TULSA, Okla. — You must talk to his friends if you want to know anything about new Bassmaster Classic champion Cliff Pace because he doesn't talk much.
But Gary Klein and Mark Davis can't say enough about one of their best friends on Elite Series circuit. And their opinions carry some weight: Between Klein and Davis, they've fished 583 B.A.S.S. tournaments and qualified for 45 Bassmaster Classics (Davis won in '95).
Neither was surprised by Pace's win on Grand Lake.
"He's a super fisherman," Davis said. "If you go back and look at his stats, he's really underrated."
That's an understatement. Pace, 32, has now fished 90 B.A.S.S. events and finished in the money 68 times. That 75 percent rate puts him among the among the leaders in B.A.S.S. history. And that's right where Pace wants to be.
"Money doesn't mean anything to Cliff," Klein said. "He wants to be known 20 years from now. He wants to be a legend in the sport."
But he doesn't want to talk about it. Pace is one of those guys who lets his actions speak for him. That's how Davis and Klein noticed him in the first place.
"A lot of these guys out here are what I call fad fishermen," Davis said. "They kind of have to be in-the-know, plugged-in and networking. They always follow a trend or what's hot.
"But Cliff is one of those guys who is a bass fisherman in the truest sense of the term. He understands fish. He's kind of like me. He's hard-headed and he doesn't mind going against the grain."
Klein first noticed Pace at the 2004 Central Open, held in Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin, where Pace notched his first B.A.S.S. victory. They've become good friends since. Klein and Pace have roomed together at Elite Series events for the last two years, and they've been in business together at fishboss.com for going on four years.
"It's an online (fishing lure) components store," Klein said. "For instance, all the silicone skirts we sell, Cliff and I designed them. It's all the good stuff. We have a shop in Petal, Miss., and Cliff runs a crew.
"We're probably two of the few anglers on the tour that carry our (tying) vises with us. That's what we do at night. If there's a good football head jig bite, we might tie up a bunch of football heads.
"He's a tackle junkie, like me. We just love to play with that stuff."
Pace is known as an artist when air-brushing crankbaits as well. Pace and his wife, Brena, live in a Petal, Miss., subdivision that backs up to a golf course pond.
"He's got it so chock full of bass it's unreal," Klein said. "He fishes it all the time. It's his testing ground. When I call him, he'll often say, 'I've got to go to the pond. I'll call you back in an hour.'"
Before Sunday's final weigh-in, both Klein and Davis were confident Pace would close the deal on a Classic victory.
"I guarantee you, if he wins the Classic, the happiest person on earth will be Jesse Draime," Klein said. "Jesse will be going nuts."
Klein described Draime as Pace's mentor. Draime is a long-time tournament angler who took Pace under his wing many years ago.
"Jesse is the guy who taught Cliff how to fish," Klein said. "Jesse taught Cliff old school, to respect old school and to have a deep appreciation for the sport and the guys before him that actually built the sport."
If you listen to Klein and Davis, you start to understand that Cliff Pace is every bit a worthy Bassmaster Classic champion.
But you'll have to take it from them, because the last thing Pace is going to do is talk about himself.
"Cliff is real quiet," Klein said. "That's just Cliff. That's just his personality."