Distancing himself from people comes rather naturally for Clifford Pirch, the Bassmaster Elite Series angler who lives in the middle of a national forest in Payson, Ariz.
Contacted for his take on the coronavirus that has postponed bass tournaments indefinitely, Pirch was among those furthest removed from the pandemic that has the world taking extreme measures to prevent its spread.
“I’m heading out in the woods to see if I can find an elk horn, pick up a couple of trail cam chips,” said Pirch, making the best of his time away from competition. “I hate missing the spawn time frame, that’s usually some heavy points for me, but how can you be away from your family in this kind of deal, with everything not being real stable?”
As of Monday morning, COVID-19 has infected more than 700,000 worldwide and 35,000 have died. With a compromised immune system, Pirch is among those at risk, and he has taken measures to prevent illness long before the deadly virus began to hit America hard over the past weeks.
“The threat is scary. This is the real deal,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you don’t want to be around lot of people and pass it on.
“When I get sick, it like double gut punches me. When I get it, it gets bad, so I don’t like to get anything,” he said. “I’m already a germophobe. When I get gas, I use the Clorox wipes on the handle and the keypad, hand sanitizer and all that. Since I’ve been doing that, instead of getting sick about four, five times a year, I only get sick about once a year.”
Pirch certainly agrees with all the social distancing and disinfecting procedures put in place, and he said he works to strengthen his immune system with a diet heavy on fruits and vegetables as well as taking high doses of vitamins like D3, as recommended by his doctor.
A hunting guide on public land around Tonto National Forest, about an hour and half northeast of Phoenix, Pirch said he’s grateful to be in such a remote area.
“I spend a lot of time in the woods and on the water. We’re not really in close quarters. We don’t have to get all our groceries from the store,” he said. “We eat fish and elk and have a garden, so we’re a little more fortunate that way.
“Where we live, there’s no subways or mass transit. We don’t have to get groceries downstairs, use an elevator, escalator. I feel bad for those folks, but that’s just a different way of life. It turns out that rednecks may not be dumb idiots after all.”
Not that he and other anglers are safe from infectious diseases. Pirch, who finished a disappointing 42nd in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk in early March, was among those who fell ill after the event. He estimates about 30 percent of the field suffered flu-like symptoms after leaving Lake Guntersville and Birmingham, Ala., and that includes champion Hank Cherry.
“I don’t know if it was heavy flu or what,” said Pirch, who was heading to the next Elite event on Lake Chickamauga when he began feeling ill. He holed up in a hotel room for several days before that event was postponed, which sent him on a three-day drive home. Before leaving, he said he wiped every surface in the room with Clorox in hopes he wouldn’t pass it on.
“At the Classic I went through a bottle of hand sanitizer a day in my pocket, I use my own Sharpie (for autographs) and sanitize and wipe down that and my phone every day,” he said. “I still got it.
“We were lucky to get (the Classic) off. Three days later and it might not have happened.”
There has been some positive news of late, with some treatments reporting good success rates, as well as the curve of those infected starting to level off in some regions.
“There’s some places where it’s really bad. It’s serious everywhere,” he said. “My neighbor is 100 yards away; it’s different than 20 feet. Hopefully, we see it start to go the other direction and no kind of resurgence. I’m hoping the heat and sun and longer days put it to rest and they can get a better handle on it.”
While B.A.S.S. postponed the April 2-5 Elite on Lake Eufaula, holding the April 16-19 tournament on Santee Cooper Lakes remains a faint hope. The next event on the schedule is the Sabine River, May 29-June 1. Pirch would love to get back to fishing sooner rather than later, but not too soon where it causes problems.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do, what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s crazy times, but I don’t get to be home very often in the spring to go look for elk horns, so I’ve been having fun with that.”