Cliff Pace sprints to big lead at Bassmaster

TULSA, Okla. — Cliff Pace, Mississippi’s lone qualifier for the 43rd Bassmaster Classic, threatened to leave the other 52 anglers in the field alone, too, Saturday when he busted another giant bag of bass to hold the lead going into Sunday’s final round.

Like all the other Classic anglers, Pace, the 32-year-old who calls Petal, Miss. home, battled brutally cold conditions and icy cold weather temperatures on Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees and came through Saturday’s second-round with another 21-pound stringer, this one 21 pounds, 12 ounces to go along with 21-8 during Friday’s opening day for a 43-4 total.

Brandon Palaniuk, the baby-faced 25-year-old from Rathdrum, Idaho, is a distant second at 36-4.

Good news for Louisiana, too, was that Gonzales’ Greg Hackney boated another five-bass limit for a 27-5 total, good enough for 15th place and a spot in Sunday’s battle. The field was cut to the top 25 after Saturday’s fishing.

As usual for this bass tournament, dubbed “The Super Bowl of Bass Fishing,” few leaders discuss the hows, wheres and whys of a successful day, and Pace followed that script.

He was tight-lipped even after Mike Iaconelli, who was tied with Pace after the first day, came in with a 13-11 catch to stand third in the overall standings.

One thing is known: Most of the top anglers are heading south from the Wold Creek Landing at Grove, Okla. (the landing is 90 miles away from the BOK Center weigh-in in Tulsa) and fishing midwater and deepwater patterns along and off creek banks near the main lake. Pace confirmed those places are his targets, and said he was fishing for fewer bites each day and targeting larger bass.

Palaniuk was more to the point: “I’m fishing for five, six or seven bites a day, so I’m looking for perfect execution, perfect (bait) presentation. I think that makes it easier for me to stay focused on each cast and know that I’m targeting fish that when I catch my first fish, I know I’m 20 percent toward my goal. Then I try to catch a second fish.”

He confirmed he was fishing more slowly because of the 40-44 degree water temperatures — cold by Louisiana standards, but the norm for prespawn Grand Lake bass — and that he knows each cast makes a difference in his overall daily performance.

“Some place I fish, I know I’ll make a thousand or more casts a day. Here I’m making half of that number, and concentrating on each cast,” the former BASS Federation Nation national champion said.

Most of the top anglers said they thought they’d solved the problem of either catching fish before 10 a.m. or after 11 a.m. after most of the fishermen talked about not catching fish throughout the day.

Shaw Grigsby spoke for the field: “I’m a Florida boy and I was on a cool bite Friday and caught a lot of fish early, so I thought I’d go back and do the same thing today. I was excited and went back and didn’t catch a fish until 11 o’clock.”

Grigsby, competing in his 15th Classic, came in with 13-0 and is in eighth place at 29-8, just two spots behind four-time Classic champion Kevin VanDam, who had four bass Saturday and a 30-14 total.

Hackney was on the opposite end of the early versus late situation.

He had nothing early Friday and caught all his fish after 11 a.m. Saturday was the opposite.

“I did some things to catch fish...and caught fish early...used a 1.5F KVD Shad and a three-eighths ounce jig...then went back to where I caught fish late Friday and the area was dead,” Hackney said. “I was a victim of living in the past, even just yesterday, and you can’t do that.”

Defending champion Chris Lane, who didn’t catch a keeper bass Friday, caught 18-11 Saturday, but didn’t survive the cutdown.