2013 CLASSIC CHAMP STILL HAS GAME FACE ON
Unless you are a bass fishing fan, you probably haven’t heard of Petal, Mississippi. But if you are, you know it is home to 2013 Classic winner Cliff Pace. Cliff cut his teeth fishing Mississippi bass waters because all the other kids were doing it. It was just basic fun for kids growing up in Petal. It was his dad’s favorite hobby and his dad never hesitated to take Cliff along. He remembers following the big names in fishing as a kid and often imagined himself fishing against his idols Gary Klein, Larry Nixon, Rick Clunn- guys who he still fishes against today. When young Cliff watched them on TV and saw what they were doing for a living, and knew right then that was the career path he wanted.
Cliff is one of the quiet guys on the professional circuit, and despite his success, you don’t find a lot written about Cliff. That in no way diminishes his talents. Guys in the know, know plenty about that. Two such anglers, Gary Klein and Mark Davis can't say enough about Cliff, one of their best friends. Neither is ever surprised to see Cliff at the top of the standings in an event. Davis says of Cliff, “He's a super fisherman, and really underrated." Cliff is only 42, and he has accumulated close to $1.9 million in tournament winnings. He has four major wins, including the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, a total of eight Classic appearances, 33 Top 10 Finishes, and 50 Top 20’s. But according to Klein, "Money doesn't mean anything to Cliff, he wants to be known 20 years from now as a legend in the sport." But don’t ask Cliff about that, he just wants his actions to speak for him.
Folks started taking notice of Cliff at the 2004 Central Open at Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin, where he earned his first major victory. He has developed a reputation as a tackle junkie, who will spend a night during a tournament tying up a certain color or style of jig or spinnerbait if he hears that bite is on. He is also known for his talents at air-brushing crankbaits to match whatever hatch is getting it done. In addition to Davis and Klein, nobody pulled for Pace to make it more than his long time mentor and tournament angler Jesse Draime, an experienced fisherman who took Pace under his wing many years ago. According to Klein, "Jesse is the guy who taught Cliff how to fish, and to appreciate what the guys before him did to build the sport." It’s no wonder Cliff is such a worthy Classic Champion.
Over the years, his quiet, determined demeanor earned him the nickname “Game Face Pace”, and never was that face more apparent than at the 43rd Bassmaster Classic in Tulsa, OK in late February of 2013. In that Classic, Cliff was able to fend off fierce challenges from Brandon Palaniuk and Mike Iaconelli to hoist the trophy. Cliff entered the event having built a reputation as a steady angler with flashes of brilliance. At the time, out of 90 Bassmaster events he had fished, he cashed checks in 66 of them. 2013 was his fifth trip to the Classic and he had finished in the top 15 four times, his highest being second place in 2008 at Lake Hartwell. Cliff spent two days on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees before the official practice and said it was enough time to know what he needed to do and where. After leaving the lake, he settled on a jerkbait, and a jig
for his “go to’s”, but during the official practice, his chosen spots produced very little. What he discovered was large females holding off structure like rock and brush piles at the edge of the creeks and pockets. He also verified that the jig and the jerkbait were still keys to catching them.
The first day of the 2013 Classic he calls his easiest day. He had a solid limit in the morning tossing his jig that included a five pounder and a solid four pounder. A jerkbait bit in the afternoon, enabled him to cull up to a 21-8 bag and a first place tie with Iaconelli. Day 2 he repeated his Day 1 patterns but his results were not as good. The wind had died down and he needed to slow his presentations even more. He had a few keepers in the morning on the jig, but only had four bites the entire afternoon. Fortunately, one of them was a 7-2 lunker, the second largest bass of the event giving him a 21-12 that put his two-day weight at 43-4, a 7 lb. lead over Brandon Palaniuk. Day 3 was a struggle. Everything slowed down. The conditions had changed and the wind was blowing away from the target areas, instead of into them. The morning jig bite only produced two keepers, and the jerkbait in the afternoon did not produce a single bite. He made a decision to go back to the
jig, and eventually got three more bites, putting two of them in the boat. He only had four fish to take to the scales. This definitely produced a few anxious moments. When his turn to weigh came, he needed just over eight pounds for the win. As he placed the less-than-a-limit bag on the scale, he knew he would be okay- 11-12 for the title making his total weight of 54-8.
“Game Face” showed little emotion throughout the event, until the win was realized. Palaniuk had put on a hard charge but came up 3-4 light of the title. Cliff realized he had said that he has had accomplished a goal he had set when he first decided to fish for a living saying it was, “ indescribable. The lack of sleep, all the travelling, and the weigh-ins each day was so much, he was emotionally and physically spent.” He went on to say that he “ felt such a sense of relief for having won that I felt lost there for a little while.” Some people said they did not see much emotion on “Game Face”, “but inside I was jumping up and down like a two-year-old”. Cliff takes his role as an ambassador for the sport very seriously, something he balances with his goal to progress as Cliff Pace the angler. He has become a more consistent angler since 2013. His goal is to be able to go any body of water and be able to catch them competitively. He still has a goal of winning more event, now on the Bass Pro Tour, and being the MLF AOY. He still has a lot of gas in the tank. “I'm doing is what I've always wanted to do since I was 5 years old”, and that is a gift that he will always cherish.