MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

February 24, 2013

Mississippi angler goes wire-to-wire to hook Classic


Phoenix wire report

— TULSA – 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 was wire-to-wire, although he shared the first-day lead with 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 with a total of 51-8 when his hard charge proved to be unsuccessful.

Rounding out the top five were Classic rookie Hank Cherry of Maiden, N.C., with a total of 49-0, Iaconelli at had 48-5 and Mike McClelland of Bella Vista, Ark., with a 45-5 total. Park Hill’s Jason Christie fell to seventh with a three-day total of 43-5 while Wagoner’s Tommy Biffle climbed up one spot to 24th with a total of 29-2.

“This is a gift that I will always cherish,” said Pace who claimed his first Classic trophy in his fifth Classic appearance. “This is the ultimate high of a career, a life-changing moment.”

Pace had to overcome 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.

But Sunday, he experienced a reverse that gave him some uneasy hours out on Grand Lake.

“This was probably the hardest day I’ve ever spent on my boat,” he said. “I caught two in the first hour, and didn’t get another bite until about 1:30 p.m.”

He said the wind direction Sunday was not to his advantage.

“The places I was on were like flat glass today,” Pace said. “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 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 once in 2010 then was runner-up twice last season.

The Carhartt Big Bass of the 2013 Classic was the 7-4 largemouth brought to the scales by Mark Pierce of Fort Knox, Tenn., on Friday. He could collect a bonus from Carhartt of up to $2,500.