A hunting accident has forced defending Bassmaster Classic champion Cliff Pace to withdraw from the upcoming Classic to be held on Lake Guntersville in three weeks.
Pace fell from a treestand and broke his left leg in two places on Friday while bow hunting for deer near his home in Petal, Miss.
“I was actually done with my hunt and climbing down from the stand when the accident happened,” Pace said. “It was a cold day, even here in southern Mississippi, and I had cotton gloves on. Part-way down my hand slipped out of the glove, and that’s when I fell.”
Pace tried to push away from the tree so he wouldn’t land on his back or head. He was successful on that front, landing on his feet. But his left foot landed in a hole and jarred his leg enough to break it in two places, once above the knee and once below it. And in the process, he also tore the ACL in his left knee.
Pace, who was hunting by himself, tried to walk out but quickly realized he was dealing with a serious injury. “I called a friend to come get me, and the whole 45 minutes I was waiting for him to come I was thinking about Guntersville,” said Pace.
B.A.S.S. officials quickly decided to defer Pace’s Classic qualification until the 2015 Classic.
Pace won the 2013 Classic in Tulsa.
Pace had surgery on Saturday at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, Miss. There’s no timetable yet for when he’ll get out of the hospital. His doctor did say it will be at least 10 to 12 weeks before he can put weight on the leg. The doctor told him it will be longer before he can get back in a boat, which means Pace may not be fishing the 2014 Elite Series season. He’ll know more about that in the coming weeks.
“Because of Cliff’s injuries, he is clearly not able to defend his Classic title this year,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin. “Based on these unprecedented, special circumstances, we are deferring that opportunity to the 2015 Bassmaster Classic in Greenville, S.C. We wish Cliff a speedy and complete recovery.”
Akin said the 2015 Classic field will be increased by one. This will ensure that no one who qualifies for the Classic during the 2014 season will be denied a berth in the championship.
Pace was very appreciative of those decisions. “I can’t tell you how good it feels to know I’ll be fishing in the 2015 Classic. I’m very thankful to B.A.S.S. for that.”
He and other Classic contenders will fish Lake Hartwell, S.C., in the 45th Bassmaster Classic to be held Feb. 20-22, 2015. When the Classic previously visited Hartwell in February 2008, Pace finished second behind Alton Jones.
The Elite Series veteran is also thankful the accident wasn’t any worse. “There was a stump right next to where I landed. If I’d hit that, things could have been a lot worse,” he said. “These are the cards I was dealt. We’ll just work with it.”
Pace acknowledged there is one silver lining to the forced time off. He and his wife, Brana, had their first child just seven weeks ago, a girl named Jordan Baylee Pace. Now he’ll be able to spend a little more time with her.