Payson angling pro Clifford Pirch ended a two-year drought in a big way — by winning $105,820 at the Walmart FLW Series National Guard Western Division Tournament.
Competing Oct. 21 to 24 at Clear Lake, Calif., the former Payson High School three-sport star dominated the tournament boating a four-day stringer of 20 bass weighing 97 pounds, 8 ounces.
The catch was a whopping 10 pounds, 14 ounces more than runner-up Randy McAbee Jr. weighed in.
Also, Pirch set a new Western Division single day heaviest bag record with 37 pounds, 8 ounces on the final day of the tournament.
The previous record was 35 pounds, 12 ounces set in 2008 by Sean Stafford at the California Delta.
Prior to the record-setting catch, Pirch’s largest tournament bag was about 27 pounds.
“I had an incredible day and it came at just the right time — the end of the (tournament fishing) season,” Pirch said. “I’ve had a couple of tough seasons and this was a good way to end it.”
Most of 2009 competing on both the Walmart FLW Tour and the National Guard FLW Series, the Payson angler — who’s first memories of fishing are as a mere toddler, wearing diapers, and with his father on a Rim Country stream — was shut out of the win column.
He had a 20th place finish in April on Lake Norman near Charlotte, N.C. and was runner-up at the Lake Mead U.S. Open, but those two showings were the extent of his success.
What only his family and closest friends knew during the dry spell is that Pirch was competing under circumstances that would wither the strongest of men.
As the son of an old-school high school wrestling coach, Pirch had learned to never make excuses, but it had to be tough to concentrate on fishing after his young daughter Kailee was diagnosed with cancer in 2008.
While the girl was going through surgery and chemotherapy treatments, Pirch was forced to spend part of his time as close to home as possible and then travel to the East Coast for tournaments.
“My daughters and my wife (Alicia) usually travel with me, but after the cancer, they couldn’t,” Pirch said. “That left my wife at home to take care of everything. It was really hard on my family.”
Today, Kailee has recovered completely from the bout with cancer and is an active vibrant young girl. The victory over cancer coupled with last month’s win at Clear Lake has Pirch at home recovering from the tournament trail, playing with his two daughters and laying plans for next season.
The win at Clear Lake, however, didn’t come as easily as it now seems.
At the end of the first day he was in 41st place with five bass weighing 17 pounds.
The following day he had another five bass bass tipping the scales at 19 pounds, 10 ounces to move up to fifth place.
He climbed to third place the next day with 23 pounds, 6 ounces on five bass.
One of the bass, a 9-pound-3-ounce lunker, was the day’s “Big Fish” winner.
The final day’s record-setting catch was one even he didn’t expect.
“It’s unbelievable, I just kept reeling the fish in,” he said.
His strategy during most of the week was to use Berkley jigs while fishing outside rock piles in about 15 to 26 feet of water.
Friends and family of Pirch will soon be able to view on television his tournament victory.
It is scheduled to be aired 10:30 a.m. on “FLW Outdoors” hosted by Jason Harper on the VERSUS.
About 500 million households worldwide are expected to tune into the fishing program.