Poe’s Lures was founded by Californian Milton Poe in the 1950s. Rick Clunn was born in 1946. It took approximately 40 years for their two legacies to join up on the most public stage in bass fishing, the 1990 Bassmaster Classic on the James River.
Twenty five years after Clunn’s fourth Classic victory, most fishing fans associate his initials with the RC 1.5, a square bill crankbait from Lucky Craft, initially marketed by Bass Pro Shops, which has more recently been renamed. In many respects it spawned the rebirth of square bills in the public’s eye as the first widely-distributed and popularized plastic bait that acted like the traditional balsa lures. For other anglers with slightly longer memories, Clunn’s initials call to mind the Rico topwater popper, one of the first high-end Japanese lures to gain favor on American soil. Before either of them, though, there were the RC 1 and RC 3 crankbaits from Poe’s.
Because Clunn has won with so many crankbaits – not just Poe’s, but also Rapala, Bomber, Norman and Bagley’s – fishing history has not always associated the two together. Indeed, David Fritts, who went on a tear in Red Man and Bassmaster competition in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s (including the 1993 Classic on Logan Martin) with Poe’s 300 and 400 series deep divers, may be more regularly associated with the brand, but Clunn’s win in 1990 on the RC1 and RC 3 is historically significant for several reasons: First, it locked him in as the first four-time Classic winner. Second, while hand-made plugs had been popular in regional pockets for years, and Clunn’s winning lures were mass-produced, it ushered in an era where the small manufacturers increasingly became subjects of interest.
Clunn made no secret of the fact that the RC 3 was based on someone else’s work. As Tim Tucker wrote in the November 1990 issue of Bassmaster: “Two years earlier, Clunn had convinced the company to make a modified replica of a hand-made flat-sided crankbait that he had been quietly using for years and had practically run out of. The result was the RC 3, a bait capable of reaching a depth of 8 to 10 feet. Ironically, it was some frustration with the RC 3 on the James River in the 1989 Classic that led to the development of a shallower version that would prove to be the winning bait in Classic XX.”
In that same issue of Bassmaster, Clunn told Chris Altman that the RC 3 “is a composite of all of the home-mades that I have collected while the (coffin shaped) bill design comes from some of the plugs Fred Young used to make.” While noting that the lure had a striking similarity to other lures, like Steve Blazer’s Tennessee Tuffy, the author made clear that the RC series had one distinct advantage over its balsa counterparts – its cedar construction made it much easier to cast, especially in the wind. Clunn claimed that the cedar provided an additional advantage of “neutral buoyancy that makes a stop-and-go retrieve a bit more effective, especially during the colder months.”
In the Classic, Clunn fished the crankbaits around cypress trees at the mouths of various mid-river creeks on the James, using the RC 3 at higher tides and the RC 1, which produced 80 percent of his winning catch, the rest of the time. The best color was black back with chartreuse sides and an orange belly.
While it may seem obvious to current-day anglers steeped in the era of heavy-cover cranking, at the time Clunn’s willingness to throw his lure in nasty limbs and roots was atypical. “The whole key to the RC 1 is that I throw it in the same places where I throw a spinnerbait,” he told Tucker. “I tried to put in into every little crack and crevice that I could in those cypress trees and logs. I’ve got blisters on my fingers from popping my line to get my bait loose. I probably got hung up 60 times a day, because I fished it through there from every angle that I would fish a spinnerbait.”
For a Classic-winning lure, the RC series had a surprisingly short life span in terms of popularity among weekend anglers. Part of that might’ve been the result of corporate changes. The original California owners of Poe’s sold the company to Browning, and apparently there were substantial quality control issues thereafter, with many reports of the plugs’ exteriors cracking. Subsequently the brand was sold to Yakima, a company that has never firmly placed itself in the mainstream of the southeastern-dominated bass world. Today the RC 1 and RC 3 themselves exist only on eBay and in the tackle boxes of older anglers. At the same time, their influence is widely felt in the fact that just about every major manufacturer produces a flat-sided lure, and at the same time the small batch “garage baits” have become increasingly coveted and mainstreamed.