By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
At age 54, Clark Wendlandt is easily the oldest Angler of the Year in the history of the Bassmaster award, which dates to 1970. That's not a statistic that particularly interests him, however.
"It's not something I'm going to harp on," said the low-key Texan who claimed the 2020 title last week at Lake Fork in his home state. "I'm going to try to win another one next year and that'll put me that much farther ahead of everybody else."
Combined with his FLW Tour points championships in 1997, 2000 and 2009, Wendlandt became the fourth angler with a least four tour-level AOYs, joining Roland Martin (nine Bassmaster), Kevin VanDam (seven Bassmaster, one FLW) and David Dudley (four FLW). He joined VanDam, Denny Brauer, Jay Yelas and Greg Hackney as the only competitors to have claimed the title on both circuits.
"This was the biggest one of all for me and it's really not even close," he said. "B.A.S.S. is the oldest and it has the Classic and the way I look at it, it's the most prestigious. I'm extremely thankful to have been able to win it."
Bomb Made it Tight
A month ago, it appeared as if Wendlandt would cruise to the points crown. After a 17th-place finish at Santee Cooper Lakes, he had a 37-point advantage with two tournaments remaining.
Then came the derby at Lake Chickamauga, where he managed just a single keeper (albeit a near 4-pounder that fell for a Strike King Popping Perch) on day 1 and then blanked on day 2 for an 81st-place showing in the 85-man field. He was leap-frogged by both David Mullins and Austin Felix and went to Fork for the annual Toyota Texas Fest facing a 16-point deficit to the former.
Believing that the weights at Chick would be substantially higher than where they ended up, he fished for big bites the first day. In hindsight, he says what he should've done was spend his practice time up the Hiwassee River, where lunkers are scarce but run-of-the-mill keepers are much more abundant.
"I really should've gone and fished for smaller fish," he said. "When you look at the weights, 18 pounds (total) had you in the Top 20 after 2 days and nobody dreamt that was going to be the case – you're talking about one of the best lakes in the country. When you're fishing for big ones and there's very few bites to be had, you're setting yourself up for doing very poorly.
"A lot of fish got caught up (the Hiwassee), but I didn't practice up there because it usually doesn't compete. I wish I'd put some time in there."
Things Broke Right in Finale
Wendlandt got some help at Fork from the two guys ahead of him on the points list as Felix bombed out (68th) and Mullins turned in a mediocre 47th-place finish (his lowest of the campaign). He made the day-2 cut to the Top 40 in 19th place and needed to avoid falling lower than 31st on day 3 to remain ahead of Mullins.
He ended up catching four keepers for 7-04 to end up in 28th.
"I didn't feel a lot of pressure going into that tournament because I wasn't in charge of my own destiny," he said. "All I could do was fish the best I could and hope it fell the right way for me to win.
"Now that last day, there was plenty of pressure because it was really just me. It was the most stressful fishing day that I can remember. I didn't do well, but I did just enough to win."
His day would've been a lot easier had he landed his first bite – a 3-pound-plus specimen that came off about halfway to the boat. He caught his first small keeper about a half-hour later and added three that were similar over the course of the day, with the last one coming shortly before he had to head back to the launch.
"I would've won without that last one, but that one sure made me made me feel a lot better."
> Lake Ray Roberts, site of the 2021 Classic, is about a 4 1/2-hour drive from his home in Leander, Texas. He's never fished there ("there's lots of lakes that are a lot closer to home") but plans to make a couple of pre-practice trips before it goes off-limits in January.
> He said he's done more interviews than ever before over the past week. "I didn't know there were that many podcasts in existence," he said. "It seems like since (he clinched the title) until now, I've got another interview every hour."
> He's 8 years older than the previous oldest Bassmaster AOY – Gerald Swindle was 46 in 2016. Martin and Guido Hibdon were both 45 when they won their last titles (1985 and 1991, respectively).