Cliff Prince on the Bubble with a Heavy Heart

If you’re thinking about becoming a professional bass angler, you might want to talk to Palatka, Florida’s kind-hearted Cliff Prince first.

The longtime Toyota Bonus Bucks member has been a full time pro for eight years. He’s made a couple of Bassmaster Classics, and won some good money along the way. But this week on Lake St. Clair is the kind that confronts a grown man’s soul and puts tear drops atop his spinning reel as he battles non-stop 20 mph winds from sunrise till dark.

Prince is one of this week’s “bubble guys” at the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship. The projected cut to make the 2020 Bassmaster Classic is around 42nd in the Angler of the Year points – and he currently sits 40th. By his estimation, he really needs to finish 25th or better on St. Clair to make sure he earns a ticket to his third big dance.

That ain’t easy, and to put a little more pressure in the cooker, his 78-year-old dad, who battles Parkinson’s disease, is hospitalized with a fever, and fighting for his life 15 hours away in a Gainesville, Florida hospital.

“I drove from the last Elite Series event at Tenkiller, OK to Detroit. Left my truck and boat here at St. Clair, and jumped on a flight home to see Dad. But I missed a connection in Atlanta, so I rented a car and drove from Atlanta to Gainesville and spent all the time I could with him. Then I flew back up here to grab my boat and get ready for practice this week,” says Prince. “And I’m not going to lie … I cried more than once today thinking about him while I was practicing.”

Long before he took on pro angling, Prince was an accomplished regional rodeo cowboy, and this year has been as up and down as a steer-roping contest. He started the year with a strong 17th place finish on the St. Johns River in his hometown, and book-ended it with a late season Top 10 at Cayuga, NY last month. But Lake Lanier in February is the one he’d like to have back.

“I’m super frustrated that I’m on the bubble here at the end of the year. I zeroed the first day at Lake Lanier, and what makes it hurt even worse is that on the second day at Lanier I caught one of the biggest bags of the day throwing a shallow crankbait. I should have done what I knew to do the first day, and not second guessed myself,” he laments.

Consistency will be hugely important for Prince this week on St. Clair too. In 2015 and 2017, he finished right in the middle of the pack here. And he blames it on inconsistency.

“These guys I’m competing against are too good. You can’t have a 17-pound day here. That’s a bad day on St. Clair, and it’ll kill you. You have to have 19, 20, 21 pound bags every day here. I’ve done that many times. I just haven’t done it three or four days in a row here. And that’s what it takes,” says Prince, who loves sharing life with his bride Kelley and their two children.

He wishes he could be sharing time with family this week too. But instead, he’s 1,100 miles away trying to end up on the right side of the bubble. Fighting to make his third Bassmaster Classic. Fishing through alligator tears and a boatload of emotions, all in an effort to lasso a dream and make his dad proud.