WHAT WENT WRONG? CLIFF PACE ON LAKE MICHIGAN
Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos by Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush
Moore, OK - Following each Bassmaster Elite Series tournament during the 2012 season, The BASS ZONE will interview two anglers who finished in the bottom half of the field to find out “what went wrong?”
It’s easy to get the winning details from an angler who just lifted a trophy – It’s tougher to go one-on-one with an angler who just missed the cut by 20-pounds, failed to catch a limit the entire tournament, and dropped 10 places in the Angler Of the Year standings.
The bass fishing media tends to avoid analyzing poor tournament performances. For some reason, when a pro angler finishes in 90th place, nobody stops to ask him, “What went wrong?” In other professional sports, sub-par performances by individual players become a major part of the storyline.
This week, the focus turns to the seventh Elite Series tournament of the 2012 season on Lake Michigan out of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Dubbed the “mystery lake,” B.A.S.S. didn’t announce the location of the tournament until May 24th. With a total weight of 79-2, Jonathon VanDam targeted smallmouth to claim his first Elite Series victory by relying on a drop shot and spinnerbait.
Cliff Pace entered the Elite Series tournament on Lake Michigan on a serious roll. After kicking off the season by missing the top 50 cut in the opening two tournaments in Florida, Pace recorded four consecutive top 15 finishes including back-to-back 2nd place finishes at Toledo Bend and the Mississippi River.
That all came to an end at Green Bay when Pace was one of only two anglers who failed to boat a single keeper on the first day of competition and finished the day tied for 98th place. On Friday, he rebounded with a quality limit of smallmouth weighing 14-15 to finish the tournament in 74th.
Here’s how Cliff Pace described “what went wrong” at Lake Michigan:
“On the first day of practice, I fished the area around Green Bay and it just didn’t seem to hold any fish at all. That can really snag you up, because you end up fishing your tail off all day without catching anything.
“On the second day of practice, I ended up going to the Little Sturgeon bay area where almost everyone else ended up fishing, and I caught them pretty good. I was getting plenty of keeper bites, so I didn’t think that catching a 12 pound limit would be that difficult during the tournament.
“I also figured out a little deal right around the mouth of the river near check-in. I had had a lot of bites in that area, but not enough to make me what to fish there all day in the tournament. It was an area where I thought that I could scramble and catch a limit if I needed to.”
Tournament Strategy and Game Plan:
“I knew that I needed to make the run to the Little Sturgeon Bay area, but I also knew that it would be really crowded. When you do an internet search for ‘Green Bay bass fishing,’ the first thing that pops up is Sturgeon Bay, and Little Sturgeon Bay was the closest fishable water to that area. It was no secret that there was a good population of fish around that area.
“It was kind of pathetic that we were on a giant body of water like Lake Michigan and most of us ended up fishing in a 500 acre area. I knew that was how it was going to fish, and when it’s that crowded, everything has to go right for you to do well.
“I was planning on fishing fairly shallow water, but during practice I never saw a single bass locked down on a bed, so sight fishing wasn’t part of my game plan at all.”
“On the first day, I just never got a keeper bite all day. We had different conditions than we had all week, and it was one of those deals where I just needed one keeper to bite to tell me where the rest of the fish were.
“I wasn’t due in until 3:45, so I ran back down the mouth of the river at about 1:00 or 1:30 so I could be the first to fish two key little areas that I knew would get pounded by other anglers on the way to check-in. All I could catch there was 13 inchers and drum.
“It was a really weird deal for me, and I don’t know why I did so poorly on the first day. It was the first time in a long time that I’d fished an entire day in a tournament without getting a single keeper bite. Over the course of the day, I probably caught 35 short fish.
“On the second day, I fished with the same baits, used the same techniques, and fished the same areas that I fished on Thursday. I caught a limit around Little Sturgeon Bay and then ran back down lake and made a stop with about 15 minutes left on the same two areas where I finished day one.
“In a 10 minute span, I caught three smallmouth that were each over three pounds on the exact same spots where I caught 13 inchers and drum the day before.”
What Went Wrong?
“Looking back on it, I don’t really understand why I couldn’t catch them on Thursday. On the second day, I really didn’t do anything differently and I did catch them.
“I spent my entire practice looking for fish that were on the perimeters of shallow areas, and I missed the sight fishing bite completely. When you only have one thing going and it goes away, you’re stuck with nothing. That’s pretty much what happened to me the first day. I had a couple of key areas where I planned on fishing, and they were covered up with a bunch of other anglers.”
“You can never know too much going into one of these events. I’ve always tried to keep myself from getting focused on a single thing, and I thing that I got a little bit too focused on fishing one specific way.
“I was fishing for shallow fish, but I never saw any that were locked down on the beds. It was regrettable that I missed that bite, because I know that a lot of fish got caught bed fishing on the first day of the tournament.”