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Cliff Pace wins 43rd Bassmaster Classic contributed to this report

(Tulsa, OK) — Mississippi angler Cliff Pace was able to fend off a fierce challenge from young gun Brandon Palaniuk to win the 43rd Bassmaster Classic title in Tulsa, Oklahoma Sunday night.

Pace shared the lead on day one with New Jersey’s Mike Iaconelli.  However, Iaconelli’s boat troubles on day two cost him valuable time.  Time which he says ultimately may have cost him a second classic title.

Pace managed to hold onto the lead he grabbed Saturday on the Grand Lake of the Cherokee and finished with a three day total stringer of 54 pounds 12 ounces.

“This is a gift that I will always cherish,” said Pace, 32, claiming his first Classic trophy in his fifth Classic appearance. “This is the ultimate high of a career, a life-changing moment.”

Each day of the competition brought a new complication, from snow, rain, below-freezing temperatures and then warming air and water under high, bluebird skies — all challenges for anglers. Pace overcame the changing fishing conditions, weighing consistent bags of bass the first two days: Friday he had 21-8; and Saturday he did even better with 21-12. His two-day total distanced him from all challengers by 7 pounds or more.

But Sunday he experienced a reverse that gave him some uneasy hours out on Grand Lake. The day, he said, “was probably the hardest day I’ve ever spent on my boat. I caught two in the first hour and didn’t get another bite until about 1:30.”

He said the wind direction Sunday was not to his advantage.

“The places I was on were like flat glass today. I knew when I saw that, I was probably not going to catch any, but they had been so good to me for two days, I fished them. But I never got a bite on that stuff today,” he said.

He went 5 1/2 hours without a bite.

“I never lost focus on what I was trying to do. I told myself all day that if I was going to catch them, then I’d better slow down and fish like I’d been fishing,” he said. “Then I pulled up to a place and caught two on back-to-back casts. That gave me four.”

In the end, his Sunday weight of 11-8 was enough to slide home.

It was touch and go for Pace, who earned the nickname “Gameface” for showing little to no emotion throughout the week.   Palaniuk fishing his third classic put on a hard charge on Sunday with a strong sack of fish but came up 3 pounds 4 ounces short of the title.

“I worked really hard preparing for this Classic.  I spent a lot of time here last January and February and that’s what you’ve got to do and I think it showed,”  said Palaniuk. “I didn’t lose any fish and the game plan which I came here with worked.  I just came up a little bit short.  Knowing I didn’t do anything to cost me the Classic makes it much easier to take.  Hat’s off to Cliff, he’s a tough competitor and he caught them.”

The most disappointing person may have been North Carolina’s Hank Cherry.  A rookie fishing in his first Bassmaster Classic lost two fish, one 5 pounder and a 7 pounder on Sunday.  Cherry caught 17 pounds 4 ounces Sunday and ended up in third place.

Iaconelli finished in 4th with a three day total of 48 pounds 5 ounces and Mike McClelland of Bella Vista, Arkansas jumped to 5th place with a final total of 48 pounds 5 ounces.

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