TULSA, Okla. — A consistent Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss., not only kept his first-day lead in the Bassmaster Classic presented by Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, he pulled away from the pack by 7 pounds in the second day of competition for $500,000 and the biggest trophy of pro bass fishing.
Pace shook off the angler who tied him for the lead Friday, Michael Iaconelli of Pittsgrove, N.J.
With a Saturday catch that weighed 21 pounds, 12 ounces, Pace has racked up 43-4 over two days of competition on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees. His second-day weight was 4 ounces more than the 21-8 he brought to the scales Friday.
“I didn’t fish differently today at all,” Pace said. “For me, it’s been all about committing to the way I can catch the big ones. I took a big, big risk to do that.”
He said Saturday started slowly for him, with his first bass coming about 10 a.m. He ended up catching the day’s largest bass, a 7-pound, 2-ounce largemouth.
“I think I’m doing something that has potential, and will hold through tomorrow,” he said, playing it close to the vest. When emcee Dave Mercer tried to get him to divulge what he was catching his fish with, Pace said, “a fishing lure.”
Pace, who competes in the sport’s premier circuit, the Bassmaster Elite Series, has never won a Classic. He came close in 2008 on Lake Hartwell when he was second to Alton Jones of Texas.
Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, was the angler left hanging 7 pounds behind the leader, even though he made a charge by catching 3 pounds more Saturday than he did on Friday. The 25-year-old pro’s two-day total of 36-4 jumped him from 11th place into the runner-up spot on Saturday going into Sunday’s final round.
“I caught seven yesterday, seven today,” Palaniuk said. “I just happened to get a couple bigger bites today. It was actually my last fish that made the big difference.”
Iaconelli dropped from a tie with Pace for first into third place with a 35-3 total. In fourth place was Classic rookie Hank Cherry from Maiden, N.C., with 31-12. Fifth with 31-5 was local favorite Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla.
Four-time Classic champ Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., had an uncharacteristic day: He brought in only four bass. One fish shy of a limit, he fell from fourth place to sixth with his two-day total of 30-14.
If Pace’s Carhartt Big Bass of the day of 7-2 holds through Sunday as the heaviest fish brought to the scales over three days of Classic competition, he could collect a $2,500 bonus from Carhartt.
The top 25 anglers will return Sunday to Grand Lake for the final day of competition. They’ll launch at Wolf Creek Park in Grove, Okla., at 7 a.m. CT.
The remainder of the field will be working the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods at the Tulsa Convention Center. The largest fishing show open to the public will be open Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. CT. The finale weigh-in and crowning of the 2013 Classic champ will be at the BOK Center. Doors will open at 3 p.m.
Admission is free to all Bassmaster Classic events.
Bassmaster.com will continue to cover the Classic all day Sunday with blogs, video, live shows, leaderboards, streaming of the weigh-in, and much more. Access to the site is free.
Classic coverage on ESPN2 will begin with a Day 1 show at 9-10 a.m. ET, March 2. Coverage of the final two days will air March 3 on ESPN2 from 6 a.m. to noon.