Pace optimistic about 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Thursday marked a big day for Cliff Pace. Day 1 at Lake Norman marked his first full day of bass tournament fishing since his deer stand accident on Jan. 21, when he shattered both bones in his lower left leg and tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee.

The 2013 Bassmaster Classic champion from Petal, Miss., is in 23rd place with 10 pounds, 9 ounces. But it was the fishing, not the catching, that was his focus. He needed to know if his leg had healed enough to allow him to compete in 2015.

"The greatest thing is, after this week, I have no doubt I'll be able to fish next season," Pace said after Thursday's weigh-in of the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open presented by Allstate. "That's the biggest reason I wanted to come here."

Pace understands he still has some recovery time ahead of him before he's fully able to compete again.

"If I was having to fish this tournament in 3-foot waves, I couldn't do it," he said. "I couldn't maintain my balance. I can just stand there and fish and I'm fine."

For a former commercial roofing contractor, who got up and brushed himself off after multiple falls from greater heights, the healing time for broken bones remains something he's finally grasping.

"I remember laying in the hospital telling my doctor, 'Man, I've got a really big tournament in three weeks. We've got to see what we can do to make that happen.' He just laughed at me.

"After going through what I've been through, I understand why."

Every year, the Bassmaster Classic champion is automatically qualified for the Classic the following year. Because Pace was physically unable to do that, B.A.S.S. extended his Classic invitation to 2015. So there will be two defending Classic champions at South Carolina's Lake Hartwell next February — Randy Howell, the 2014 champ, and Pace, from his 2013 win.

It might be a blessing in disguise — a long drawn-out, painful blessing — but a benefit in the end. Pace finished second to Alton Jones at the 2008 Classic on Lake Hartwell.

"Everything happens for a reason," Pace said.

Day 1 at Norman falls as predicted

You can never be certain if pre-tournament predictions by the competitors have an element of sandbagging in them. On Wednesday, daily averages of 12 and 13 pounds were common predictions for a winning weight at Lake Norman. After Day 1, those appear to be right on the money.

"I was really hoping to catch 12 1/2 pounds," Pace said. "That's my goal here. A 12 1/2-pound average over three days will be way, way up there.

"It's really hard to catch a 14- or 15-pound stringer here. But for me to get back to that 12 1/2-pound average, I've got to catch one of those bags (Friday)."

In other words, Day 1 leader David Williams (14-1), second-place Richard Howes (13-11), third-place Chad Morgenthaler (13-8) and fourth-place Andy Montgomery (13-2) have a bit of a cushion on the field, if Pace's prediction is accurate.

Weather, boat order keys for Friday

Everyone familiar with Lake Norman is begging for wind and cloudy skies Friday. Forecasts call for the day to begin just like it did today, calm and clear. But around noon, a weather front is predicted to bring thunderstorms and winds just over 10 miles per hour to the Charlotte area.

Elite Series pro Hank Cherry's house in Maiden, N.C., is only five miles from Lake Norman. He knows the ups and downs of this lake as well as anyone in the field. The annual fall turnover has bass in a finicky mood. Cherry says a weather change will cure that.

"It just puts them in a funk," said Cherry about the period when the cold and warm water layers in the lake, which have formed over the summer, begin to mix due to cooler air temperatures. A weather change will speed up the process and improve the fishing.

"Wind helps more than anything," said Cherry, who is in 24th place with 10-8.

With the weather change predicted to hit at noon, it may put a premium on boat order Friday. Chad Morgenthaler could be a beneficiary of that. Morgenthaler was boat No. 1 in Thursday's Flight 1 with a check-in time of 3 p.m. He'll be boat No. 146 on Friday in Flight 10 with a check-in time of 5:15. Second-place Richard Howes is also in that last flight.

They'll have the longest time to take advantage of the weather change, if it truly is an advantage Friday.

"It was cloudy and rainy one day during practice," said Jordan Lee, who is in 36th place with 9-13. "I would have had a really good stringer that day."

Walker capitalizes on no practice

Elite Series pro David Walker was one of the happiest anglers in the field Thursday after weighing in a five-bass limit of 10-4, good for 28th place. Lake Norman has long been Walker's nemesis. So he decided practice time this week wouldn't do him any good.

"I've fished this lake a lot," Walker said. "My numbers are so bad here, I figured I had to do something different.

"I haven't caught 10 pounds here when I could cherry-pick them off spawning beds."

Morgenthaler hitting the docks

Chad Morgenthaler's success Thursday can be attributed to his boat docks pattern. That's less than shocking, since Lake Norman has an incredible number of docks. But Morgenthaler's big bass – a 3-13 largemouth – came off a particular dock, one where he saw "two ladies with their dogs feeding the fish."

Morgenthaler didn't want to interrupt their fun, so he came back to the dock an hour later and caught the lunker.

Matt Lee shortly followed Morgenthaler to the weigh-in stage, weighing 9-4, which put him in a tie for 41st place.

"I didn't get the Chad Morgenthaler fish today," Lee quipped. "I didn't see two ladies feeding fish."


Quotable

"I really thought if I could get 12 pounds a day, I'd be in pretty good shape. I jumped off a 2 1/2-pounder that would have done it." — Roland Martin, tied for ninth, 11-14

"I skipped at least 5,429 docks today. I tried to fish for largemouths and stay shallow. Where I'm at, it's real hot, real boring and real muddy." — Gerald Swindle, tied for 38th, 9-6

"I've been here for three days, and I still haven't caught one over 2 pounds. It's a cool lake. It just needs bigger fish." — Derek Remitz, tied for 53rd, 8-13

"I don't know I've ever fished that hard for two fish in my life. I fished two legs, an arm and part of another arm off to catch those two fish." — Clay Dyer, 132nd, 2-9