Many boys grow up dreaming of throwing winning touchdown passes in the waning moments of rivalry games or slugging grand slam home runs in the bottom of the ninth inning.
But those who know Clifford Pirch guess his youthful dreams were probably about hooking a lunker-size bass big enough to earn him a berth in a major tournament championship.
Those aspirations seem perfectly fitting because Pirch has been fishing since he was knee-high to a tadpole tagging along behind his father, Dennis, as the two hiked Arizona’s high country in search of a quiet, tranquil spring-fed stream where the two could catch a nice-sized trout or two.
Dennis says he remembers those trips well, especially the ones which he took his son along when the boy was still wearing diapers.
After college, Clifford took on the challenge of living his dream of fishing professionally by joining the FLW circuit and competing in other tournaments around the Southwest.
Last year, Pirch made what could be the boldest move of his career by jumping to the Bassmaster Elite circuit with hopes of qualifying for the granddaddy of all fishing tournaments — the Bassmaster Classic.
His aspirations to compete in fishing’s version of the “big show” came to fruition last week.
At the conclusion of the eight-tournament Bassmaster series, he had piled up enough points, 467, to finish 30th among the 100 fishermen battling for “Angler of the Year” honors.
The ranking earned Pirch a berth among the 55 pros invited to fish in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic when it is contested Feb. 21-23 on Lake Guntersville, near Birmingham, Ala.
A top finish in the Classic is not only worth a top prize of $500,000, it usually means the winning angler is set in terms of sponsors and financial stability for the remainder of his career.
The nationally televised tournament and accompanying outdoor expo is expected to draw upwards of 17,000 spectators to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center where the weigh-ins will be held.
Pirch’s qualifying feat is drawing praise from friends in the fishing community including Jim Goughnour, “This is a highly regarded achievement that only a handful of the very best anglers get to fish.”
Most remarkable, Pirch earned the Classic invitation during his first year on the Bassmaster circuit.
Most anglers fish the tournaments for years before they acquire the moxie and experience it takes to succeed against the country’s finest professional fishermen.
While Pirch can breathe a sigh of relief now that he has qualified for the national showdown, the road to the berth was a demanding one that included tournament stops in such faraway spots as Detroit, Mich., Waddington, N.Y., Montgomery, Ala., Orange, Texas and Charleston, S.C.
Pirch’s best efforts along the tournament trail included a fourth-place finish on the St. Lawrence River, an eighth-place showing on the Mississippi River and a runner-up finish in the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open in Florida.
The second-place finish earned him more than $18,000 in prize money.
Obviously competing on the professional circuit requires a good deal of travel and Pirch has racked up more than his share of miles.
He estimates that in 2012-13 he traveled a total of 60,826 miles to and from tournaments,
Pirch says he uses those travel miles to gain exposure for his sponsors, “I use the opportunity to discuss and promote sponsors who have put their trust in me.”
In addition to fishing professionally, Pirch has jump-started his own company, Clifford Pirch Outdoors, which manufactures and sells tackle.
Just last month he traveled to Las Vegas to showcase his products at the ICAST convention, which is considered the world’s largest sportfishing trade show.
While Pirch is focused on doing well in the Classic, he also has another upcoming tournament, the Western Outdoor News (WON) U.S. Open Sept. 9 to 11 — that has been quite good to him in the past.
He’s won the prestigious tournament twice — in 2007 and 2010 — and hopes to do well again.
The best feature of the tournament for the Payson angler, however, is he won’t have to travel hundreds of miles across the country to the site — it’s being held on Lake Mead.