CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The "bubble boy" left Lake Norman on Friday, still on the bubble. Cliff Prince had entered the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open presented by Allstate hoping to keep his Bassmaster Classic fate in his hands.
Prince hadn't fished the other two Southern Opens this season. But if he won at Lake Norman, he'd earn a 2015 Classic berth by keeping another angler from bumping him off the bubble. Prince gave it his all and finished 21st. He earned a check, but didn't qualify for Saturday's Top 12 on Lake Norman.
So Prince loaded his boat Friday and drove to within a four-hour drive of his Palatka, Fla., home before getting a hotel room.
"I woke up at 4 o'clock Saturday morning and drove home," Prince said. "I think I'd been better off going fishing Saturday. That was one of the longest days I've ever had. I was sweating it, I'll tell you that."
Cliff and his wife, Kelley, had invited both sets of their parents over for dinner Saturday night.
"I stayed outside," Cliff said. "I couldn't sit still."
Only when fellow Elite Series angler Andy Montgomery, who had already qualified for the Classic, officially won the Southern Open at Lake Norman Saturday, edging Rich Howes by 1 ½ pounds, was Prince able to relax. He'd officially qualified for the 2015 Classic at South Carolina's Lake Hartwell.
During the weigh-in at the Bass Pro Shops in Concord, N.C., Prince's name was often mentioned.
"What do you think that's worth?" Montgomery joked with Bassmaster Open Series tournament director and weigh-in emcee Chris Bowes.
The answer kept going up in price the longer Montgomery thought about it, but it never reached this point:
"I called Andy about 6:30 or 7 o'clock," Prince said. "I told him I'd pay his deposits for (the Southern Opens) next season. He said, 'No, you don't have to do that.'"
Really? He offered to pay the $600 deposits for each of the three Southern Open events next season?
"I have a sponsor contingency that pays $5,000 for making the Classic," Prince said. "Just making the Classic is worth a minimum $10,000 (no matter where he finishes at Hartwell). That's $15,000, so yeah, I was completely serious."
During the weigh-in, Montgomery had jokingly upped the ante from "a hamburger at McDonald's," which had been suggested by Bowes, to dinner at Outback Steakhouse to "I think it's going to be a little more than that, the more I think about it."
When Montgomery declined the Southern Open 2015 deposits, Prince was left wondering what he could do to show his appreciation. A token of his thanks is in the mail in the form of a $100 gift card to Outback Steakhouse.
"Kelley said, 'That's the least we can do,'" said Prince.