Scott Hausman, the youth director for the Utah B.A.S.S. Nation, had incredible draws for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic as a Marshal. Read his first-hand account of his three days, with eventual winner Cliff Pace and runner-up Brandon Palaniuk.
I might as well never buy another lottery ticket. How often could somebody get this lucky twice in their lifetime? I hit the jackpot last weekend at the Bassmaster Classic when I arguably had the best seat in the house for the three days of competition. I was paired with Cliff Pace on Day 1 of the Classic then drew Brandon Palaniuk on Day 2. On Day 3, I accompanied Ott DeFoe as he tried to unravel the mystery of where he fell short during the week with “next time” in mind. Having a front row seat to all the emotions, decision-making and fish catching will always be a highlight of my life.
I extend my apologies to all the fans who followed BASSTrakk online. I short-changed everyone in estimating the bags of Pace and Palaniuk by a wide margin. I won’t make excuses other than to say I never catch fish as big as the ones they were quickly putting in the livewell so wasn’t used to judging them. “That looks like a solid 5-pounder,” I said to Pace with fish #3. “Nah, maybe 4,” he followed up. I wasn’t about to dig into the livewell and see who was right, but I learned none of these anglers wanted to get overconfident about how they were stacking up against the best bass anglers in the world. This was part of their mental game, fishing like an underdog chasing “someone” who was going to bring in a 25-pound bag.
I had been a fan of Pace for years because of his journeyman like approach to the sport. Visions of how he kept fighting at the Lake Hartwell Classic came to mind, and I knew I had a great draw. We had never met, but at the dock he quickly offered a hand to me as I stepped onto the frost-covered deck of his Hi-Seas-wrapped Skeeter. “I’m Cliff, nice to meet you. Hope you dressed warm!” And that was it — no small talk. Pace went back to his final preparations as the minutes wound down to take-off. He had his game face on and my job was to be invisible to him as a Marshal.
We were Boat #11 on Day 1 and as I endured the bone-chilling 70 mph flight to Pace’s first stop, my attention drifted to the rods on the front deck. Eight rods were laid out, four on each side, with assorted jigs, jerkbaits and crankbaits tied to each of them. “What will he start with?” I wondered — anything to get my mind off the fact that it was 22 degrees screaming down Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees. Soon Pace lifted off the throttle and made a turn toward a small cove. “All those boats ahead of us went right to my best spot, so I guess I’ll start here,” said Pace as he came off plane and removed his motorcycle helmet. “Big fish live over there, darn it.” I could sense this wasn’t the first time he’d had to endure being beat to his starting spot, as he quickly dropped the trolling motor and picked the rod with the green pumpkin football head jig.
With the boat in 25 feet of water, Pace made a cast about 2 feet from the bank. The gears were already turning in his head about others being on his starting spot as he glanced over one more time, and then set his attention back to his cast. He worked the V&M jig as slow as I’ve ever seen anyone work a bait. He later stated he was trying to count every rock as he worked the bait from shallow to deep. A second cast a few minutes later and the boat suddenly rocked as Pace set the hook on his first keeper, a solid 3-pounder. “Thank you, Lord, that’s how you want to start the Classic!”
My cold fingers entered the catch into BASSTrakk as Pace methodically returned to the long cast and drag that yielded the first fish. No luck on cast # 3, so he cast 15 yards farther down the bank in between boat docks. As the jig was about halfway back to the boat, I saw Pace perk up as he sensed something, then quickly reared back on fish #2 — a solid 3.75.
“Thank you, Lord,” the angler said looking to the sky. “I guarantee you I can catch three more keepers and get a limit now.”
What those two fish in four casts did for Cliff Pace was allow him to settle down and have confidence in his backup spot after not being able to hit his primary stuff right off the bat. More importantly, we both forgot about the cold as the action was red-hot within 10 minutes for Pace. “I’m not on my best spot yet either,” said Pace. “This is awesome. I’ve been catching them a little farther into the coves.”
But he worked the cove for another hour with no luck. “Let’s move,” and I threw my gloves and helmet on as we shot over the where Pace wanted to start.
David Walker was 100 yards away on the opposite bank and another competitor was 200 yards into the second cove as Pace stopped at the point. This time, the jerkbait came out. I’ve never seen a jerkbait worked slower as he moved the rod tip 5 or 6 inches, pulling it along, not twitching it. No luck. He moved a little deeper into the cove on the opposite bank.
“David Walker had to have just fished this 10 minutes ago,” I was thinking to myself. Pace grabbed the rod with the crawfish-colored Jackall crankbait tied on. On the second cast moving down a chunk rock bank, he connected with No. 3, another solid 4-pound fish. “Yes!” the usually emotionless Pace emphatically fist pumped as he eased the fish in the livewell. “I’m not worried about this water being fished already. I’m doing something different, I think,” Pace stated as he continued down the bank.”
It wasn’t long before Pace had five in the livewell alternating between the football head jig and the crankbait.
For the most part, Pace never put the jerkbait down after getting his limit of about 15 pounds in the livewell. He ran from point to point, often returning an hour later to the same point until connecting. As he culled with solid 4-pound bass on the jerkbait, he was all business.