"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs …"
– Rudyard Kipling, from the poem, "If…."
Cliff Pace had six long hours on the final day of the Classic in which to lose both his mind and, in the process, the Bassmaster Classic. It was compounded by the fact Pace knew from experience that someone near him on the leaderboard was not losing his mind that day.
That's when Pace reached a decision point, at 12:30 p.m. on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees. Even though he'd entered the final day with a 7-pound lead, he sensed his spot atop the standings had vanished.
"I don't care how big a lead you've got," Pace said. "I've seen it too many times. When four or five of these guys get a chance to swing as hard as they want on that last day, one of them is going to catch 'em."
Pace's final day began just as he hoped. By 7:30 a.m. he had caught two bass. Then the grind began. A 1/2-ounce V&M football jig paired with a V&M Twin Tail soft plastic trailer (both in "green pumpkin" colors) was Pace's main lure of choice all week. It had to be fished slowly and methodically to trigger a bite in the 40-degree water. It took Pace an hour to thoroughly work each of his primary jig areas.
By 11 a.m., the 32-year-old Petal, Miss., pro had exhausted a couple more of his best spots, hadn't had another bite, but still remained confident. That's because a mid-day jerkbait bite had produced five of the 10 bass he'd weighed-in the previous two days in posting 21 pounds, 8 ounces on Day One and 21-12 on Day Two.
In terms of bass-caught-per-cast, a Jackall SquadMinnow jerkbait in SG Threadfin Shad colors had been the key for Pace's success. Of the 7-2 and 6-13 largemouths Pace brought to the scales Saturday, one came on the jig in the morning and one bit the jerkbait in the afternoon.
"I'd been sharing that (jerkbait) water with Jason Christie," said Pace of the Park Hill, Okla., angler who was in fifth place after Saturday. "He'd told me to go fish it, and I'd never see him in there (Sunday)."
When Pace got there at 11 a.m., his heart sank.
"It was as slick as glass," Pace said.