Petal’s Pace aims for Classic winBy BUSTER WOLFE,
When Cliff Pace fished in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, the Petal angler took home a $500,000 check for the victory. He caught two late bass that kept him on top of the field at Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees out of Tulsa, Okla.
This weekend, Pace will be fishing in his eighth Bassmaster Classic when he hits the water on Lake Hartwell, South Carolina, against 51 other anglers. He hopes to be the last man standing on the Day 3 stage with the largest total of fish.
After winning two tournaments before the 2013 Classic title, he hasn’t reached the top spot since. He had to miss all of the 2014 Elite season after he broke two bones in his left leg from a tree stand accident during hunting season.
While driving to South Carolina last week, Pace said he was ready to put his boat in the water.
“It’s always exciting when you get to fish the Classic,” the 14-year BASS veteran said. “That’s the tournament that we all work for, just the opportunity to compete in. As far as how the lake sets up, you’ve got to figure that out. Whoever figures it out the best is going to win.”
Pace said he hopes to get an idea of the lake’s current characteristics during the three-day practice session and then Wednesday before the Classic begins Friday.
“It’s a different lake every time you go to it; typically, all lakes are,” he said. “It’s based on water levels and time of the year. We’re fishing a little bit later this year than in the past. Even though I’ve fished it before, it’s going to be a different lake than I’ve fished it before in the past just because we’re fishing it a month later. In the springtime, a month is a lot. It won’t be a lake that I think I can rely a lot on the history. It’s a lake that I’m going to have to figure out for this week.”
In 2008, Pace finished second to Alton Jones when the Classic was last held at Lake Hartwell. Then when the Classic returned to Hartwell in 2015, Pace was 35th.
Casey Ashley, who considers Lake Hartwell to be his home waters, won the 2015 Classic with 50 pounds of fish during freezing weather. Pace considers Ashley to be one of the local favorites again this year.
“You’ve got some local anglers in this tournament with more history on this lake, obviously,” he said. “You’ve always got that. It’s Casey Ashley’s home lake and he’s qualified for the Classic again this year. He won it the last time it was fished here. He will be a hand-picked favorite for good reason.”
Pace said local favorites are not unusual during tournaments.
“You’ve always got that,” he said. “No matter where you go, you’re always in somebody’s back yard. At the same time, all the rest of us are plenty capable of getting in the right place for fish and making it our week too. “
For Pace, the competition during the Classic are the fish and the lake, not the other anglers.
“I don’t tend to worry about the other fishermen,” he said. “Fishing is in no way a defensive sport. The best defense in fishing is a good solid offense. I’ll be more worried about that than anything else.”
Pace’s sponsors during his time on the water include Yamaha, HI-SEAS, Lew’s Reels, Mustad, Amphibia, Jackall Lures, V&M Baits, Power-Pole, Temple Fork Outfitters Rods, FishingSkirts.com and Black Label Balsa.