Crowds gathered at Grand Lake at dawn on Sunday to watch the remaining 25 anglers vie for the chance to be crowned the 2013 Bassmaster Classic champion and take home a half-million dollar prize.
Later in the afternoon, a rocking, capacity crowd filled the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa for the official weigh-ins to watch as Cliff Pace reeled in the title.
Pace, a Mississippi native, went into the final day as the leader, and even with an unimpressive 11-pound, 8-ounce haul on Sunday, he was able to hold on for a 3-pound, 4-ounce margin of victory.
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."
Three Oklahomans made the cut to fish on Championship Sunday, with Park Hill's Jason Christie showing his home state an impressive run. It was Christie's first time to fish in the Classic, but his seventh-place finish was his third tournament Top 10. Wagoner's Tommy Biffle, a revered veteran and six-time tournament winner with 56 Top 10 finishes, ended in 24th, and Talala's Edwin Evers was 25th.
A downtrodden Evers told the spectators at the BOK Center he felt like he let down the hometown crowd, but on the drive from the lake to Tulsa, he realized there are people fighting overseas and fighting illnesses that put things back in perspective.
Despite the low finish, Evers said: "I'm living the dream."
This was Evers' 51st Top 10 finish.
Rounding out the Top 5 behind Pace were Brandon Palaniuk, Hank Cherry, Michael Iaconelli and Mike McClelland, who hails from Bella Vista, Ark., which is right across the border.
Fan favorite Kevin VanDam, of Michigan, finished eighth. A 20-time winner, VanDam earned his 99th Top 10 career finish.
With his $500,000 Classic prize, Pace became the 39th member of the B.A.S.S. Millionaires Club — anglers who have surpassed the $1-million mark in earnings from Bassmaster events.
Ten hours of Classic coverage will air on ESPN2 next month. B.A.S.S. will present its Day 1 show at 8-9 a.m. CST, March 2, and will run again March 3 at 5-6 a.m. Coverage of the final two days of Classic competition will air March 3 from 6-8 a.m. and 9 a.m.- 11 a.m.
Here's the official finish:
1. Cliff Pace, Petal, MS $500,000
2. Brandon Palaniuk, Rathdrum, ID $45,000
3. Hank Cherry, Maiden, NC $40,000
4. Michael Iaconelli, Pittsgrove, NJ $30,000
5. Mike McClelland, Bella Vista, AR $25,000
6. Tracy Adams, Wilkesboro, NC $22,000
7. Jason Christie, Park Hill, OK 14 $21,500
8. Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, MI $21,000
9. Todd Faircloth, Jasper, TX $20,500
10. Randy Howell, Springville, AL $20,000
11. Ott DeFoe, Knoxville, TN $15,000
12. Shaw E Grigsby Jr., Gainesville, FL $14,500
13. Greg Hackney, Gonzales, LA $14,250
14. Dean Rojas, Lake Havasu City, AZ $14,000
15. Bobby Lane, Lakeland, FL $13,750
16. Joshua Wagy, Dewitt, VA $13,000
17. Jonathan Carter, South Portland, ME $12,900
18. Bill Lowen, Brookville, IN $12,800
19. Ish Monroe, Hughson, CA $12,700
20. Marty Robinson, Lyman, SC $12,600
21. Boyd Duckett, Demopolis, AL $12,400
22. John Crews, Salem, VA $12,300
23. Jonathon VanDam, Kalamazoo, MI $12,200
24. Tommy Biffle, Wagoner, OK $12,100
25. Edwin Evers, Talala, OK $12,000
CARHARTT BIG BASS
Mark Pierce Clarksville, TN 7 pounds, 4 ounces $1,000