By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
BassFans who're familiar with Cliff Pace only through the coverage of tour-level events might still think the 2013 Bassmaster Classic champion wears his poker-style tournament face 24/7, no matter where he goes. Those who've met him in one place or another over the past several months know differently.
In fact, the Mississippian says his encounters with hundreds of new people has been perhaps the most satisfying facet of his reign. The majority of those interactions have taken place in his home region, but he's also made excursions to the Northeast and all the way out to California.
"The opportunity to meet the fans of this sport has just been unbelievable," he said. "A lot of (his fellow Elite anglers) have been in this game long enough that they were doing that already, but I really wasn't. There are people all across the country who follow and love this sport and winning the Classic has brought me together with some of them, and I've made a few really good friends out of the deal.
"It's been an indescribable deal, really. Winning the Classic itself brought on an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. It's been a goal of mine almost since I've been on earth and to accomplish it, I was in awe for quite awhile. But the whole year has been a phenomenal ride – it's something that's going to stick with me for the remainder of my days."
Hard Focus on Task
Pace said he's not nearly as reserved in his everyday life as many people assume. It's just that when he arrives at a tournament venue, his concentration on the purpose of the trip is laser-sharp.
"When I fish events, I'm there to do a job," he said. "I want my entire focus to be on doing that job. A lot of anglers miss out on opportunities (for higher finishes) by putting some of their focus on something else."
He showed no lack of resolve during this year's Elite Series campaign, which got under way less than a month after his Classic triumph at Oklahoma's Grand Lake. He logged Top-30 finishes in six of the eight events, including a pair of 7ths at Bull Shoals and West Point, and ended up 12th in the Angler of the Year (AOY) race.
"I'd say the biggest impact that winning the Classic had on my fishing this year was that it qualified me for this next Classic, and so I was more relaxed. I had a couple of bombs (he was 72nd at Falcon and 95th at the Alabama River), but in those tournaments I really rolled the dice.
"That's not the way I typically fish, but rather than fishing for points, I tried to do things that could possibly get me the win. I took one or two bites from practice and tried to turn them into more than they were, and those two times, it was suicidal. Some guys fish their entire careers like that, but it's a different mindset than what I normally do."
AOY a Primary Goal
Pace has a burning desire to join the relatively short list of active Elite anglers who've won both a Classic and an AOY. That roster consists of Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese, Mike Iaconelli, Mark Davis, Davy Hite and Rick Clunn.
"That's always been a goal of mine and something I've always focused on, and I've been pretty close to winning the Angler of the Year a couple times in my career," he said. "I've learned that you have to take it one event at a time, though, and keep (the points race) in the back of your mind. You have to realize that the first event of the season is just as important as the last and just go out and do what you can every day. The guy who does the best job of that typically ends up winning.
"That thing creates surprises – who would've picked Aaron (Martens) to win it this year after the first event of the season (when he was 85th at the Sabine River). You have to put yourself in contention for it, and I think if I keep doing that, it'll eventually fall into place."
He's more than eager to defend his Classic crown at Lake Guntersville in February, where he'll try to join Clunn and VanDam as the only winners of back-to-back Classics.
"I'm definitely looking forward to it; the Classic is the highlight of the year and that place is full of fish. And once you've experienced winning the Classic, nothing less will ever satisfy you again."