2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro
Lake Guntersville - Birmingham, AL, Feb 21 - 23, 2014

Pace recovering, uncomfortably

"It was probably 16, 17 degrees that morning," said Pace, whose love for deer bow-hunting is second only to his passion for tournament bass fishing. "It was the first time I'd ever put gloves on in a deer stand."

Pace estimates he was 6 feet down a 20-foot deer stand ladder when one of the gloves slipped off his hand and he went crashing down. As a former commercial roofer, Pace, 33, has taken dozens of falls from equal heights. He once fell from a six-gabled roof that measured over 100 feet at its peak — bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, ooph.

"It was so steep, I couldn't stop," Pace recalled. "I got up, dusted myself off and went back to work."

This time, Pace's left leg landed in hole when he hit the ground.

"I could see the bottom of it," he said. "It was more like a cupped depression in the ground."

He stood up, tried to take a step and fell on his face "in a mud hole."

It was cold, he was seriously injured, and he was now wet.

"A friend was hunting with me," Pace said. "I called him on my cell phone, and he went to get my four-wheeler. It was the most painful ordeal of my life. I thought I was going to pass out."

Pace dragged himself out of the mud and found a branch to bite.

"I bit down on it when I thought I was going to pass out, just so it would take my mind off the pain," he said. "I puked a couple of times. I was going into shock. I got real cold."

With help from his friend, Pace was able to get on his four-wheeler and drive himself out of the deer woods.

Pace noted that he's "caught a lot of grief on Facebook" for not wearing a safety harness in his deer stand.

"I've probably taken as many steps on a ladder as some people have taken in their house," Pace said. "I'd never had an issue or a scare.

"And I always wear a harness for safety purposes. But it's a harness you have to disengage from to climb down. Since (the accident), I've researched the harnesses that are connected from the ground up, so you rappel down. I'll have one of those the next time I get in a deer stand."

With Mississippi's 2014-2015 archery deer season opening in October, Pace might climb back in a deer stand before he fishes another bass tournament.

"When I told my physical therapist what we did (the rough boat rides, standing with a foot on the trolling motor pedal for hours), he said if I fished another event this year I was crazy," Pace said.

And that's about to drive him crazy.

"The deer season opener is a special day that's marked on the calendar every year," Pace said. "But I love tournament fishing 50 times more than I do deer hunting."

It's going to be a very long 2014 for the once defending and now defenseless Bassmaster Classic champion Cliff Pace.