By Paul Strege
All photos courtesy of FLW Outdoors
Every angler has a story… for Kellogg’s Pro Clark Wendlandt, his rise to extraordinary prominence was a natural progression.
Clark Wendlandt is arguably one of the most recognizable names in fishing. Upon earning his third Angler of the Year title in 2009, he cemented his position as the most consistent and honored angler in FLW history. To say that Clark is a student of the professional fishing game would be an understatement. From adolescence to adulthood, his studies have been focused on everything related to bass fishing.
The Gibbons Guide
Growing up, Clark cut his bass fishing teeth on Lake Travis near Austin, Texas. For the Wendlandt family, weekend recreational activities were held almost exclusively outdoors. Hunting and fishing were their favorite pastimes, but with shorter hunting seasons, the Wendlandts spent the majority of their time fishing. Clark was immersed in outdoor activities from the very beginning, and he loved every second of it.
Clark recalls, “When I grew up, bass fishing was trolling down the bank with a rod in my hand and a lure dragging behind it. That was just what my dad and grandparents did. They didn’t try different presentations to figure the fish out. It wasn’t until I went fishing with a high school buddy that I learned what fishing was really like. He showed me how to skip docks and trees, when to change line, and how to use different lures. He basically taught me how to catch bass in different situations. Once I caught on, that was when I really fell in love with bass fishing.”
With his bass-catching world suddenly expanded, Clark’s desire to learn more about fishing was never greater. He chopped firewood throughout high school to save enough money to purchase his first bass rig, a 1966 Duckhawk powered by a 33-horsepower Johnson. The boat allowed him to spend even more time on the water, while experimenting with new techniques and developing his fishing mechanics. By the time he had turned eighteen, Clark’s love for the outdoors inspired his pursuit of a wildlife and fisheries degree from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Outside the classroom, he studied waters close to campus, including Gibbons Creek Reservoir and Fayette County Reservoir. He quickly became known as a local fishing expert.
“Gibbons Creek opened in 1985, so not many people knew about it. When fishing there, I got to know a lot of the people around the lake. I met outdoor writers, other local fishermen, and started entering tournaments. All those things helped me to gain some notoriety and it kind of snowballed from there.”
With an established network of local contacts, Clark started to receive requests to guide on area lakes. He jumped at the prospect, and before long referrals trickled in. Guiding provided not only a steady income but also added time spent on the water. His confidence in locating and catching bass soared, and he became a regular competitor in local tournaments. The more he participated, the greater his love for the sport grew. He wanted, more than ever, to make it a career.
“I just kind of knew of tournament fishing at first. It wasn’t really something that I necessarily followed, but knew some of the guys, like Roland Martin and Rick Clunn, were professional tournament anglers. It was just kind of something that started for me. I loved the competition, so I just aspired to become a professional fisherman.”
Start of a Career
Clark got married in 1989, roughly the same time he graduated from Texas A&M. With the support of his wife, Patti, he decided to enter the Red Man Tournament Trail, the largest amateur-level fishing circuit in Texas at the time. Those first years, he learned new bodies of water, and the strategy and nuance of organized competition.
“The Red Man’s were where you started at. Even back then, it was the way the process ought to be. You had to prove that you could catch them at one level before moving up. That is what happened for me. From the Red Man’s, the next place to go was to fish the Bassmaster Invitationals, and that was the path I followed.”
With four consecutive years of increasing success, he was on the threshold of a breakout season. That season materialized in 1992 when he qualified for and won the Red Man regional event. 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 merely 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 assured in his abilities. The schedule included far-reaching destinations 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.”
The FLW Tour
In 1997, Clark elected to fish the FLW Tour, an upstart national fishing tour in its second year of operation in addition to the Bassmaster Top 100 Tour. The new circuit offered fresh tournament 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 putting nearly the same amount of pressure on myself to succeed in those events. I would just come into the tournaments and fish. I was just letting my natural abilities take over.”
That year, Clark won Angler of the Year. He followed that season with three tour wins and a second Angler of the Year title in the next three years. His early achievement garnered the respect of tour sponsors. Working with companies interested in assembling “fishing teams”, FLW Outdoors recommended Clark to the Kellogg’s company and one of the longest-standing, non-endemic sponsorships was established.
“A lot of the decision at that point to choose FLW over B.A.S.S. came from the people that were at FLW. They were, to me, a more passionate group. They wanted to grow the sport and make it better. The second reason was sponsorship. At the time, I was the Angler of the Year which led to a Kellogg’s sponsorship. Kellogg’s was focused on family and youth, and I was excited about that. My family was the reason that I am even fishing today, so my values were a natural fit to their team. FLW just was the way for me to go.”
In 2003, Clark decided to end his B.A.S.S. career and focus solely on the FLW Tour.
Meet the Pro
Clark’s success on the water has translated to opportunities to share his faith with other fishermen on the tournament trail. He regularly participates with other tour anglers in a series of seminars called “Meet the Pro”. The group shares fishing tips, fellowship, and life lessons. For Clark, the chance to speak about the influence of his Christian faith on his professional career is more valuable than any tournament prize he may earn.
“One thing that I have learned is that there is a ton of anxiety that goes along with tournament fishing. You basically have to catch fish to make a living. There’s no secret about it; you have to do well. You travel cross-country, from lake to lake, and you have to perform at every stop. If you catch them one time, it’s not like you don’t have to catch them the next. There is no break. For me, there is a passage in Scripture that talks about that. At times, I have asked God to take away the pressure and anxiety for me. He has reassured me by telling me, ‘When you are weakest, that is when I am strongest, if you will just let me do it.’ You have to be able to say, ‘God, this is Yours, not mine. I am just going to go out there and do the best that I can, but I can’t do it by myself.’ And, I’ve learned with 100-percent certainty that I cannot.”
The “Meet the Pro” series has become so popular among fishing fans and competitors that one recent meeting in Rogers, Arkansas drew an audience in excess of two-thousand people. Other regular speakers include Scott Martin, Jay Yelas, Mark Rose, Darrell Robertson and Jim Johnson.
Changes in the Sport
With fishing having evolved beyond a sport and into a diversified recreational activity, Clark identifies its popularity among youth and the potential associated effect.
“My belief on where our sport is headed is that youth are going to take over. And, I see that as being a good thing. It is what our sport needs. There are a couple different college circuits now that provide great opportunities for youth to get involved. It will force people that are a little older and have been with the sport a while to become even better. I don’t believe that you will be able to sit back on what you’ve done and continue to make a good living. You are going to have to continue to improve to do well.”
Clark also believes that the next generation of bass anglers can be characterized according to their desire to succeed.
“Experience doesn’t account for as much in our sport today as it used to. And the reason it doesn’t is that desire trumps experience every time. It does not necessarily matter how much you know, it matters how much you want it. That is why the young guys in our sport tend to dominate. They are hungrier. Don’t get me wrong, there are guys that keep it going, year after year, but they are the extraordinary ones.”
With three Angler of the Year titles to his credit, Clark has already earned a professional lifetime of achievement. Some anglers would be satisfied with those accomplishments, but Clark desires more.
“From the angling perspective, I would really like to win more Angler of the Year titles. I think it is the most difficult and prestigious award to win. I would like to win it every season. I know that is not necessarily an attainable goal, but it is always going to be a goal of mine each year. And, off-the-water, I would love to see the ‘Meet the Pro’ and other opportunities like that continue to grow.”
With an unyielding desire to remain competitive and youthful exuberance to share his faith with others, it is without hesitation that one can claim that this Joe to Pro is truly one of the “extraordinary ones”.
Clark Wendlandt Achievements:
1992 – Fished Red Man Tournament Circuit. Won Regionals and All-American.
1993 – Completed first Invitational season. Qualified for the B.A.S.S. Top 100 Tour.
1995 – Qualified for first Bassmaster Classic on High Rock Lake, NC.
1997 – First season fishing FLW Tour. Won Angler of the Year.
1999 – Won FLW / Wal-Mart Open on Beaver Lake, AR.
2000 – Won FLW Tour event on Lake Murray, SC. Earned second FLW Angler of the Year title. Joined Kellogg’s Fishing Team.
2001 – Won second FLW / Wal-Mart Open on Beaver Lake, AR.
2002 – Last season fishing the Bassmaster Tour.
2009 – Won third FLW Tour Angler of the Year title – most in FLW history.
3 AOY titles, 3 Wins, 33 Top-10’s and $1,610,000 in career FLW winnings.
4 Classic Qualifications, 16 Top-10’s and $320,000 in career B.A.S.S. winnings.