Like virtually every Bassmaster Classic® winner before him, Cliff Pace has had an extremely busy but thoroughly enjoyable year as the reigning Bassmaster Classic® world champion. The Yamaha Pro has traveled from one corner of the country to the other on a whirlwind schedule, and admits being amazed at the growth and popularity of professional tournament bass fishing.
Unfortunately, a serious hunting accident on January 24 will keep the champion from defending his title at Lake Guntersville, Ala. in February. While climbing down from his tree stand, Pace fell and broke his left leg in two places and also tore the ACL in his left knee. He will not only miss the Classic but also much, if not all of the 2014 Bassmaster® Elite Series campaign.
“The first thing B.A.S.S.® did was give me an automatic entry into the 2015 Classic at Lake Hartwell to defend my title,” acknowledged Pace, “and I am extremely grateful for that opportunity. It will be a long wait until that event, but I did finish second there during the 2008 Classic,® so I already feel confident about returning to the lake.”
Nevertheless, before his accident, the Yamaha Pro admits his year as Classic® champion has been one of the most wonderful experiences of his life. A competitor since the age of 13, Pace acknowledges that winning the Classic opened the door for him to meet bass fishing enthusiasts all over America whom he never would have had the chance to meet, and share their common love of fishing.
“I probably traveled at least three times as much as I do in a normal year, but no matter where I went, from California to Florida, the fan support I received was just amazing,” he says.
After his win on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake, the Yamaha Pro remained in Tulsa an extra day for special film work, then returned to his home in Petal, Miss., but only for a short time before his travel schedule began in earnest. Between the end of February and early June, he was home only three days. In fact, the Classic® victory party his family and friends wanted to give him had to be postponed for months before they could celebrate.
“The majority of my travel was for sponsor promotions, store openings, and seminars,” Pace continues, “and thank goodness my wife and several family friends helped get me to the right places at the right times. While someone was driving, I’d sleep, then do an appearance, then we’d drive to my next appointment.
“I’m sure I autographed every shape, form, and type of fishing lure available, including spinnerbait blades, crankbait bodies, and packages of line, as well as rods, reels, boats, sunglasses, and of course, thousands of caps and fishing jerseys.
“Just seeing and feeling the excitement of all the fans everywhere I traveled is just indescribable.”
Perhaps the most surprising object Pace autographed was a football, which had already been signed by pro football greats Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. He also signed cardboard cut-outs of himself at one store, inscribing them with the phrase, “Hope for a repeat!”
Through it all, the Yamaha Pro also managed to have a very successful 2013 Bassmaster® Elite season, finishing 12th overall in the standings and qualifying for the 2014 Classic® without having to use his automatic entry as defending champion. He enjoyed back-to-back 7th place finishes at Bull Shoals and West Point, and placed in the top-30 in four other events.
“As soon as the Classic® was over, I couldn’t wait to get to the Sabine River event in Texas for the start of the 2013 season,” he admits, “just because that’s what I love to do. The only fishing goal I have at the beginning of each season is simply to be competitive. Of course, now there’s also the chance to win another Bassmaster Classic®, even though it won’t be this season. This past year was so enjoyable I’d love to be able to do it again.”