B.A.S.S. Elite Rookie Cliff Prince’s approach to new waters served him well throughout his first season, as evidenced by his second-place finish in the Rookie of the Year race and a spot in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.

B.A.S.S. Elite Rookie Cliff Prince’s approach to new water served him well throughout his first season, as evidenced by his second-place finish in the Rookie of the Year race and a spot to fish the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.

The name “Cliff Prince” appears on the list that every pro wants to see it at the end of his inaugural season as Bassmaster Elite Series pro. Prince, who lives in in Palatka, Fla., earned a spot on the list of Bassmaster Classic qualifiers through his performance on tour against 100 of the top anglers in the world. That means that on Feb. 22-24 Prince gets to compete on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees for half a million dollars and the title of Bassmaster Classic champion.

Prince has only attended one previous Classic, but that was enough to see for himself the magnitude of the event and provide some sense of the excitement level.

“Just being there and seeing it all was almost enough to bring me to tears,” he said. “I can’t imagine what it will be like actually walking across that stage.”

Prince had never even seen the venue for the 2013 Classic before a short investigative visit just prior to Grand going off limits to competitors. That’s nothing new to him, though. Most of the rivers and lakes the Elite Series visited this year were new to Prince. With the exceptions of Okeechobee, Douglas and the season opener on the St. Johns River (the ramp is two miles from his house!), every lake on the schedule was new to him.

Prince notched two Top 10s in his rookie campaign, finishing 5th at Toledo Bend and 9th at the Mississippi River event. Both were new waters to him. By way of comparison, he finished 16th on his home waters of the St. Johns, 51st on Okeechobee and 30th on Douglas.

Fresh Eyes Approach

Even on familiar waters, Prince prefers to look freshly at what the fish are doing the week of a tournament, and he seldom does much pre-tournament research for new waters. He might try to learn a little about navigation and a lake’s major characteristics, but he doesn’t research popular patterns, likely lures or areas of lakes because he doesn’t want to cloud his patterning with pre-conceived notions. He tried doing all these things when he first began fishing tournaments on new waters, and soon learned that he did better when he started with an open mind.

“I’ve been known to just put my trolling motor down at the boat ramp at the beginning of a practice and start fishing everything that looks good,” Prince said. “If I get bites, I’ll try to figure out why the fish are there and fish similar spots. If not, I might go looking for the main channel and try fishing deep or do something else different.”
Even Prince’s pre-Classic scouting outing was intentionally short. He only spent one day on Grand.

“I wanted to get a look at it and get an idea about what was there, but I didn’t want to confuse myself with too many memories of what the fish were doing in November,” he said.

Prince does feel pretty good about things based on what he saw, and he noted that there are a lot of fish in Grand Lake. His biggest concern is the weather and some uncertainty about how the fish might react to extreme cold.

“Being from Florida, I’m not used to fishing in really cold weather,” Prince said. “If it gets down to 30 here, that’s cold for us, and it could easily be in the teens there.”

Rookie Season

Although touring nationally was new to Prince in 2012, traveling to new waters and fishing against high-level competition was not. He has competed in Southern Opens since 2008. Being close friends with Terry “Big Show” Scroggins also helped the new aspects seem a little less foreign.

“I could call Terry any time I had a question about anything, and if he didn’t know the answer he could at least tell me who I needed to call.”

One of the best aspects of his rookie season was getting to know the other fishermen on tour.

“They are genuinely a good group of guys, both on the water and off,” he said.

Because Florida is its own world, fishing-wise, Prince had to learn how to contend with different types of waters and situations. Deep water is rarely a factor in Florida, for example, and he was not accustomed to fishing for smallmouths.

Interestingly, one of most important baits for Prince this season was a jig, which is something he rarely throws in Florida. Specifically, it was a green pumpkin BOOYAH Pigskin matched with a green pumpkin purple flek YUM Craw Chunk. “Around home, if we’re fishing on the bottom we usually either throw a big Texas-rigged worm or we’ll drag a Carolina rig. In other places, a jig seems to work better.”

Prince discovered the Pigskin/Craw Chunk combo at Toledo Bend, where he used it effectively to catch fish from the bases of bridge pilings in 25-feet of water. Because it worked so well there he continued throwing it in various situations that called for presenting an offering along the bottom – and he continued catching fish on it.

“I don’t know how much of it was a confidence thing, but I used the same bait and the same color combination around the bridge at Toledo Bend and for smallmouths on Oneida and at Green Bay.”

Just as Prince normally begins by casting to whatever looks good during practice, the first lure he tries often is whatever served him best wherever he fished most recently.

Prince’s approach to new waters will need to serve him well during the 2013 season, because the schedule is again filled with unfamiliar waters. His second season on the Elites begins on the Sabine River in Texas just a few weeks after the Bassmaster Classic. That’s just south Toledo Bend and is in fact the river that the giant lake impounds; however, the fisheries couldn’t be much more different. So where will he begin? Probably near the boat ramp, working whatever looks fishy – ideally with a lure that served him really well during the Bassmaster Classic!