• Rick Clunn holds up his two bass that both weighed over nine pounds as part of his 34-pound five-fish catch at Sunday's weigh-in. (FRAN RUCHALSKI / Palatka Daily News)
  • Third-place finisher Mark Menendez (left) congratulates Bassmasters Elite Series champion Rick Clunn after Sunday's weigh-in ceremonies. (FRAN RUCHALSKI / Palatka Daily News)

Clunn climbs from No. 8 to No. 1 to win Bassmasters Elite title

Once again, Rick Clunn put the hammer down on the competition at a Bassmasters Elite Series championship on the St. Johns River waters in Putnam County.

The Ava., Mo. native returned to the site of the last major bass fishing event in the county that he won in 2016 by jumping from eighth place to the top of the standings Sunday and win the Bassmasters Elite Series championship crown, his 16th championship win in a legendary career.

The 72-year-old Clunn saved his huge day for last, reeling in his five-fish creel of 34 pounds and 10 ounces to move to the top with 98 pounds and 14 ounces, threatening to crash over the century mark for the first time in a competition. Clunn sat on stage as the seven other anglers who started the day ahead of him came up short in the end. Clunn had the big catch of the day with his one bass of 9 pounds, 14 ounces.

Chris Johnston of Petersborough, Ontario, Canada, who held the lead in the event the last two days, brought in just 19 pounds, five ounces to come in second place at 95 pounds, two ounces. Mark Menendez brought in 25 pounds and 12 ounces, but finished one ounce behind Johnston for third place. Rounding out the top five were Patrick Walters of Sumterville, S.C., in fourth at 91 pounds, 14 ounces, and John Crews of Salem, Va., in fifth at 89 pounds, 11 ounces, including the second-biggest creel of the day at 31 pounds, one ounce.

The field had dropped down from 35 anglers to 10 on Sunday, among those left behind Palatka's Cliff Prince, who took 17th overall.

Clunn was buoyed by the fact he brought in two bass weighing over nine pounds each.