BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Fujita wrangles big bag to claim Day 1 lead in Bassmaster Elite Series event at Toledo Bend

February 22, 2024

MANY, La. —

Before the start of the Gamakatsu Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend, Kyoya Fujita’s personal-best bag of largemouth weighed around 24 pounds.

But after anchoring his bag with an 8 1/2-pounder Thursday, the Japanese pro shattered that mark and claimed the Day 1 lead at Toledo Bend with a 31-pound, 3-ounce bag of largemouth.

Known as the “Prince of Japanese Angling,” Fujita holds a 2-3 advantage over Elite Series rookie Robert Gee of Tennessee and nearly a 4-pound advantage over Wisconsin pro Pat Schlapper.

Fujita had never been to Toledo Bend before he pre-fished here in January. He said the lake has changed a lot since then, particularly the water levels, which are much higher now.

Using Garmin LiveScope, Fujita targeted prespawn bass located in 30 feet of water around standing timber in a popular area of Toledo Bend. Two baits caught the majority of his bass in one specific spot he found the last day of practice.

It only took about three hours for Fujita to reach his total for the day, as he landed the 8-pounder around 8 o’clock. During one particular flurry, he threw back a 4-pounder and then a 5-pounder. While the day was warm and sunny, the wind kicked up across the lake, making things more difficult.

“It’s getting tougher and tougher,” Fujita said through a translator. “In the morning, it was easy fishing. Afternoon, no bites. I don’t like rough water.”

Fujita said 30 pounds is the goal for tomorrow, and believes there are the bass in the area to repeat that performance.

“I will go to same area and same spot. (I’ll do) the same fishing,” he said. “I’ll try for 20 pounds. But if tough conditions, I’ll go to the next area with 3-pounders and 4-pounders and change tactics.”

Gee fished the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens presented by SEVIIN in 2023 and suffered his worst finish of the season at Toledo Bend. But he took the lessons he learned from that event and applied them this week to catch 29-0 Thursday.

“I beat the bank the whole time [in 2023] and from that moment on it changed my outlook on the way I needed to be fishing,” Gee said. “I dedicated myself to working on my offshore game ever since that tournament and it paid off today.”

He caught plenty of bass on Day 1, including a stop that produced two 5-pounders and several more quality bass to increase his total to 20 pounds around midday.

But a late-day stop produced the bulk of his weight.

“I made a move to a ditch and every fish I saw was over 5 pounds,” he said. “I culled everything I had out, including a 5-pounder, in 30 minutes. It was unbelievable. This is my biggest bag ever by myself.”

The majority of the bass he is catching are relating to standing timber. The shallowest bass came from 10 feet of water while his big bass late in the day were in 40 feet. One bait produced the bulk of his weight.

Gee knows there are plenty of bass left in his afternoon area and is hoping it will produce just as well on Day 2.

“Honestly, I didn’t think it held bass that size,” he said. “I went over there to catch 3- and 4-pounders. But every fish I saw was 5-plus. It was the perfect storm when I rolled in there and I think they are coming to it. I think I know where they are going to if they aren’t in the same spot.”

Schlapper brought 27-4 to the scales to land in third. A three-time qualifier for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors, he settled into the same popular area as Fujita and caught the bulk of his bag in about an hour and a half.

“I got into an area later in the day where I figured it would be right, and it was right,” Schlapper said. “I caught my biggest one earlier in the day, but everything else came in that one area. There’s a group of us that are all in the same area. That one little stretch I had, people overlooked and it’s a little different than what the main thing is that is going on.”

The majority of the bass Schlapper caught are individuals just roaming around in 12 to 40 feet of water. He will be heading to the same area Friday, although he isn’t sure the day will follow the same script.

“What I think is happening is later in the day with the sun, they start coming up. I don’t know if it is to warm up or what,” he said. “I’m in a good area. There’s a lot of big bass and they are moving around. I just have to get it in front of five of the right ones and get them in the boat.”

Leesville, S.C., pro Bryan New landed the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day, a 9-8 largemouth that bested several other 9-pounders.

The full field will take off from Cypress Bend Park beginning at 7 a.m. CT and return for weigh-in at 3 p.m. The Top 50 anglers after the Day 2 weigh-in will advance to Semifinal Saturday before the Top 10 compete for the blue trophy and $100,000 top prize on Championship Sunday. All anglers are earning points towards Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year.

Bassmaster LIVE will be streaming on all four days beginning at 8 a.m. ET, and coverage will also be available on FS1 on Saturday and Sunday.

Those wanting to attend will be able to enjoy the “B.A.S.S. on the ’Bend” festival on Saturday and Sunday at Cypress Bend Park before weigh-in. The festival will feature live music and many local vendors.

The event is being hosted by Toledo Bend Lake Country and the Louisiana Office and Tourism.


Dylan Hays Wins Group A Qualifying Round at Major League Fishing Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick at Santee Cooper Lakes

CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. (Feb. 22, 2024) – Hot Springs, Arkansas, pro Dylan Hays caught seven scorable bass Thursday weighing 30 pounds, 8 ounces, to earn the Group A Qualifying Round win at the Major League Fishing (MLF) Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick at Santee Cooper Lakes in Clarendon County, South Carolina.

Hays’ two-day Qualifying Round catch of 17 bass totaling 71 pounds, 13 ounces, earned him the win by a narrow 2-pound, 11-ounce margin over Day 1 leader and reigning Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) Matt Becker of Ten Mile, Tennessee, who caught a two-day total of 19 bass weighing 69-2 to finish the round in second place. General Tire pro Alton Jones, Jr., of Waco, Texas, caught a two-day total of 18 bass weighing 66-9 to finish the round in third, while pro Gerald Spohrer of Gonzales, Louisiana, ended the round in fourth place with a two-day total of 23 bass for 64-15. Rounding out the top five is Stage One winner Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama, who caught 17 bass for 63-14 to advance in fifth place.

The top 10 anglers advancing from Group A will now have an off day from competition Friday, while the 40 anglers competing in Group B will complete their two-day Qualifying Round. The top 10 anglers from each group advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round. In the Knockout Round, weights are zeroed, and the remaining 20 anglers compete to finish in the top 10 to advance to the Championship Round. In Sunday’s final day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

All week, anglers have stressed the importance of triggering bites from the bigger-than-average bass that roam Santee Cooper. At least in Group A, no one has done so better than Hays.

The Arkansas pro anchored his Day 2 bag with a 7-3 kicker. He also caught a 6-7 and a 5-4. During each of his first two days on the water, he’s landed three bass over 5 pounds, and his biggest five fish weighed more than 26 both days.

Hays believes he’s figured out a key to enticing those bigger bass. Fishing in Lake Marion, he’s not shying away from the dirty water in much of the lake. He also thinks his bait selection has played a part. All his fish Thursday ate a 1/2-ounce bladed jig with either a Zoom Z Craw Jr. or Shimmer Shad as the trailer.

“Key No. 1 was dirty water,” Hays said. “Key No. 2 was throwing a ChatterBait instead of flipping. … And then just making a lot of casts, working really hard.”

Hays admitted that he’s “kind of making it up as [he goes],” especially as he explored new terrain, but he’s optimistic his key areas are reloading with new staging fish each day. Early in the morning, he watched another angler catch a 5-pounder off the same tree that produced a 6-pounder for him on Day 1.

Still, even if his cypress bite sputters, Hays now has a backup plan in place. The thing that had him most excited about his second day on the water was the fact that he caught several fish not around Santee Cooper’s ubiquitous wood, but grass.

“The first day I caught the majority of them off trees – specific trees, but off trees – but in practice I caught a couple good ones off of some grass,” Hays said. “I couldn’t ever really make it work very long. Today, I actually caught the 7 and 5 off the same kind of stuff, and a couple males, so that kind of got me excited. That might start developing as well.”

Hays’ Group A win marked the first time in his three Bass Pro Tour seasons that he’s won a round. He’ll hope it leads to his first tournament win as a pro on Sunday.

The fact that he’s put himself in that position power fishing around shallow cover – the way he grew up fishing – has made his first two days on Santee Cooper even more fun.

“Dude, if they’re biting a Hula Popper, I’ll throw a Hula Popper,” Hays said. “If I gotta throw a drop-shot in 40 foot, I’ll do that. I do not care, and that’s God’s honest truth. It does not matter; I like it all. But it is fun. I mean, it’s been a while since we were able to do this, and I grew up fishing a place very similar to this, a lot of cypress trees, and I’m very comfortable.”

The top 10 pros in Group A that now advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round on Santee Cooper Lakes are:

1st:        Dylan Hays, Hot Springs, Ark., 17 bass, 71-13
2nd:       Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., 19 bass, 69-2
3rd:       Alton Jones, Jr., Waco, Texas, 18 bass, 66-9
4th:        Gerald Spohrer, Gonzales, La., 23 bass, 64-15
5th:        Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 17 bass, 63-14
6th:        James Watson, Lampe, Mo., 15 bass, 55-12
7th:        Jesse Wiggins, Cullman, Ala., 17 bass, 51-11
8th:        Dave Lefebre, Erie, Pa., 14 bass, 50-12
9th:        Cole Floyd, Leesburg, Ohio, 16 bass, 50-8
10th:     Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Mich., 16 bass, 47-15

Eliminated from competition are:

11nd:    Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 14 bass, 45-11
12th:     Randy Howell, Guntersville, Ala., 15 bass, 40-10
13th:     Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., 10 bass, 40-7
14th:     Terry Scroggins, San Mateo, Fla., 14 bass, 38-9
15th:     Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., 15 bass, 38-6
16th:     Greg Vinson, Wetumpka, Ala., 16 bass, 38-0
17th:     Mark Rose, Wynne, Ark., 11 bass, 36-7
18th:     Matthew Stefan, Junction City, Wis., 11 bass, 36-1
19th:     Jeff Sprague, Wills Point, Texas, nine bass, 34-11
20th:     Jacob Wall, New Hope, Ala., nine bass, 34-11
21st:      Mark Daniels, Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., 14 bass, 33-3
22nd:    Chris Lane, Guntersville, Ala., 12 bass, 32-14
23rd:     David Walker, Huntingdon, Tenn., nine bass, 32-4
24th:     Jacopo Gallelli, Florence, Italy, seven bass, 31-3
25th:     Takahiro Omori, Tokyo, Japan, 10 bass, 30-5
26th:     Brent Chapman, Lake Quivira, Kan., nine bass, 29-14
27th:     Matt Lee, Cullman, Ala., nine bass, 28-7
28th:     John Murray, Spring City, Tenn., seven bass, 26-8
29th:     Marty Robinson, Lyman, S.C., nine bass, 25-6
30th:     Anthony Gagliardi, Prosperity, S.C., eight bass, 24-15
31st:      Nick Hatfield, Greeneville, Tenn., nine bass, 24-11
32nd:    Shinichi Fukae, Osaka, Japan, seven bass, 24-9
33rd:     Britt Myers, Lake Wylie, S.C., four bass, 21-13
34th:     Josh Bertrand, Queen Creek, Ariz., six bass, 21-2
35th:     Brandon Coulter, Knoxville, Tenn., six bass, 19-7
36th:     Jared Lintner, Covington, Ga., five bass, 17-13
37th:     Colby Schrumpf, Highland, Ill., six bass, 15-8
38th:     Skeet Reese, Auburn, Calif., five bass, 11-14
39th:     Jason Vance, Battle Ground, Ind., five bass, 11-2
40th:     Grae Buck, Green Lane, Pa., three bass, 10-14

A complete list of results can be found at

Pro David Walker of Huntingdon, Tennessee, earned Thursday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award with an 8-pound, 8-ounce largemouth that he caught on a bladed swimjig during Period 3. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and a $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament.

The six-day tournament, hosted by the Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce, showcases 80 of the top professional anglers in the world, competing for a purse of $659,000, including a top payout of $100,000 and valuable Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) points in hopes of qualifying for the General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and REDCREST 2025, the Bass Pro Tour championship.

The 40 Anglers in Group A competed in their two-day Qualifying Round on Tuesday and Thursday – the 40 anglers in Group B on Wednesday and Friday. After each two-day Qualifying Round is complete, the anglers that finish first through 10th from both groups advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round. In the Knockout Round, weights are zeroed, and the remaining 20 anglers compete to finish in the top 10 to advance to Sunday’s Championship Round. In the final-day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

Anglers will launch at 7:30 a.m. ET each day from the John C. Land III Landing, located at 4404 Greenall Road in Summerton. Each day’s General Tire Takeout will be held at the park, beginning at 4 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch and takeout events and also encouraged to follow the event online throughout the day on the MLFNOW!® live stream and SCORETRACKER® coverage at .

The MLFNOW!® broadcast team of Chad McKee and J.T. Kenney will break down the extended action live on the final four days of competition from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET. MLFNOW!®  is live streamed on and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

On Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 24-25, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. MLF welcomes fans of all ages to visit the John C. Land III landing for the MLF Watch Party. Fans can watch the pros live on the MLFNOW! big screen, enjoy free food, enter to win hourly giveaways and cheer on their favorite pros. The first 50 kids 14 and under will receive a free rod and reel from Pure Fishing each day. The final 10 Championship Round Bass Pro Tour anglers will be on hand at the trophy celebration on Championship Sunday to meet and greet fans, sign autographs and take selfies.

The Suzuki Stage Two at Santee Cooper Lakes Presented by Fenwick features the MLF catch, weigh, immediate-release format, in which anglers catch as much weight as they can each day, while also feeling the pressure and intensity of the SCORETRACKER® leaderboard. The tournament features anglers competing with a 1-pound, 8-ounce minimum weight requirement for a bass to be deemed scorable. The MLF Fisheries Management Division determines minimum weights for each body of water that the Bass Pro Tour visits, based on the productivity, bass population and anticipated average size of fish in each fishery.

The Bass Pro Tour features a field of 80 of the top professional anglers in the world, competing across seven regular-season tournaments around the country, for millions of dollars and valuable points to qualify for the annual General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and the REDCREST 2025 championship.

Bass Pro Tour anglers also compete throughout the 2024 season for the prestigious Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) award and its $100,000 payday. Fishing Clash – an interactive 3D fishing simulation game that’s played by more than 80 million people worldwide – is the official AOY sponsor of the Bass Pro Tour, Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, Toyota Series and Phoenix Bass Fishing League.

Television coverage of the Suzuki Stage Two at Santee Cooper Lakes Presented by Fenwick will premiere as a two-hour episode starting at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, Sept. 21 on Discovery, with the Championship Round premiering the following Saturday on Sept. 28. New MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on Discovery, with re-airings on Outdoor Channel.

Proud sponsors of the 2024 MLF Bass Pro Tour include: Abu Garcia, B&W Trailer Hitches, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, BUBBA, Epic Baits, Fishing Clash, Garmin, General Tire, Humminbird, Lowrance, Mercury, MillerTech, Minn Kota, Mossy Oak Fishing, NITRO, Onyx, Plano, Power-Pole, Rapala, StarBrite, Suzuki, Toyota and U.S. Air Force.