead of Nixon by 1-12. Clunn had not only won his second Classic, he’d won back-to-back, something no one had ever done in Classic history.

Day 3 totals were 56 bass that weighed 93-05. Bill Ward caught the day’s big fish, a 5-10 largemouth. The totals for the event were 167 bass that weighed 292-04.

Classic Records Set

  • It was the lowest winning total for a Classic at 27-07. (Clunn also owned the highest winning Classic total caught the year before at Guntersville, 59-15).
  • Rick Clunn became the all-time money winner in B.A.S.S. History, $71,563.76.
  • Clunn became the first angler to lead a Classic on day 1 and win.
  • Clunn became the first angler to win two Classics.
  • Clunn became the first angler to win back-to-back Classics – a record that wouldn’t be duplicated until Kevin VanDam matched it in 2011.
  • Classic VII had the lowest total number of fish weighed in its history, 167 bass that weighed 292-04. The previous low was Percy Priest in 1972, which had 208 fish for 303-11.

The full standings of Classic VII are listed in the table below.

1977 Bassmaster Classic VII Lake Toho Final Results
Place
Angler, State
Number of Fish
Alive/Dead
Weight
pounds-ounces
1 Rick Clunn, TX 12/12 27-07
2 Larry Nixon, TX 16/14 25-11
3 Bo Dowden, LA 13/12 21-07
4 Roland Martin, OK 11/9 19-09
5 Doug Odom, SC 12/12 19-03
6 Bobby Murray, TN (yes, TN) 11/5 18-10
7 Bill Ward, MO 8/7 16-09
8 Bill Stephens, AL 8/7 15-02
9 Sonny Viola, LA 10/10 15-00
10 John Powell, AL 8/6 14-09
11 Dave Gliebe, CA 3/3 11-14
12 Steve Goodwin, NC 8/8 10-05
13 Paul Chamblee, NC 6/6 9-02
14 Bill Dance, TN 5/5 9-01
15 Roger Moore, MO 6/6 8-12
16 Billy Westmorland, TN 2/2 8-08
17 Hugh Massey, KY 6/6 7-03
18 Rayo Breckenridge, AR 2/2 6-12
19 Harold Allen, TX 3/3 6-00
20  Jim Rogers, MO 3/3 5-12
21 H. J. Stevens, AR 3/3 5-08
22  Jack Hains, LA 3/3 5-01
23 Phil Greene, TX 3/3 4-13
24 Tom Mann, AL 3/3 3-13
25 Ricky Green, AR 1/1 3-01
26 Al Lindner, MN 1/1 3-00