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Former Classic® Champion Pace Anxious for Competition to Begin

Posted 1/14/2015

After Missing 2014 Season Due to Injury, Cliff Pace is Ready to Fish Again

With the Bassmaster Classic® world championship now less than eight weeks away, it’s pretty safe to say none of the 56 anglers who will be competing are looking forward to the event as much as 2013 Classic® winner Cliff Pace. That’s because the Yamaha Pro has fully healed from a severe leg injury that forced him to miss the entire 2014 Elite Series season and 2014 Classic,® and also because this year’s event will be on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell, where Pace finished second in the 2008 championship.

“I don’t have any butterflies, yet,” smiled Pace, after returning from an early scouting trip to Hartwell. “I’m just glad to be fishing and getting involved again. Sitting out this past year was miserable for me. I missed the competition and being around my friends. 

“It really doesn’t matter to me where the Classic® is being held, because I’m just thankful for the opportunity to compete again.”

A year ago, Pace broke both the fibula and tibula in his left leg when he fell 20 feet while climbing down from his tree stand while deer hunting. The accident also tore his ACL tendons. After being on crutches and unable to put any weight on his leg for three months, Pace literally had to learn to walk again. 

“I went to physical therapy every other day, pushing myself as hard as I could,” remembers the Yamaha Pro, “and the doctors say I probably shortened my recovery time by six months or more. All I can say about the experience is that I don’t want to go through it again.”

Before he was off his crutches, however, Pace actually began bass fishing again, although not the way the Mississippi angler is accustomed to doing. Friends literally lifted him into his bass boat while still in the parking lot, then launched and slowly trolled him around small lakes near his home as Pace cast from the back deck seat.

“I just simply had to get outside, if only for a few hours,” he says. “Before the accident, I was either fishing or on my way to go fishing, practically every day of the year.” 

By October, the Yamaha Pro had recovered well enough to compete in the final Bassmaster®Southern Open of the year on Lake Norman. Although he struggled in rough water the final day of that event, he still managed a 10th place finish. Since then, Pace has continued to fish as often as possible, and in late December spent a week on Hartwell before the lake went off-limits to Classic® contenders.

“These kinds of pre-tournament practice trips are all about guessing where bass might be in two months, and it is just a guess because it all depends on the weather conditions we have between now and the Classic,®” he emphasizes. “I did very little actual fishing, and one day I don’t think I even picked up a rod at all. Instead, I rode around and became familiar with the lake again. In fact, I didn’t even re-visit the places I fished in 2008.

“The lake is probably 10 to 12 feet higher now than it was during that Classic,® and I remember catching my fish then a different way each day. Typically, Hartwell sets up more as a ‘pattern lake’, which is what I like, so I looked for different places in each section of the lake and tried to determine which patterns might prevail when we’re there.”

Still, the Yamaha Pro knows conditions are likely to be different during the Feb. 20–22 tournament, because during his visit the water temperature registered an almost-balmy 55 degrees, which is surprisingly warm this late in the winter.

“Hartwell also has a much higher spotted bass population today than it did in 2008, so I’m sure that will also play a role in the outcome of the Classic,®” he concludes. “Essentially, I think it will be a completely different type of event.

“All I can say is that I’m honored, and very, very glad, to be able to fish it again.”