If you’re looking for a longshot to win the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, Scott Clift has some advice for you.
“If ever there was a dark horse, it’s me,” said Clift, an amateur fisherman who was the last fisherman to qualify for the Classic. “I’m like the last team to make it for the NCAA basketball tournament.”
Clift, who lives in Dadeville, Mo., completed his unlikely climb to a Classic berth when he won the Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship Fish-Off late last fall at Kentucky Lake.
“For a month, I thought I would wake up and find out that this was just a dream,” he said.
It wasn’t that long ago that Clift, 40, was just another dreamer. Like many fishermen who compete on a local and regional level, he dreamt of the day he would be in the Classic.
But then reality always set in.
“When you’re younger and you’re doing well in local tournaments, you think, ‘I’ll make it there some day,’” said Clift. “But as you get older and you have a family and responsibilities, you resign yourself to the fact that it isn’t going to happen.”
Like thousands of other bass fishermen, Clift spends his workweek putting in long hours and his weekends competing in local and regional tournaments. He is in the construction business and he and his wife have a cattle operation. That keeps him from practicing for many of the tournaments he fishes.
Still, he has done well on the Joe Bass, Anglers in Action and Ozark Mountain Team Trail circuits in which he competes. Not dominant, but still well enough to earn a reputation as one of the guys to beat.
His unlikely path to the Bassmaster Classic started when he and his brother-in-law, Ashley Medley, won the Joe Bass divisional tournament on their home lake, Stockton in west-central Missouri.
That qualified them for the Joe Bass Championship, also at Stockton, and they finished second there. In the process, they punched their ticket to advance to the 2016 Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship at Kentucky Lake.
Competing in the field of 185 other two-person teams, they finished second. That qualified Clift and Medley to the final fish-off, in which the members of the top three teams competed individually for two days.
Clift followed his instincts. Fishing with a stickbait in deteriorating weather conditions, he caught 30 pounds, 10 ounces of bass in two days – enough to hold off second-place finisher Trevor Prince, who had 23-5.
“The fish were relating to channel-swing points and banks,” he said. “If you could find rock, that was the key.
“We knew they were there, but they became tougher to catch as the weather got worse. I just fished slower and more methodically. I was just barely twitching that stickbait to get them to bite.”
So, now Clift’s life as the ultimate underdog continues. He can’t believe how quickly his life has changed. Before qualifying for the Classic, he only had one sponsor, the Coring and Cutting concrete business out of Springfield, Mo., that he works for. Since then, many local and national fishing-related companies have stepped forward to help out.
Clift gives credit to Medley, his longtime fishing partner who helped him locate and figure out how to catch bass en route to his Classic berth.
“If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be in the Classic,” he said.
He has never fished Lake Conroe in Texas, where the Classic will take place March 24-26. He did travel there for a familiarization tour before the lake went off-limits, but he spent most of his time looking for places where the bass would typically be in late March.
“Conroe is unlike any lake I’ve ever been on,” he said. “But that doesn’t bother me. I’m just going fishing, and we’ll see what happens.”
Clift is looking forward to meeting some of the pros he has followed for years.
“It will be fun to meet legends like KVD (Kevin VanDam),” he said. “Another guy I’m looking forward to meeting is Greg Hackney.
“He seems like the kind of guy who would be fun to just kick back and spend some time with at a backyard barbecue.”
As for his chances of doing well in the Classic? Clift is taking a laid-back approach.
“I’m going to make the most of this,” he said. “But really, I’m just happy to be there.
“This is a dream come true for me.”