Cliff Pace of Petal not only made his way to the major league of bass fishing, but he almost won the 2008 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina.

Pace won $45,000 for a second-place finish, but more importantly, he proved that a homeboy from Mississippi could compete with the big boys on the BASS circuit.

You'll find Pace either fishing tournaments or working for E. Cornell Malone Corporation as a roofing contractor.

"My childhood dream was to become a tournament bass fisherman," Pace says. "I knew that's what I wanted to do for a living. My wife, my family and the people at E. Cornell Malone Corporation have supported me as I've chased my dream."

Pace went from a Mississippi boy fishing on the river bank with his dad and granddad to becoming the second-best bass fishermen in the World Series of competitive bass fishing.

"I grew up fishing with my dad and his friends on the Pascagoula River," Pace said. "Then I moved up to fishing local bass tournaments. I continued fishing local tournaments and bass-club tournaments until I finally made the jump to the Bassmaster Open."

The Bassmaster Open consists of three tournaments, and the top-five points winners in those three tournaments qualify to fish the Elite Series the next year. In 2006, Pace finished fifth in the Open Series, allowing him to sneak into the Elite Series.

In 2007, Pace did very well in the Elite Series, earning $122,000 in tournament winnings, and having his best year ever of competitive bass fishing.

The Bassmaster Elite Series trail consisted of 11 events throughout 2007, and the top 35 points winners qualified for the Classic. Pace finished 16th in the race for the Angler-of-the-Year title, qualifying him to compete in the Classic.

"As I fished during the practice days of the 2008 Classic, I thought I had a chance to do well in the tournament," Pace said. "But I never dreamed I'd have a chance to win. The Bassmaster Classic was like racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at the Talladega Superspeedway. You might have a good car, but everyone else in the race had a good car, too."

When Pace arrived at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina for the 2008 Classic, he found the lake about 18 feet low because of the drought. However, Pace located the bass still holding in deep water.

"I noticed the bass on my Lowrance X-28 depth finder were related to schools of baitfish," Pace said. "So I ran all over the lake looking for schools of baitfish."

Pace usually could locate bass in or around schools of baitfish. These schools of baitfish moved around the lake indiscriminately, making pinpointing their exact locations and consistently catching them very difficult.

"I caught bass each day during the Classic using different techniques, depending on how the bass were relating to the schools of bait," Pace said. "If the shad were deep, I caught bass using a drop-shot rig."

Oftentimes Pace caught bass 40 to 50 feet deep fishing a V&M Finesse Worm and a V&M Pork Shad.

Fishermen don't have many lakes in Mississippi this deep to fish. But Pace, a touring pro, has fished all over the nation. In the far West, he's learned to catch bass in extremely clear 80-foot-deep lakes.

"Traveling all over the country and fishing competitively has helped me become a much-more diverse fisherman than I was when I only fished Mississippi waters," Pace said.

During the 2008 practice, Pace pinpointed about seven regions holding baitfish and bass. He knew the fish would move often, and he'd have to fish changing weather conditions.

"On the first day of the tournament, I spent about an hour in one of my best spots trying to find schools of baitfish," Pace said. "The night before the first day of the Classic, the area received plenty of rain that was really warm compared to the temperature of the water on the lake. That warm rain coming into the backs of the creeks caused the baitfish to move shallow, and the bass followed them."

On the first day of the Classic, Pace picked up on the pattern and caught the majority of his fish in water less than 10 feet deep with the pearl-colored Buckeye Su-Spin Blade, which resembles a large Road Runner with a blade attached to the jighead, on 10-pound-test Hi-Seas fluorocarbon line. He added a V&M Pork Shad as a trailer.

After the weigh-in at the end of the first day, Pace ranked fifth with 15 pounds of bass.

On the second day, Pace returned to his hotspot.

"I couldn't get a bite," he said. "The baitfish had moved overnight from that shallow water out to 40- to 50-foot-deep water. So I started fishing the drop-shot rig with a V&M Finesse Worm and the 3/4-ounce V&M Football Jig in the Money Maker color, which is transparent green."

At the end of the second day, Pace weighed in 14 pounds of bass, moving him up to third place.

On the third and final day of the tournament, the bass threw Pace another curve. He couldn't find the fish in shallow water, and he couldn't catch them on the Buckeye Su-Spin blade in deep water. He caught a few fish deep, but he caught the majority of his bass fan-casting the 3/4-ounce Hopkins spoon to bass he could see chasing bait from the surface.

With only 11 pounds of bass in his livewell, Pace felt sure he didn't have a chance to win.

"I just hoped I'd stay in the top five with my 11-pound stringer," he said.

After Kevin VanDam weighed in, Pace knew he had more weight than Van Dam and that he'd either finish second or possibly win the tournament. However, when Alton Jones weighed in and had about 4 pounds more than Pace, he became the winner of the 2008 Bassmaster Classic, knocking Pace to second place.

"The Bassmaster Classic was a great experience for me," Pace said. "I'd take second place in every tournament if I could. Naturally, I'd like to win, but second is much better than third. I'm confident that I fished as well as I could and maximized all my opportunities to win."

This year so far, Pace has had an up-and-down year. He finished fifth at Lake Fork, 15th at Clarks Hill, 32nd at Lake Amistad and then from 50th to 80th place in the other events.

"If I'm going to have a berth in the 2009 Bassmaster Classic, I'll need five really good tournament finishes at the end of this season," Pace said.

He sees a bright future for himself in tournament bass fishing. Although he admits he still has a lot to learn, he doesn't plan to give up. Pace hopes that instead of playing the role of bridesmaid, he'll one day win a Bassmaster Classic.

"I'm really fortunate that E. Cornell Malone Corporation allows me to keep my job as a superintendent and be able to take off to fish tournaments all over the country," Pace said. "I'm living the life I've always dreamed of living.

"Finishing second in the Bassmaster Classic is like a baseball player who plays on the losing team in the World Series - at least he got to play. Being a part of the 2008 Bassmaster Classic and placing second really helped my career. I've proved I can compete in the highest level of bass fishing and that a Mississippi homeboy can fish with the best bass fishermen in the nation."