Mississippi’s Cliff Pace will not defend his Bassmaster Classic title after suffering a broken left leg in a fall from a deer stand Friday afternoon near his home in Petal.
Pace, an avid deer hunter who said the sport helps him ease the tension of tournament fishing, confirmed he broke his leg in two places — once above and once below his knee — and tore his ACL in his left knee. He underwent surgery on Saturday, and on Sunday he confirmed the accident.
In a story posted on Bassmater.com early this morning, Pace said doctors have told him it will be 10 to 12 weeks before he can put weight on the leg and longer before the fishermen will be able to get back into a boat.
Not only will it prevent the 2013 Classic champion from fishing the Feb. 21-23 at Lake Guntersville in Alabama, but it also jeopardizes his fishing on the 2014 Elite Series that begins March 13-16 at Lake Seminole in Georgia.
According to Bassmaster.com, B.A.S.S. officials have already announced that Pace’s automatic defending champion qualification for the Classic will be deferred until the 2015 Classic to be held on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell. Pace finished second in the 2008 Classic at Hartwell.
“Because of Cliff's injuries, he is clearly not able to defend his Classic title this year,” B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin told Bassmaster.com. “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.”
The 2015 Classic field will be increased by one, B.A.S.S. said, to ensure that no qualifier will lose a position.
Pace, who appreciated B.A.S.S.’ decision, told Bassmaster.com the accident happened as he was ending Friday’s bow hunt.
“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 said he was able to push away from the tree and land on his feet, but that his left foot landed in a hole and caused the injuries. Hunting alone, Pace tried to walk out but realized the injuries were too severe and called for help.
He said during the 45 minutes he was waiting, his mind was on Guntersville, where he expects records to be set.
“It’s disheartening not to be able to compete,” Pace said. He added that “these are the cards I was dealt; we’ll just work with it.”
Pace double-qualified for the 2014 Classic by carrying the defending champion’s banner and by finishing 12th in the 2013 Elite Series points standings.
Pace, 33, has been one of the most-consistent B.A.S.S. pros in recent years, having finished in the money in 74 of his 100 events. He has finished in the Top 10 a total of 25 times, or one in every four tournaments. Pace has career earnings exceeding $1.36 million.
If there is a silver lining to the injury, Pace said it is that he will be able to spend time with his growing family. Pace and wife Brianna had their first child, daughter Jordan on Dec. 6.