Cliff takes top 'Pirch'

LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. - After two days, the Bassmaster Elite at Lake Havasu presented by Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels has turned into a neck-and-neck battle between two home-state pros with a star-studded cast lurking not too far behind.

Cliff Pirch, of Payson, Ariz., had an impressive catch of 19 pounds, 4 ounces Friday and took the lead with a two-day total 36-12.  John Murray of Phoenix caught 16-1 Friday to land in second, a little more than a pound back, with 35-9.

The anglers, who both have a long list of tournament victories on Lake Havasu, will lead the remaining field of 52 into Saturday, as they brace for the lake’s legendary weekend boat traffic.

“The increased boat traffic may hurt me, I just don’t know,” said Pirch, who finished second in a Bassmaster Open on Havasu in 2003. “It’s one of those things where you just hope you can make some adjustments and keep on fishing. It was tough out there today.”

Pirch’s biggest competition Friday wasn’t recreational boat traffic, but rather the high volume of Elite Series pros who were crowded into the areas he’s been fishing. He said the increased pressure, combined with several near misses on good fish early, almost caused him to lose focus.

“I cut one off on the first cast, and when I stood up from re-rigging, there were eight guys fishing around me,” Pirch said. “I was on kind of a community hole, and I got my head out of the game a little bit. I had to leave and go do some other stuff. But I finally got some things going, and it went really well after that.”

Pirch said anglers who spent Thursday sight-fishing might have run out of fish and filtered into the area he was fishing Friday out of desperation.

“I had three to four times the guys on the areas where I wanted to fish today than what I had yesterday,” he said. “They didn’t have anything today, so the best thing to do is kind of see what other guys are doing.”

Though Pirch didn’t say exactly how he was fishing, he said he’s using a finesse tactic that requires a spinning reel and lighter line than the pros sometimes use on other fisheries where the water isn’t as clear. He lost four of the first five fish that bit Friday, and he’s being forced to handle every fish carefully.

Most of the bass he’s weighed this week have taken several minutes to land – and since B.A.S.S. rules prohibit a landing net, each has been an adventure.

“These are post-spawn fish that aren’t really weighing what they should,” Pirch said. “But they’re big-framed fish, and you have to take it easy with them.”

Murray is one of the few anglers in the field with as much experience on Lake Havasu as Pirch. The 50-year-old angler, who said Thursday he’d been fishing the lake since 1985, amended that to 1978 Friday, remembering he caught his first-ever tournament bass on Havasu when he was still in high school.

He spent Thursday fishing areas he’s known for years and caught a bag of 19-8 despite not finding bunches of fish in any one area. He did the same thing Friday and added 16-1 to his total.

Just as he embraced the high winds on Thursday, he said he’s actually looking forward to the flood of recreational boat traffic Saturday.

“You’ll start hearing the boats fire up about 10 o’clock, and that’s when the fish turn on,” Murray said. “They like the boat traffic. The boats spook the shad and all the other baitfish, and the bass start biting. Until you start hearing the big boats start, it won’t get right.”

Murray said his fish came from random areas Friday, just as they did Thursday. That worries him heading into Day 3.

“It always scares you, because you don’ have one place you can go,” Murray said. “But tomorrow’s Saturday, so I know I’ll be getting a check. Today, I was stressing. Tomorrow, I’ll fish a little more relaxed.”

All of the 52 anglers who qualified for Saturday’s semifinal round will all earn at least $10,000, but only the Top 12 after Saturday’s weigh-in will advance to Sunday’s championship round with a chance to compete for the $100,000 first-place prize.

Behind Pirch and Murray are Edwin Evers (34- 8), Matthew Herren (33- 0), Brandon Palaniuk (32-14), Chris Lane (32- 9) and Randy Howell (32- 4).

Saturday’s take-off is scheduled for 6:15 a.m. PT from Lake Havasu State Park, with the weigh-in scheduled back at the park at 3:15.