Clifford Pirch understands the responsibility with which he's been entrusted as a standard bearer for the National Guard.
"I will be representing the men and women of our country who are putting their lives on the line for all of us," he said. "It's a real honor."
The 31-year-old professional bass angler was referring to the sponsorship he received last fall as one of 12 members -- six professionals and six co-anglers -- on a National Guard team that is competing in FLW Outdoors events around the country.
Most of the past week, Pirch was on the road, driving a National Guard-wrapped Chevrolet Suburban to Washington, D.C., where he will compete June 14 to 17 in a tournament on the Potomac River. Trailing his SUV every mile of the journey was his high tech 21-foot Ranger bass boat, equipped with a 250 Yamaha HPDI outboard.
Next on the FLW tour for Pirch will be a July 12 to 15 tournament stop on the Detroit River.
If Pirch finishes among the top 48 FLW tournament anglers, which is his goal, he will receive an invitation to the prestigious Forrest Wood Cup Championship, to be held Aug. 2 to 5 in Hot Springs, Ark.
As a member of the National Guard team, he'll represent the organization at every stop.
"To promote something honorable that I really believe in is great," he said. "It's just a great team to be a part of."
Pirch was first asked to become a member of the National Guard team in the fall of 2006, during a tournament at the Lake of the Ozarks.
"When Sgt. (Frank) O'Laughlin came to me at the event, I was real excited," he said.
As good an angler as Pirch is, it wasn't entirely his fishing skills that earned him a spot on the National Guard team.
"He is a wonderful Christian man with good family values and a true professional," said National Guard Chief Sgt. Neil Williams. "We look for those kind of things."
In addition to adding Pirch to the National Guard bass fishing team, which was first formed in the fall of 2005, the angling squad extended an invitation to Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla.
Raised on the shores of Lake Okeechobee, Martin was tutored as a child by his nationally acclaimed father, Roland Martin, who has been a pro angler most of his life.
Those who knew Pirch during his school days at Payson High, remember him as the teen who always had his sights set on becoming a professional angler.
It wasn't unusual in the halls of Rim Country Middle School or PHS to overhear Pirch discussing with friends, the tricks and techniques of successful bass angling.
One teacher, after listening to Pirch, walked away bewildered and wondering what the conversation was all about.
"Lipless crankbaits, Rat-L-Trap, Slug-Gos? What was he talking about?" the teacher asked.
While at PHS, Pirch was also a star wrestler and long distance runner on the cross country and track and field teams.
His freshman year, he showed great promised as a wide receiver in football but opted later for cross country.
After graduating from PHS in 1990, Pirch enrolled at Northern Arizona University and could often be seen dragging his bass boat behind his truck on trips to and from Flagstaff.
Locally, Pirch became a highly successful angler on several state circuits, including AllStar Bass. Last fall, he teamed with lifelong friend Reese Randall to win the AllStar Super Team Championship on Roosevelt Lake.
Four years ago, he took his angling act on the national circuit, competing in the Stren Series Western Division. In 2003 and 2004, he competed in the Stren Series championships.
His biggest single payday was in the spring of 2005 at the Wal-Mart Open Powered by Tyson tournament on Beaver Lake near Rogers, Ark.
There, he finished fourth and earned $40,000 in prize money.
As exciting as the finish was, it was the manner in which he ascended to fourth place that was the highlight of the tournament.
Pirch began the tournament with a disappointing catch of 8 pounds, 1 ounce that left him sitting in 105th place, heading into the second half of the opening round.
Rising to the challenge -- much as he did as a Longhorn athlete -- Pirch weighed in an enormous 19-pound, 8-ounce catch the following day that vaulted him into first place.
"That was a great day," he said. "It'll be pretty hard to do it again, but I'd like to."
Although Pirch wasn't able to hold onto first place in the final rounds of the tournament, he did land enough bass to post his first big payday since he began fishing the East Coast Wal-Mart FLW circuit.
He later managed two more top-10 finishes, at Lake Murray and again at Beaver Lake.
Pirch also qualified for the 2006 FLW Tour championship as the 41st ranked angler.
Among the perks of Pirch becoming a member of the National Guard team is that the organization has agreed, as part of its $9.5 million sponsorship of the FLW tour, to host big-money, televised events in California, Washington and Arizona.
Those competitions will be included on the National Guard Western Division Wal-Mart FLW Series.
Pirch is excited about the addition of the Western series to professional angling.
"Fishing for that kind of money in the West is a big deal," he said. "This new circuit will really showcase the West.
"I'm excited to fish some lakes that I've had past success on."
In addition to being sponsored by National Guard, Pirch is also sponsored by Yamaha and Ranger.