Cliff Pace, winner of the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, won’t be able to defend his title this year due to a deer hunting injury. Pace was bowhunting near his home in Petal, Mississippi when he fell. His hand slipped as he was climbing down the treestand steps. Pace was able to land on his feet, but his left leg landed in a hole. He broke the leg in two places and tore the ACL in left knee.

Pace called a friend to come help him out of the woods once he realized the severity of his injury.

“The whole 45 minutes I was waiting for him to come I was thinking about [the 2014 Bassmaster Classic in] Guntersville,” he said.

Doctors say it will be 10-12 weeks before Pace can put weight on his left leg and longer until he can stand in a boat. He is definitely out for the Classic at Lake Guntersville, Alabama, which is scheduled for February 21-23. He may miss the entire 2014 season.

The defending champion always earns a qualifying spot in the following year’s Classic. B.A.S.S. officials will increase the 50 angler field in the 2015 Classic to 51 and defer Pace’s qualification for a year.