BassWestUSA - November/December, 2009, Page 20

From Joe to Pro

In the process, he also earned an invitation to the Red Man All- American. The championship offered a lucrative tournament purse and national recognition. Going into the event, Clark was not mere- ly satisfied with being a participant – he wanted to win – and, he did. With the victory, Clark Wendlandt became one of the youngest All-American champions in its storied history. “Really, the first time that I knew I could make a career out of fishing was when I won the All-American. Back then, that was worth $100,000, and it was the largest award in fishing. Even though I won, I still knew I had a ways to go. I needed to qualify for the tour, and that was when I started fishing the Invitationals.” Clark decided to enter the B.A.S.S. – sanctioned Bassmaster Invitationals on top of the Red Man circuit in the fall of 1992. Although the Invitationals required a greater financial investment while testing his ability to quickly learn unfamiliar waters, Clark welcomed the challenge with an open mind and remained self as- sured in his abilities. The schedule included far-reaching destina- tions of the Northeast such as the St. Lawrence River in New York and Buggs Island Reservoir in Virginia. Out of six events, he placed in the money four times and qualified for the Bassmaster Top 100 Tour in his first Invitational season. He had finally become a full- time touring professional! By 1996, Clark had completed three seasons on tour, made his first Bassmaster Classic, and was earning enough money to support his family. Upon welcoming the arrival of their second child, Clark’s wife was able to resign from her job and focus on raising their young children. “The financial struggle was the biggest challenge for me and for just about most everybody at the time. Back then, if you made

the Classic, you had a shot at receiving enough income to make a living. That was kind of the main goal of the typical tournament bass fisherman.”

In 1997, Clark elected to fish the FLW Tour, an upstart na- tional fishing tour in its second year of operation in addition to the Bassmaster Top 100 Tour. The new circuit offered fresh tourna- ment venues and record-sized purses. For Clark, the circuit was a retreat of sorts from the more stressful Bassmaster Tour season. “At that point, B.A.S.S. was still the bigger and better circuit. One of the reasons I had success with FLW was that I was not put- ting nearly the same amount of pressure on myself to succeed in those events. I would just come into the tournaments and fish. I

Photo courtesy of FLW Outdoors

Photo courtesy of FLW Outdoors

ThE FLW Tour

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November/December 2009