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Pace Qualifies for the Bassmaster Classic, but hopes for a Better 2019

The 2018 Bassmaster Elite series is nearly over. For Cliff Pace, it’s time to take inventory of the season, what went right, what went wrong and what could have been.

Bottom line: There were some good tournaments, just not enough of them.

“I had some bumps in the road,” Pace said during a phone interview from his Petal, Miss. home earlier this week. “I didn’t have the year I wanted to have. I definitely fell short (of my expectations).”

The TFO advisor logged two top 10 finishes, but clearly left the water wanting more. Even though Pace didn’t string together enough quality catches to win an event, he did grind out enough placements to finish 26th  (out of a field of 110) in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, which propelled him to a coveted spot in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic, an affair that’s considered the Super Bowl of competitive bass fishing.

Fifty of the world’s premier anglers will gather in Knoxville, Tenn. next March to compete for $1 million in prize money. The winner of the 2019 Classic earns $300,000.

Pace won the 2013 Classic. So far he’s competed in seven Classics. Knoxville will make No. 8.

“That’s something we always look at all year long,” Pace said. “It’s always a goal. To qualify for the Classic is always a big deal. That’s always a goal going in.”

Pace finished a respectable 25th at the Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship last month in Hiawassee, Ga. Other 2018 highlights were a third-place effort at Texas Fest and a seventh-place showing at the Bassmaster Elite/Mississippi River.

His primary weakness, in retrospect, stemmed from a lack of consistency. Competitive anglers often have to make quick decisions during the course of a weekend tournament. If Plan A doesn’t work, what do you for Plan B and equally important, how long do you wait before implementing Plan B?

“The tournaments I did well in the game plan, played out the way I planned it,” said Pace, who helped design TFO’s Pacemaker series. “Where I struggled this year was where I had to scramble. I didn’t scramble very well this year. Same thing happened at Lake Oahe. Same thing at St. Lawrence Seaway.  The good tournaments are easy. Everything goes to plan. The bad ones are the ones that are hard. If I could have scrambled in the tournaments I did bad in and figure out how to get from the back of the pack toward the middle, that would have made a huge difference in the (Angler of the Year) points. To me going into next year, (scrambling) is what I need to work on. Knowing when to throw away (what you saw) in practice and start over and being able to piecemeal together (a solid tournament) is something we all face as fishermen.

“Every day we fish, there are always changing conditions. I have to be able to put two and two together faster and get something going; it’s critical to the success of the tournament fisherman. I had some opportunities to accomplish that this year and I didn’t.”

With several months before the start of the 2019 Bassmaster Elite season, Pace, 38, will use the downtime to recharge, get organized, wrap up some off-water commitments and maybe find a little time to hunt.

“At the end of the season, my tackle is in disarray and scattered all over,” Pace said. “I need to reorganize my boat and things of that nature. And I like to spend some time away from fishing. I love to archery hunt. I may get some fishing in there, too. I may not always bass fish. We’re close to the gulf here in Mississippi. I love to saltwater fish for fun. I love to catch redfish. That helps with the competitive grind of professional fishing.”

As the months pass and the start of the professional tournament circuit draws closer, Pace will be prepping for what he hopes will be a more productive 2019.

“Any new equipment I’m going to fish with, I like to get that in my hands as soon as possible and fish with it,” Pace said. “I want to be ready and satisfied with everything. Also, it’s a time to work on something that I’m struggling with, a technique or whatever. That’s pretty what I like to do. Sometimes I’ll travel to a body of water that I know is on the schedule next year to familiarize myself with it.”