Mississippi’s Cliff Pace and New Jersey’s Michael Iaconelli shared the spotlight Friday with a tie at 21 pounds, 8 ounces for the lead in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic presented by Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa.
Pace pulled off his 20-plus in the last few hours of competition by adding a 6-pound, 8-ounce bass. That big one and another fish came after a nerve-racking lull of almost two hours on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees without a bite.
“I don’t know if I just wasn’t around them, or they weren’t in the right frame of mind to bite. But then I caught two pretty good fish in the last couple of hours,” he said.
If Pace, who is from Petal, Miss., can keep his momentum and win, it would be his first Classic victory. He came close in 2008 on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell when he finished second to Alton Jones; the Texan won that year by more than 5 pounds.
Iaconelli already knows what a Classic win and $500,000 payday feels like. He was victorious in 2003 in the Classic on the Louisiana Delta.
Pace said a key to his Friday catch was fishing slowly: “When I put my trolling motor down, it’s ‘slo-mo.’ I’m fishing really slow, in what I feel are the best places.”
He said he caught his five-fish limit on three lures — two on a jig, one on a crankbait and two on a jerkbait.
Pace was clued into his productive patterns by what he learned in his two days of scouting Grand Lake before the official cutoff date in December. He’d competed only once before on Grand, in an Elite event held in 2007, held in June. He characterized his finish then as “terrible,” and brought nothing much from it into the 2013 Classic.
“It’s a totally different lake now anyway,” Pace said. “In any event, on any lake, you just have to figure out what makes them tick. This time I did a little better job than I did last time. It’s all about what you know right now, not last time.”
For Iaconelli, the 2003 Classic champ, his 21-8 on Friday showed him a door to a possible second Classic crown.
“It’s the kind of start you have to have to win the Classic,” said the New Jersey angler, who also owns the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year honors from 2006.
If he won this Classic, it not only would mark 10 years between crowns, but also a decade since Iaconelli almost quit his fishing career. He had gone into that 2003 Classic with a decision to find a new career after the competition was over. But then he won and went on to become one of the sport’s best.
In third after Friday’s first round was a Classic rookie, Hank Cherry of Maiden, N.C. He brought in 20-15, trailing the leaders by 9 ounces.
In fourth place with 19-12 was four-time Bassmaster Classic champion Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich. Just 2 ounces behind VanDam was Tracy Adams of Wilkesboro, N.C., who had 19-10. Local favorite Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla., was sixth with 18-12.
Most of the Classic competitors weren’t much bothered by a passing cold front and the sub-freezing temperatures of Friday.
“A lot of time after a very, very cold night like we had, the fishing gets better,” Iaconelli said.
Pace also saw the weather as a plus.
“I think the cold was a good thing — it kept a lot of the spectator boats off the lake. It allowed me to move around easier, be more relaxed,” Pace said.
The Carhartt Big Bass of the day was a 7-pound, 4 ounce largemouth caught by Mark Pierce of Clarksville, Tenn. The biggest bass brought to the scales over three days of Classic competition could be worth a $2,500 bonus from Carhartt.
After Saturday, the field will be cut to the Top 25 anglers. They’ll return Sunday to Grand Lake for the final day of competition. The 2013 Classic champ will be crowned at the BOK Center on Sunday.
Classic competitors will launch their boats Saturday and Sunday at Wolf Creek Park in Grove, Okla. The anglers will leave the docks at 7 a.m. CT. For fans, the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods at the Tulsa Convention Center will be open Saturday 10 a.m.-7 p.m. CT, and Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. CT.
For the weigh-ins, the doors to the BOK Center will open at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free to Bassmaster Classic events.
Classic coverage on ESPN2 will begin with a Day 1 show at 9-10 a.m. ET March 2. Classic coverage of the final two days will air March 3 on ESPN2 from 6 a.m. to noon.
Image courtesy Bassmaster