By out-performing some of the biggest names in the world of professional bass fishing, Clifford Pirch netted fifth place at the prestigious WON Bass Miller High Life U.S. Open tournament Sept. 8 to 10 at Lake Mead.
For his performance, Pirch cashed a check for $12,500 -- one of the biggest paydays of his professional career.
His three-day catch of 11 fish weighed 22.15 pounds. In the catch was a 3.44-pound lunker that was the second largest fish caught during the tournament. Had the bass been the largest of the fray, Pirch would have won a new bass boat.
The field of 132 U.S. Open competitors included some of professional fishing's most accomplished anglers, including Pirch's close friend and frequent team partner Mark Kile.
A resident of the H Bar ranch near Rye, Kile finished 26th overall with a total of 17.05 pounds. On the third and final day, Kile's angling efforts were stalled by a broken trolling motor.
"He was really fishing good until that happened," Pirch said.
Pirch's top-five showing at the U.S. Open wasn't the only good fortune the Payson High School graduate enjoyed recently.
About a month ago, Pirch picked up Skeeter-Yamaha -- highly regarded brand name on the tournament trail -- as one of his tournament sponsors. Pirch also is sponsored by Intermountain West.
At the U.S. Open, the anglers were allowed three days of pre-tournament practice on Lake Mead. The day prior to the tournament, Sept. 7, the lake was declared off limits to the competitors.
At the conclusion of opening day, Pirch was first in the Open standings with five bass that weighed 9.5 pounds.
His grasp on first place continued through the second day when his tournament total reached 19.37 pounds.
On the third and final day, his luck ran out. Weighing in just two fish, he fell to fifth place in the overall standings. Pirch's difficulties on the final day were due mostly to weather conditions.
"The wind changed directions on us which meant we had to go looking for new schools," he said. "I wasn't able to find one."
San Diego-area big bass specialist John Kerr, who was third at the end of day-one and runner-up to Pirch on day-two, eventually claimed the Open title. For his 15-fish limit of 27.51 pounds, Kerr pocketed the top prize of $118,000.
Ten-time WON Bass winner Gary Dobyns of Yuba City, Calif., won second place, and $15,000 in prize money.
In addition to Pirch and Kile, Arizona was represented in the prestigious fray by Dean Rojas (Lake Havasu), Ted Roper (Kingman), Brett Hite (Phoenix), Mark Doettere (Scottsdale), Rich Halliwill (Nutrioso) and John Murray (Phoenix).
Following the tournament-ending award ceremonies, Pirch -- accompanied by his wife and daughter -- set his sights on the Citgo Bass Masters Western Open Sept. 18 to 20 on the Columbia River near Richmond, Wash.
WON Bass is an acronym for Western Outdoor News Bass and is the tournament division of a weekly outdoor newspaper. Members of WON Bass are eligible to participate in tournaments at lakes throughout California and Arizona.
In the U.S. Open, the professional anglers were teamed with AAA, or amateur fishermen. The pro and amateur's final catch weights were recorded separately.
According to WON Bass officials, the U.S. Open has become the largest international competition in bass tournament fishing, with more than 25 anglers from Japan competing. In 2001, they took home more than $41,000 in prize money.
Japanese lady angler Megumi Tagaki won the AAA division title, worth $10,000.
Pirch's fifth place finish at the Open catapulted him into 42nd place in the WON Bass 2003 Ranger Cup Top 50 point standings.