Last month, a new pro bass angler earned his way into the prestigious B.A.S.S. Professional Millionaire’s Club. Mississippi pro Cliff Pace won $500,000 in the 43rd Bassmaster Classic on the Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees in Tulsa, Okla.
This three-day championship is considered to be the Super Bowl of bass fishing, and Pace was one of 53 of the world’s best anglers who were competing. Fishing in his fifth Classic, he shared first place on Day 1, when he and New Jersey angler Mike Iaconelli both brought five-bass limits to the weigh-in stage at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, in Tulsa totaling 21, pounds, eight ounces.
These were very impressive bags of bass considering the fishing conditions the anglers had to face. Each day began with temperatures below freezing, gusting winds, rain and even snow. But it didn’t seem to bother Pace, because his Day 2 weight was even better, 21 pounds, 12 ounces, giving him a seven-pound lead over Brandon Palaniuk of Idaho, who weighed in 19 pounds, 10 ounces. Iaconelli, who had second-day boat problems, dropped to third, eight pounds behind.
The final day, “Was probably the hardest day I’ve ever spent on my boat,” Pace said. “I caught two in the first hour and didn’t get another bite until about 1:30 p.m.”
He boated two more fish on two consecutive casts, and only weighed in four bass totaling 11 pounds, eight ounces for a winning total of 54 pounds, 12 ounces. Palaniuk weighed in five bass totaling 15 pounds, four ounces for a total of 51 pounds, eight ounces and a check for $45,000. All 53 of the Classic qualifiers received checks, the lowest being $10,000.
“This is the ultimate high of a career, a life-changing moment,” the 32-year-old Pace said at the presentation ceremony.
This tournament not only rewards the winner with a half-million dollars, but also generally results in a number of product endorsement offers and speaking engagements that could easily add an additional seven figures to Pace’s bank account.
So what were the champ’s lure choices and tactics? Pace credited his winning ways to a Squad Minnow and Soul Shad Jackall jerkbait, plus a Jackall DD Cherry crankbait in crawdad color. He also used a half-ounce B&M football jig with a V&M Twin Tail trailer in green pumpkin. He dipped the tails in orange dye for better visibility in the muddy waters.
His two main patterns were working the jig early in the morning when the bass were deeper along the channel banks and on inside main lake points. When the sun came up, he used jerkbaits in the shallows.
One other Classic contender who deserves recognition is Mark Pierce of Tennessee, who is only the second active-duty military man (Army) to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. He qualified through the B.A.S.S. Nation, believed to be the hardest way to get to the Classic. Mark only caught two fish at the Classic, but on Day 1, he caught what turned out to be the biggest single bass of the tournament, a seven-pound, four-ounce largemouth that earned him the Carhart Big Bass award of $2,500. Added to the $10,000 he also earned for his 49th-place finish, it made it an even more memorable event.
You can watch all the excitement of the Bassmaster Classic Championship on ESPN2 from 7-9 a.m. Sunday.
Now let’s look at what’s been happening around here for those who are walking on water and punching holes in the ice. All the reports are good ice and good fishing.
On Great Sacandaga Lake, the tipup flags were flying and jigging rods bending on most of the species that swim there. Dave Allen of Dave’s Bait and Tackle in Mayfield reported two big northern pike catches recently by local anglers. A 42-inch, 20-pounder was taken by Nick Gray of Edinburg and a 40-inch, 18-plus-pounder by John Zeis of Wells. The exact locations were very vague. A good guess would be the “north end of the lake.” Both fish were taken in five to 15 feet of water on live suckers.
Two visiting anglers from Pennsylvania did quite well on a number of species, fishing from Dave’s rented shanty, also on the north end of the lake. These included two pike in the mid-20-inch range, four walleyes around 20 inches and six jack perch up to 14 inches.
And speaking of perch, the big ones seem to be holding deep in 20-30 feet of water. It may take a little running and gunning, but when you find them, they are ranging from 13-16 inches.
As for the ’eyes, Dave said they’ve been spotty, but anglers are averaging five or six keepers per day. The biggest he has heard of lately was a 23-incher caught by Jason Dolan of Edinburg. Target the drop-offs in 15-17 feet of water and use tip-ups with Hunt’s minnows and shiners.
The Saratoga Lake panfish bite, according to Tim Blodgett at Saratoga Tackle, is also very good. They’re catching a lot of 11- to 12-inch perch in Riley’s Cove in 12-15 feet of water, both jigging with bright colored tiny tubes and tip-ups with Hunt’s.
There are also a lot of bluegills and crappies in the north end of the lake off Fitch Road. Most are coming from eight to 10 feet of water, both by jigging and with live bait.
The walleye bite, never seems to change here; early morning and late afternoon on into dark is producing good two- to four-pound ’eyes, mostly on live bait. The pike bite has slowed a bit, but the pickerel will take every minnow they’re given. With this kind of bite, it is perfect for taking a kid fishing. This weekend would be the perfect time.
For the month of February, I’ve missed fishing only one day — the winds and a tornado watch kept me inside. For the rest of those 27 days, I pitched and flipped live shrimp into the Florida Intercoastal Waterway. Three years ago, we became part-time snowbirds for February and March. We rent a condo in Flagler Beach with a back deck on the Intercoastal Waterway just 10 steps from my back door.
All my fishing is done from the 38 docks in our complex. No boat, no electronics, just an eight-foot spinning rod with a Bass Pro Shop Extreme Spinning Reel spooled with 20-pound test XPS green braid and its 2/0 Octopus hook. This is the ideal outfit for how I fish here. You may not believe it, but my total catch, as of last Thursday, is 111 fish.
What makes this really fun is that I never know what I’m going to catch. On my first day fishing this year, my second pitch under the dock right in front of our condo, I hooked up and landed a 20-inch red fish. Last year, from this same dock, I pulled up a 28-inch red. What makes hooking up with these bigger fish even more exciting is that the docks are four feet above the water surface at low tide. Every dock’s wooden pillar is covered with sharp barnacles — the reason for my heavy tackle.
Another fun saltwater fish is the spotted seatrout, of which the Intercoastal seems to have a good population. For February, I’ve caught 22 of them, the biggest 19 inches, and it tasted real good. Last year, I learned that the one fang-like tooth they have in their upper mouth not only grabs and holds a shrimp, but is also a finger.
Another of my favorites are the Sheepheads, which can weigh 8-10 pounds, but those I have caught so far are in the three-pound range, my biggest being almost five. And the ones my neighbors here like to bake are the flounders. My average here is about 21⁄2 pounds, and some of them also find their way onto the dinner table.
The blackdrum is another regular biter which the book says often weighs 30 pounds; mine are more like three to four pounds. One other fish nobody wants to eat, but I like to catch, are the Mud Cats. When they feel the hook, they dive, roll and do everything possible to shake it. I caught my biggest last month, six pounds.
My trophy catch this year is a stingray. It only had a wing span of 15 inches, but was a lot of fun landing, especially without the aid of a net. Holding and releasing this fish was interesting, seeing that I did not know where to grab it.
If you have had a good day on the ice and want to share it with other ice anglers, send me an email at email@example.com. Be sure to include your name and where you live, where you were fishing, what you caught and how you caught it.