Cliff Pace turned a “terrible” practice into a first-day triumph.

“Today’s a day I’ll remember for a long time in my career — a long time,” Pace said backstage Thursday after he took the lead in the Bassmaster Elite Series’ Toledo Bend Battle with 23 pounds, 2 ounces.

He was 10 ounces in front of Denny Brauer, who was second with 22-8, and 2 pounds ahead of Brandon Palaniuk, who secured third place with 21-2.

Pace said he practiced hard for three days. The yield was 10 bites, total. Come competition’s start, he used the same lures, the same patterns — but went to different spots.

“I fished hard and managed to get some good bites. That’s all there is to it. I didn’t find a magic spot or anything like that,” said Pace, a two-time Bassmaster winner looking for his first Elite title.

Pace, from Petal, Miss., said he had high expectations for the return of the Elite Series to Toledo Bend.

“I like to fish deep, I like to fish structure. I was looking forward to coming here because I knew I had a lot of potential to do well here,” he said.

Pace said he started Thursday, the first of four days of competition, on a deep spot that yielded 10 bites and a five-fish limit. It was a start, but not close to his 23-plus total for the day.

“That first was the best spot I had,” he said. Several of his subsequent stops, in fact, yielded nothing. He had to keep searching, catching one bass of quality in a single spot, then moving on, searching for another place with similar structure. His largest bass was a 6-pounder.

Brauer, the Camdenton, Mo., veteran who owns two of the sport’s two biggest titles — 1998 Bassmaster Classic champ and 1997 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year — turned in every fish he boated.

“I did have two little spotted bass jump off — they probably wouldn’t even have measured,” he said.

Brauer said he was stuck for a way to duplicate his strong day.

“I got the right bites, but nothing after 10:30,” he said. “I’m a little discouraged about what tomorrow will bring.”

Palaniuk, the 24-year-old from Rathdrum, Idaho, who won his first Elite event in April on Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas, had what he called a “perfect” day.

“I caught one fairly early, made a couple of adjustments, then caught a couple good ones. Then I covered a lot of water, burned a lot of boat fuel,” he said, to replicate his pattern. His final bass helped him into the Top 5.

In fourth place after Day One was South Carolina’s Casey Ashley with 20-13. In fifth was Arkansas’ Mark Davis with 20-3. The Berkley Big Bass of the day was a 6-14 by Russell Parrish of Riesel, Texas.

The Battle’s first prize is $100,000 and a 2013 Bassmaster Classic berth. Pros are also battling for points. As the fifth of eight 2012 events, the Toledo Bend Battle is pivotal in the season-long competition to reach three goals: a Top 12 postseason qualification, a Top 28 Classic berth and a piece of the $685,000 awarded to the Top 50.

Going into this week’s event, Randy Howell of Springville, Ala., led the points race with a tally of 358. In 65th place after the first day, his bid to claim the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year prize at season’s end took a hit. His nearest AOY challenger, David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn., was only 1 ounce ahead in 64th place.

The Toledo Bend Battle continues through Sunday. Fans are invited to Cypress Bend Park, 3462 Cypress Bend Drive, Many, LA 71449, to watch the pros take off at 6:30 a.m. CT. Weigh-ins are scheduled to begin at 3:15 p.m.

The Bassmaster Elite Series Fan Festival at the park opens at noon on Saturday and Sunday. All Bassmaster events are free.

The local host of the Toledo Bend Battle is the Sabine Parish Tourist Commission.

2012 Bassmaster Elite Series Official Sponsors: Toyota, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, Humminbird, Mercury, MinnKota, Nitro Boats, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha

2012 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsor: BOOYAH, Carhartt, Lowrance, Luck “E” Strike, Power-Pole, Ramada

2012 Bassmaster Elite Series Proud Partner: Mustang Survival

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