Winning Baits

How Cliff Prince got his first blue trophy at Wheeler, AL

How many years, how much grinding, does it take to get a win on the Elite Series? Answer: As much as it takes. Cliff’s been at it 10+ years, been close a few times and had almost a top 10 a year, but his last one before Wheeler was in 2021. Dude never gave up, here’s how it went down for him.

Going in and practice

> “Practice was not real good. The 1st day I was doing a lot of idling. It was hot, boring and I was not getting many bites.

> “I was idling across that flat [Decatur Flats] and seen a couple shad – one go one way, one go the other way – and thought, I might oughta stop and fish around here a little. My first cast I had a bite and shook it off. I made another cast and got a bite. I was like, There’s more than one here, and just made a waypoint and went on.

> “My wife went out with me the last day of practice to shoot some videos and stuff. At 3:00 we were about done…well let’s go check the one spot I had a couple bites. There was a local there, he was Spot-Locked on it and was catching them every cast. I figured, Well it’s either a local hole or they just are there. I made a mental note and went on.

> “I had a couple other areas where I felt like I could catch some fish, but as far as quality goes, it was that one spot and it was the only place I fished in the tournament.”


He basically had the same day every day except he didn’t stop fishing on day 4:

> “After I caught what I needed in the morning the first 3 days, I pretty much guarded it. I didn’t sit right on it, I just stayed there close. …maybe someone fishing through the area would come through there. And the fish were showing themselves…schooling…. I knew it was a winning spot and didn’t want to share it….

> “The spot was basically 2 little spots [in 4′] that were maybe as big as my boat. You couldn’t see any difference on your graph, but…if you threw [your bait] past it it would get in the grass, and if you threw it short it would get in the grass.

> “The fish were sitting [those] couple little hard spots. They did not want [his JackHammer] popped out of the grass. The only fish I caught snatching it out of the grass was a big smallmouth the 1st day. The big largemouth wanted it basically drug on the bottom. If you threw it out there and wound it straight back, they would not bite it.

> “You needed to throw it out there and let it hit the bottom, and barely keep the blade thumping. I guess they were kind of conditioned to [a straight retrieve].

> “That’s the reason I lost several fish – they were pinning it on the bottom. Plus I was catching them 4 days in row, the same exact couple casts – those fish were getting conditioned.

> “It’s a thing we do here on the St Johns River [his home in FL]. I’m sure you’ve heard of guys yo-yoing a Rat-L-Trap or a lipless bait. Basically it’s the same thing, it’s just a different bait…. Try to make it as subtle as you can.

> “They wouldn’t eat a swimbait with a ball head. For whatever reason they wanted a little bit subtle thump. Several ate it on the fall….

> “It was a shad-spawn deal that I didn’t really realize that first 3 days because I would see them schooling. I felt the last day I would train-wreck them the whole day. But I only caught 1 fish that really counted after 8:30. But to get on 1 spot and catch 20 fish and lose 10-15 [per day], I pretty much educated the majority of them.

> Why those lost fish: “Some of those casts I would get 4 bites before one would actually eat it and load up. You couldn’t set the hook before your rod loaded up – because if you did, you’re pulling it away from them. That’s hard to do with the pressure that was on [him] – not set the hook every time one taps it.

> “All I can say is it was a gift from God. It was just meant to be. It was a dream spot that every tournament angler dreams about finding.”


> 1/2-oz Z-Man Evergreen JackHammer (white and green shad) with a 4″ Bass Assassin Little Boss swimbait (snowstorm), 17-lb Seaguar Tatsu fluoro, Shimano Curado Reel (7.4), 7′ 3″ M Fitzgerald All Purpose Rod.

> “I did some subtle changes in the color of the swimbait, But it really didn’t matter if you made the right cast.

> “I caught a couple fish every day on a TX rig, and a couple of those were key bites – they were 4+. But 99% of them came on the ChatterBait with the Little Boss swimbait.”

> TX rig: 7.5″ Bass Assassin Tapout Worm (finesse style, red bug and gp), 4/0 Owner J Light Wide Gap Hook, 1/8-oz lead sinker, 20-lb Seaguar Smackdown Stealth Grey Braid to 15-lb Seaguar Tatsu fluoro, Shimano Stradic CI4 Reel (1500), 6′ 10″ MH Fitzgerald Bryan Thrift Spin Rod.

> Why spin gear for the worm: “I was throwing with an 1/8-oz weight [and] that’s how I grew up learning how to fish a TX rig. I’m just comfortable with that. You would think coming from FL I’d want a big, heavy setup for a TX rig. But when I’m throwing a light deal like that, I have better feel in my right hand than I do with my left.”

> Why a lead weight: “…anything under 3/8 I always use lead. I’m just old-school on that. I’ve had experience with tungsten…cutting my line [on a lighter rig]. I just feel more comfortable 3/8 or less with lead.

> “I threw a squarebill, a Carolina rig, a lipless, a swimbait – they would hit some of that stuff but would not eat it.”

He said he never tried a jig but had one ready to go.


> “I’m a Garmin guy, I’ve used Garmin for years. But when I got in my area I turned all my electronics off. I just had a map so I knew where I was at and what cast I needed to make. I did that because the fish were more than likely pressured and I didn’t want them to have any idea I was there. I was making really long casts….

> “…the less pressure I could make – without the ping of the sonar and all that. I wanted the least amount of pressure I could put on those fish. They were in a pretty small area.”


> “Power-Pole. I was in 4′ of water and having to make the same exact cast. If not for Power-Poles it would’ve been a lot harder to do. Once I figured out exactly where they were sitting – one would nip at it or whatever – I’d put my Power-Poles down and it was game on.

> “I’d like to thank Gene and Peggy Barnett for letting Bernie Schultz and I raid their house and pretty much turn them upside down for the week. They fed us like it was Thanksgiving every night.”

More tidbits

> “The wind every day would pick up for about an hour, and when it quit they would start biting again. It was weird…you would think would be totally opposite. The 3rd morning was the calmest morning and that was my best day. …for whatever reason the fish did not want any wind.”

> He triangulating his casts with trees and other stuff on the bank: “…be able to lock myself down and cast toward that one tree [or] whatever I picked out on the bank, it was game on.”

> Spectators were great: “Every one of them who came up and watched me the 3rd and 4th days…I’d kind of fish toward them and they’d move off. Nobody made a cast when I was there. I made a point to thank every single one of them.”

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