Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss., now owns what only 33 others can claim: a Bassmaster Classic title.
On Sunday, Pace won the 43rd world championship of bass fishing, the 2013 Bassmaster Classic presented by Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. His prize for a three-day catch of 54 pounds, 12 ounces, was $500,000 and the most coveted trophy of the sport.
His victory on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees was wire-to-wire, although he shared the first-day lead with the 2003 Classic champ, Michael Iaconelli of Pittsgrove, N.J. On the second day, Pace stepped over the entire 53-angler field, surpassing his nearest challenger — Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho — by 7 pounds. Sunday Pace took the win with a margin of 3 pounds, 4 ounces over Palaniuk, who had to settle for second when his hard charge proved to be unsuccessful.
“This is a gift that I will always cherish,” said Pace, 32, claiming his first Classic trophy at his fifth Classic appearance. “This is the ultimate high of a career, a life-changing moment.”
Each day of the competition brought a new complication, from snow, rain, below-freezing temperatures and then warming air and water under high, bluebird skies — all challenges for anglers. Pace overcame the changing fishing conditions, weighing consistent bags of bass the first two days: Friday he had 21-8; and Saturday he did even better with 21-12. His two-day total distanced him from all challengers by 7 pounds or more.
But Sunday he experienced a reverse that gave him some uneasy hours out on Grand Lake. The day, he said, “was probably the hardest day I’ve ever spent on my boat. I caught two in the first hour and didn’t get another bite until about 1:30.”
He said the wind direction Sunday was not to his advantage.
“The places I was on were like flat glass today. I knew when I saw that, I was probably not going to catch any, but they had been so good to me for two days, I fished them. But I never got a bite on that stuff today,” he said.
He went 5 1/2 hours without a bite.
“I never lost focus on what I was trying to do. I told myself all day that if I was going to catch them, then I’d better slow down and fish like I’d been fishing,” he said. “Then I pulled up to a place and caught two on back-to-back casts. That gave me four.”
In the end, his Sunday weight of 11-8 was enough to slide home.
Pace said his winning lures were Jackall jerkbaits — a Squad Minnow and a Soul Shad — plus a Jackall DD Cherry crankbait in a crawdad color. He also used a 1/2-ounce B&M Football Jig with a V&M Twin Tail trailer in green pumpkin. He dipped the plastic trailer’s tails in orange dye for greater visibility in Grand Lake’s stained water.
He had two main patterns. Early in the morning, when the bass were deeper, he worked the football head jig deep on channel banks and on the inside of main-lake points. When the sun came out, he tied on a jerkbait for fish that had moved up shallower on shelves.
“That’s how I caught a lot of my big ones — except today. I never got a bite on a jerkbait today,” Pace said. “Sometimes during the day, fishing a place where there wasn’t any wind on it, and the fish wouldn’t come up to take a jerkbait, I’d throw the DD Cherry.”
With his $500,000 Classic prize, Pace became the 39th member of the B.A.S.S. Millionaires Club — anglers who have surpassed the $1 million mark in earnings from Bassmaster events.
Pace can feel an extra shot of satisfaction, and perhaps some redemption, in his Classic achievement. At age 27, he was the runner-up in the 2008 Classic. He has two wins at the lower Open Series level, but missed three Bassmaster Elite Series titles by one spot: he placed second at an Elite event in 2010, and had two back-to-back seconds last season.
Finishing behind Palaniuk, who had 51-8 over three days, was Classic rookie Hank Cherry of Maiden, N.C. Cherry sacked 17-4 on Sunday, pulling him up to third place with a total of 49-0. Ending in the fourth-place spot was Iaconelli, who had 48-5. Mike McClelland of Bella Vista, Ark., jumped from 14th place on Saturday to finish fifth with a 45-5 total.
The Carhartt Big Bass of the 2013 Classic was the 7-pound, 4-ounce largemouth brought to the scales by Mark Pierce of Clarksville, Tenn., on Day 1. He could collect a bonus from Carhartt of up to $2,500.
Fishing fans packed Tulsa’s new BOK Center for the Friday-Sunday weigh-ins. There was a capacity crowd the final two days. At the Wolf Creek launch site in Grove, Okla., as many as 3,000 braved the cold to watch the anglers launch their boats. And at the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods at the Tulsa Convention Center, a steady flow of fishing fans turned out to see the latest in fishing boats, motors, tow vehicles, gear and tackle.
Complete Classic coverage is available at Bassmaster.com. Access to the site is free.
Ten hours of Classic coverage will air on ESPN2. The Bassmasters will present its Day 1 show at 9-10 a.m. ET, March 2, and will run again March 3 at 6-7 a.m. ET. Coverage of the final two days of Classic competition will air March 3 from 7-9 a.m. ET and 10 a.m.-noon ET. Fans can see Classic shows again on March 10 on ESPN2 from 5-9 a.m. ET. An hour-long Classic highlights program will air at 8 a.m. on April 7.