Payson professional fisherman Clifford Pirch, once a Payson Roundup columnist, was one of 46 of the nation’s top anglers who began yesterday, Thursday, competing for the sport’s biggest prize and the most coveted piece of metal in bass fishing.
It all takes place during the 2012 edition of the FLW Forrest Wood Cup that doles out $500,000 in prize money to the winner and a healthy $10,000 for those finishing 31st through 46th.
For the showdown, Pirch left Payson last week to travel to Duluth, Ga., to begin pre-fishing Lake Lanier where the tournament will be held.
Pirch is no stranger to the Forrest Wood Cup, also known as the “World Series of Bass Fishing,” having qualified four previous times.
This year, he qualified by finishing 12th in the FLW point’s race, his best showing since 2006 when he was ranked ninth.
He is the only Arizona angler to qualify among the pros and one of only a handful from the West. Most qualifiers are from the southeastern state, which is the hotbed of bass fishing.
The 2012 season was Pirch’s best since 2006 and included a ninth-place finish, among 145 pros, entered in an FLW Tour tournament held May 17 to 20 on the Potomac River.
Prior to that sterling showing he was second at the BASS Southern Open in Florida, 10th at a PPA Tour Team Challenge also in Florida, first in a tournament at Roosevelt Lake and fifth at the Bass Southern Open in North Carolina.
He also has won the U.S. Open twice.
Last year, he won his first FLW tour event on Lake Chickamauga in Tennessee and in 2009 he highlighted his career with a stunning comeback at Clear Lake, Calif., where he caught a 37-pound stringer on the final day to claim victory and a three-figure paycheck.
In 2011, the Payson pro tacked on a third-place finish to his resumé, winning the bronze at an EverStart Series Western Division event on the California Delta.
In the three-day fray, Pirch boated a limit of 15 bass that tipped the scales at 65 pounds, 10 ounces that was just three ounces shy of the tournament runner-up.
Pirch burst onto the national scene in 2003 drawing national television airtime on a Sunday broadcast. During a one-hour segment on the FLW Outdoors cable network, Pirch was featured for his exploits in an EverStart Championship tournament held on the Old Hickory River near Nashville, Tenn.
In one segment of the broadcast, he was shown with a big bass in one arm and his infant daughter, Kailee, in the other.
While viewers from around the nation watched, supporters back at home — including Pirch’s parents, friends and former classmates — were glued to their televisions eager to get a glimpse of him.
Among the Pirch clan, tournament fishing has long been a family affair and this year his parents, Dennis and Kathy, traveled to Georgia to cheer their son throughout the tournament.
While Pirch has grown to become a national fan favorite, there are those in his hometown who remember him as the young boy who tagged behind his father as the two fished side by side for trout in Mogollon Rim lakes and streams.
After graduating from PHS, where he had a stellar athletic career in wrestling, cross country and track and field, he enrolled at Northern Arizona University, but not before he pocketed enough money from selling antlers and a summer of firefighting in the Tonto National Forest to buy his first bass boat.
Cup’s big challenge
On Lake Lanier, Pirch will go toe-to-toe with some of the finest professionals including Angler of the Year David Dudley and FLW Tour second-ranked Jacob Powroznik.
For the Forrest Wood Cup, anglers will take off from Laurel Park in Gainesville at 7 a.m. each morning. Weigh-ins will be held at the Gwinnett Convention in Duluth beginning at 5 p.m. daily.
Coverage of the Forrest Wood Cup will be broadcast in high-definition (HD) on NBC Sports Network when “FLW” airs Sept. 16 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
“FLW” is hosted by Jason Harper and is broadcast to more than 559 million households worldwide, making it the most widely distributed weekly outdoors-sports television show in the world.
For complete details and updated information, visit FLWOutdoors.com.
On the tournament trail, Pirch is sponsored by HPR ammo, Ranger Boats, Lowrance, Roboworm and Typhoon optics.