NEW ORLEANS — This weekend, the biggest event in bass fishing gets under way right in his backyard, but Cliff Pace has been feeling the pressure for months.
He's been worried, not about performing well in front of a home-town crowd, but that something out of his control might go wrong. "I'm excited to fish a Classic no matter where it is, but this one here, I've probably put more into," Pace said. "I've thought about this one more, prepared for this one more and worried about it more.
There are just so many variables in a tournament here. "I've thought about what happens if it's cold or if it's warm. I've thought about if we have high water or low water, fog or no fog. Anything you can imagine, I've tried to really be ready." Pace, from nearby Petal, Miss., has fished the Louisiana Delta system since he was a teenager. Despite his past familiarity with the water, the nature of tidal fisheries requires a recent knowledge.
For the last few years, Pace has been on tour, especially during this time of year. That evens the playing field in his mind. "This Delta is a constantly changing place, so to truly know it, you have to fish here continuously," Pace said. "Sometimes you can trick yourself into thinking you know more than you do. That's easy to do when you are comfortable with a place. I think you can overlook the subtleties. The area itself won't change as much, but the subtleties change and the fish change with it."
A common clich é in bass fishing circles regarding the Classic is that everything has to go just right to win. While that is usually the case, a flawless week would be especially useful on the Louisiana Delta, where shallow water and drastic weather changes put adjustments and execution at a premium.
With two consecutive appearances in the Toyota Trucks Championship Week as a top-12 finisher, Pace was been one of the best in the business over the last several years. A second-place at Lake Hartwell in the Classic in 2007 was a heartbreaker, and left Pace with a hunger for victory.
"It would be real special for me to win one of these," Pace said. "It's special just to be a part of it. To win, it's gotta be your turn." Despite a slow final practice day on Wednesday, Pace was still confident in his plan. A long run is in the forecast, like many competitors, and he can't wait to get the tournament under way. "I'll feel a lot better when I get to catching them," Pace said. "There are a lot of things that concern me. With the warming weather we could end up sitting here for three or four hours with a fog delay.
I'm not a meteorologist, but a delay like that is possible." A delay would make the day harder on anglers with longer runs, but Pace would rather have just a few hours on his best areas than fish all day around Bayou Segnette State Park, where he didn't have much success.
Even with the potential for a delay, Pace thinks the field will bring in some big bags over the course of the event. "Nobody is going to show what they've found until Friday, so it's difficult to know where you stand," Pace said. Did Pace find the winning concentration of bass on the Delta? "I don't know — I didn't catch any of them," Pace said. "I've done everything I can to give myself the best chance.
Now, we just have to see how it all shakes out."