Unlike three of the past four Bassmaster Classics, Cliff Pace’s $500,000 win Sunday in Classic No. 43 hardly serves Louisiana fishermen with any new insight on how to catch bass.
Unless, it’s Pace’s bulldog-like perseverance and sheer determination to win bass fishing’s biggest event.
Pace has been around for years. Event though he’s 32, his alliterative nickname — “Game Face” Pace is what Classic emcee Dave Mercer called him all three Classic days — tells more about Pace’s demeanor than about the fire that obviously burns in his belly.
Pace led wire-to-wire Friday, Saturday and Sunday after the field launched in 20-degree mornings the first two days on Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees, a 90-mile drive east from Tulsa, Okla. Despite water temperatures hovering in the low 40s, Pave put together two solid days and had a seven-pound lead over the 53-man field heading into Sunday’s finale when the field was cut to the top 25.
He caught four bass that day, one shy of a daily limit, all the while knowing that the guys who started pounds back were putting bass in their boats. In fact, Pace admitted he went more than five hours without catching a bass after boating two solid keepers early Sunday.
It was 1:30 p.m., with barely 45 minutes left in his fishing day, when he picked up a rod with a pumpkinseed-colored football jig on the end of the line. There was a twin-tailed soft-plastic on the jig and he’d dipped the greenish plastic into red dye, “to give (the bait) some color.”
He caught solid fish on back-to-back casts and locked up an 11-pound stringer, good enough to beat hard-charging youngster Brand Palaniuk and former Classic champ Mike Iaconelli for the title.
But Pace never smiled, not while lifting the heavy Classic trophy, when a grimace could have been mistaken for a smile.
“I’m a pretty laid-back guy. I don’t let my emotions show that often,” Pace said in the post-Classic weigh-in. “But inside, I’m feeling great.”
The lures Pace used, two different midrange running jerkbaits, a crankbait and the jig are familiar to south Louisiana bass anglers, but catching fish two days after a heavy snowfall (six inches fell Wednesday) followed by extended nights in the low 20s, with a rising barometer and water temps in the low 40s throughout the Classic would have left folks here hoping for one, two, maybe three bass bites all day.
Instead, Kevin Van Dam said he caught 16 bass Friday, others said they had double-digit keepers, and Pace said he caught 11 fish.
“This lake isn’t like back home,” Gonzales angler Greg Hackney said. “These fish live in cold water and don’t react like the fish at home.”
Hackney, Louisiana’s only Classic qualifier, finished 13th.
With March arriving Friday, and the bulk of the charity bass tournaments ahead — including Saturday’s the Children’s Hospital Classic in Stephensville and the Clevy David-Christy Roy Memorial at False River — the stage is set for a big-time bass competition to equal the Classic.
With north winds in the forecast and water falling in the Atchafalaya Basin, the huge spillway could be a factor for the first time in years for late winter tournaments.
Local fishermen used information taken from Classics held in Shreveport and New Orleans three of the past four years, but little from Pace’s tactics could hold here, except his determination and will to win.