MAJOR LEAGUE FISHING NEWS

Day 2 Results – Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Shops REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium on Lay Lake

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (March 15, 2024) – Since the start of practice, the buzzword at Bass Pro Shops REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium has been “change.” That remained the case on the second day of qualifying, with Thursday’s sunny skies giving way to morning thunderstorms and subsequent overcast conditions.

The ever-evolving spring bite on Lay Lake shifted as a result, and so did the name atop SCORETRACKER®. Huntsville, Alabama pro Ryan Salzman climbed to the top spot with a two-day total of 65 pounds, 14 ounces. Fishing at the upper end of the playing field below Logan Martin Dam, Salzman boated 10 scorable bass Friday for the second day in a row, adding 30-3 to his tab for a 65-14 Qualifying Round total.

Salzman leads a tightly bunched and dangerous group of anglers at the top of the standings. Coosa River local and 2021 REDCREST champion Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama, finished the round in second place with 63-4. Within four pounds of him are former Bass Pro Tour winners Michael Neal of Dayton, Tennessee, and Jesse Wiggins of Addison, Alabama, as well as local favorite Dalton Head of Moody, Alabama, the Abu Garcia College Fishing representative from the University of Montevallo who happens to call Lay his home lake.

Considering the logjam at the top of the leaderboard and the fact that weights will zero when the Top 20 anglers take the water for Saturday’s Knockout Round, the race for the championship trophy and $300,000 first-place paycheck remains wide open. Just about every technique still has a chance to account for the win, too, as the suspended spotted bass pattern that dominated Day 1 appeared to cool and shallow power fishing in pockets, bedding bass and heavy current all produced big days.

Salzman first branched out from pond fishing as a college student at North Alabama on the shores of Pickwick Lake. The only vessel he had access to was a jon boat with no electronics and a 25-horsepower outboard, so he quickly found that the easiest way to catch bass on the Tennessee River impoundment was by braving its turbulent tailraces.

He’s has been enamored with fishing heavy, manmade current ever since. Now a guide on the Tennessee River, Salzman focuses many of his outings on various tailraces.

While Salzman said the area he’s patrolling on Lay is smaller and shallower than most of the tailraces he fishes at home, that knowledge has served him well so far at REDCREST.

“The main difference is this one is shallower,” he explained. “Our (Tennessee River) dams are so massive, there’s sections that set up just like this. So, we just have more options. This dam is just a lot smaller.”

While the current tends to position fish predictably, Salzman said the front that rolled through the area Friday morning impacted his bite. He caught just three bass in his first four hours on the water. He closed strong, though, catching more than half his weight (17-9 on five fish) in the final period.

Salzman kept coy about the nuances of his approach, but he said the key to his strong afternoon was getting into the perfect spot. He shared the area with two other anglers during most of the Qualifying Round, and one beat him to his primary location Friday morning. That’s why he wasn’t afraid to keep catching fish long after he’d locked up a place in the Knockout Round – by qualifying in the top spot, he’ll be the first boat to launch Saturday.

“Yesterday, we had someone who had zero run up there in the middle of the day, and he kind of got on one of my main places and sacked it pretty good,” Salzman said. “Then he was on it all morning, and then he finally got off of it, and I was able to get on it at the end of the day, and I caught some of my bigger fish. That was really the big goal was to win the round so that I could have a good boat number.”

Fishing his first REDCREST, Salzman said he’s not nervous entering the weekend – for good reason. He has a strong track record when championships are on the line. In both his two previous appearances in championship events, the 2019 Forrest Wood Cup and 2021 Tackle Warehouse TITLE, Salzman finished among the Top 10. He thinks being able to take risks and not worry about points suits his style.

“I feel like I feel no pressure, because you don’t have to worry about just going and getting a few bites,” Salzman said. “You can just go all-in on whatever you’re doing.”

Salzman isn’t quite all-in on fishing the tailrace. He recognizes that a change in generation at Logan Martin dam could occur at any time and make the area far less productive, if not unfishable, so he has a few backup patterns in mind. But he’d much rather stick to his comfort zone in the current.

“Pending a drastic change, I will be up there,” he said. “But I did figure out some patterns down the lake that I felt good about. I didn’t know that I could catch the weight that I caught up there, but I feel like I can catch fish other places. I’d like to be up there, but you just never know. With the current, every day is different up there, and you’ve just got to keep an open mind.”

The top 20 pros that made the cut and will advance in competition on Lay Lake are:

1st:        Ryan Salzman, Huntsville, Ala., 20 bass, 65-14
2nd:       Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 25 bass, 63-4
3rd:       Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 25 bass, 61-13
4th:        Dalton Head, Moody, Ala., 23 bass, 61-11
5th:        Jesse Wiggins, Addison, Ala., 25 bass, 59-10
6th:        Cole Floyd, Leesburg, Ohio, 23 bass, 58-14
7th:        Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 23 bass, 56-12
8th:        Nick Hatfield, Greeneville, Tenn., 20 bass, 54-1
9th:        Anthony Gagliardi, Prosperity, S.C., 20 bass, 52-11
10th:     Cliff Pace, Petal, Miss., 16 bass, 50-12
11th:     Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Mich., 18 bass, 48-2
12th:     Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala., 15 bass, 46-12
13th:     Emil Wagner, Marietta, Ga., 17 bass, 46-11
14th:     Takahiro Omori, Tokyo, Japan, 18 bass, 45-13
15th:     John Cox, DeBary, Fla., 17 bass, 44-12
16th:     Greg Vinson, Wetumpka, Ala., 15 bass, 41-13
17th:     Jonathon VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., 15 bass, 41-8
18th:     Gerald Spohrer, Gonzales, La., 15 bass, 40-7
19th:     Alton Jones, Jr., Waco, Texas, 16 bass, 40-1
20th:     Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., 14 bass, 39-1

Finishing in 21st through 50th place are:

21st:      Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., 14 bass, 38-13
22nd:    Dakota Ebare, Brookeland, Texas, 14 bass, 37-9
23rd:     Spencer Shuffield, Hot Springs, Ark., 13 bass, 37-5
24th:     Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., 14 bass, 37-1
25th:     Todd Faircloth, Jasper, Texas, 13 bass, 36-13
26th:     Matthew Stefan, Junction City, Wis., 13 bass, 34-13
27th:     Chris Lane, Guntersville, Ala., 11 bass, 34-7
28th:     David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., 12 bass, 32-4
29th:     Ott DeFoe, Blaine, Tenn., 12 bass, 31-15
30th:     Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., 11 bass, 31-9
31st:      Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., 13 bass, 31-9
32nd:    Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., 13 bass, 30-5
33rd:     Alton Jones, Lorena, Texas, 11 bass, 26-4
34th:     Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., nine bass, 24-6
35th:     Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., eight bass, 22-12
36th:     Joshua Weaver, Macon, Ga., seven bass, 21-11
37th:     Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., eight bass, 21-3
38th:     Mark Rose, Wynne, Ark., nine bass, 21-2
39th:     John Hunter, Shelbyville, Ky., eight bass, 20-14
40th:     Cody Meyer, Star, Idaho, seven bass, 20-2
41st:      Jeff Sprague, Wills Point, Texas, six bass, 19-11
42nd:    Mark Daniels, Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., seven bass, 19-8
43rd:     Dylan Hays, Hot Springs, Ark., six bass, 16-8
44th:     Josh Butler, Hayden, Ala., five bass, 14-4
45th:     Kelly Jordon, Flint, Texas, six bass, 13-14
46th:     Jordan Lee, Cullman, Ala., four bass, 13-13
47th:     Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., four bass, 11-5
48th:     Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., four bass, 9-2
49th:     Chad Mrazek, Montgomery, Texas, three bass, 7-12
50th:     Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, S.C., one bass, 3-2

Overall, there were 284 scorable bass weighing 773 pounds, 5 ounces caught by the 50 pros Friday.

Lane earned the $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award on Friday with a 7-pound, 1-ounce spotted bass that he caught on a soft plastic jig-head minnow in Period 1. 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. Lane’s 7-pound, 1-ouncer is the biggest bass weighed in the competition thus far.

All 50 Anglers competed on Days 1 (Thursday) and 2 (Friday) of the event. After two days of competition, the field is now cut to just the top 20 based on two-day total cumulative weight. Weights are zeroed, and the top 20 anglers compete on Day 3 (Saturday). Only the top 10 anglers advance to the fourth and final day of competition. Weights are zeroed again for the final-day championship round, and the winner is determined by the heaviest one-day total cumulative weight, with the victor earning the top prize of $300,000 and the REDCREST 2024 trophy.

The General Tire Take Off Ceremony will begin each morning at 6:15 a.m. each day of competition at Beeswax Landing, located at 245 Beeswax Park Road in Columbiana, Alabama. Anglers will depart at 7 a.m. each day and return after competition ends at 3:30 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch events and also encouraged to follow the event online throughout the day on the MLF NOW!® live stream and SCORETRACKER® coverage at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

In conjunction with the event, the FREE, family-friendly REDCREST Outdoor Sports Expo will also take place throughout the weekend, March 15-17 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex, located at 2100 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. N., in Birmingham. Fishing and outdoor enthusiasts will have the opportunity to visit numerous booths and vendors, showcasing the latest and greatest in fishing, boating and the outdoors. The biggest names in the outdoor industry will be on hand, including the professional anglers that compete on the Bass Pro Tour and legends of the sport.

Children are welcome to visit and play in the MLF Kids Zone, plus meet Skye & Marshall from PAW Patrol. Throughout the day there will be giveaways and prizes, including signed MLF angler jerseys, rods and reels, gift cards, and more. On Sunday one lucky attendee will walk away with a brand new 2024 Toyota Tacoma truck. Fans must be present to win the Tacoma grand prize. For more information on the MLF Outdoor Sports Expo, visit REDCRESTExpo.com.

The 2023 Bass Pro Tour featured a field of 80 of the top professional anglers in the world competing across seven regular-season tournaments around the country. The top 40 anglers in the Angler of the Year (AOY) standings after the seven events qualified to compete in REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium.

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 7:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. CT. MLFNOW!® will be live streamed on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

Television coverage of REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium will be showcased across two, two-hour episodes, premiering at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, July 6 and July 13 on Discovery Channel. Starting in July 2024, MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on Discovery Channel, 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.

Dustin Connell Wins Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Shops REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium on Lay Lake

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (March 17, 2024) – Just about every day in the 13 months since Major League Fishing announced that Bass Pro Shops REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium would take place on Lay Lake, Dustin Connell has thought about what it would be like to taste victory at the Coosa River impoundment where he grew up fishing.

But in all his dreaming, scheming and practicing, the Clanton, Alabama, native didn’t envision this.

Connell routed the rest of the Championship Round field Sunday, stacking 28 scorable bass for 83 pounds on SCORETRACKER® – more than 30 pounds better than runner-up Alton Jones, Jr. of Waco, Texas. The dominant performance earned Connell $300,000 and made him the first ever two-time winner of the Bass Pro Tour’s championship event.

It wasn’t just his margin of victory that surprised Connell but how he made it happen. As recently as Saturday evening, he planned to spend the final day fishing current seams in the riverine portion of the reservoir, as he had during the Knockout Round. But at the last minute, he called an audible, opting to start on the lower end of the lake targeting suspended, schooling spotted bass. One of several clutch decisions he made over the four-day event, doing so led to Connell landing on a pile of unpressured bass and unleashing an avalanche that buried the rest of the Top 10.

“This tournament has been on my radar ever since they announced it last year,” Connell said. “I’m like, ‘Oh man, I gotta win that one. That’s a great opportunity. I gotta win that one.’ And I won it today unexpectedly. I didn’t know that many [were] in there. They just moved in there.”

Competing on a fishery that an angler knows well comes with obvious advantages. Connell put his lifetime of experience on the Coosa River to use all week – knowing how baitfish and bass would behave amid the heavy current that rolled through Lay Lake, where bass would set up in that current, the best baits to trigger bites.
But there’s a reason so many anglers talk about the “home-lake curse”: Remembering places and ways one has caught fish in the past can get in the way of finding the best way to do so at the present.

Connell wasn’t immune to the pull of history, but he made it a point to base his decisions about where to fish on what he saw on the water, not where he’d found success before.

“When I’m running down the river, I’ve caught ‘em on so many different places, and I’m like, golly, I need to stop, I need to stop,” Connell said. “But I told myself before I fished this tournament, I said, ‘I’m going to fish this lake like I would any other one, not run off of history.’ I wanted to fish it brand new. And I did all week. I did really, really good practicing and just trying to find new areas.”

Key for Connell was turning over every possible stone to discover what could be the winning area. Not only during practice but also the two-day Qualifying Round, he visited every section of the lake, switching between techniques – shaking a jighead minnow for suspended fish, swimming a jig in grass, rolling a spinnerbait around laydowns, plying current seams with a scrounger head.

His thorough approach paid off on the second day of qualifying, when Connell found what would become his winning spot. Friday afternoon, he pulled into a bay off the main lake that featured two depressions where bass were chasing schools of shad. He caught just one 4-pounder there, but the number of baitfish present led him to mentally flag the area.

“The two depressions harbor the bait, and the fish swim around those depressions and feed on all the bait,” he explained. “And it’s just like their home place. It’s the deepest water in that bay, and the big spots just roam out there and chase that bait. And in the past, I’ve caught them in there. I’ve caught them on a jerkbait, I’ve seen them schooling in there. And I knew that they lived in there. I’ve caught them there a bunch of times, but not to that extent.”

Finding the area was one thing, but it took a series of clutch calls for Connell to find himself back there on Championship Day. Even as he arrived at the launch ramp Sunday morning, he was torn between returning to the river, where he’d caught more than 52 pounds of scorable bass the day prior, or joining the forward-facing sonar crowd in the lower lake. Feeling like his urge to fish current stemmed at least in part from nostalgia, he settled on starting the day chasing schooling fish, then running upriver in the afternoon, when the bite had been better the past two days (if need be).

“I said, I can catch 50-something pounds – maybe 60 (in the river),” Connell said. “I can’t catch 75 up there, no way. And I thought it was going to take 70, 72 pounds total (to win), because I figured they would catch a lot of fish. I said, ‘I’m going to go down, start down here and then work my way up.’ … Well, I never got to go upriver.”

Connell’s first stop was the main-lake area that had accounted for most of the forward-facing sonar success all week – half of the 10-angler field started Sunday morning within sight of one another. Whether due to pressure or those bass heading to the bank to spawn, it quickly became apparent that the bite had dried up.

After feeling several fish short-strike his bait, Connell became the first to leave. He first stopped in a nearby pocket before hitting the bay where he’d caught the 4-pounder two days prior. Before even dropping his trolling motor into the water, he knew he’d found something special.

“I rolled up, and as soon as I set the boat down, I saw bait on my 2D (sonar), and I said, ‘Dude, we’re about to catch ‘em,’” Connell said. “‘They’ve got to be here; all the bait’s in here.’ And this low-light conditions had all that bait up shallow, and they were there.”

Connell began Period 2 in second place, 6-7 back of Berrien Springs, Michigan pro Ron Nelson. Within the first 15 minutes, he boated back-to-back 4-pounders to take the lead. From there, the rout was on. In a 70-minute span, he put 10 scorable bass on the scale, adding 29-4 to his total and extending his cushion to more than 20 pounds. By noon, he’d already reset the bar for the best single day of the week.

He didn’t just catch fish in bulk quantities, either. Connell landed 14 spotted bass of 3 pounds or bigger and three over 4 pounds. In all, he piled on 41-12 on 14 fish during Period 2, all of them eating a new minnow-style soft plastic from Rapala CrushCity called a Mooch Minnow. The bait is slated for public release at ICAST this summer.
“That bait is the perfect size, and it has two small tabs at the back of that creates a small, subtle swimming action,” Connell explained. “And instead of it just being straight-tailed, that little action, man, it really gets them going. I caught every bass I weighed in today on that bait. And it’s made out of TPE, and you can catch like 20 fish on [each one].”

Competing amid familiar surroundings with family and friends in attendance made for an emotional week for Connell. Even before he launched Sunday, he found himself tearing up, thinking about his journey from fishing Lay Lake out of an aluminum boat as a kid to returning as one of the most accomplished pros in the world.

“I’ve been shook up all day,” Connell said. “I was crying this morning at the boat ramp. This lake is very sentimental to me – the whole Coosa River system. I grew up fishing that way, fishing those lakes and catching those big spotted bass, and it just meant a lot.”

During the final minutes of Period 3, the tears returned, as his massive lead offered Connell a rare chance to soak in the win and what it meant in real time. He reminisced about catching Lay Lake spotted bass on topwaters with his brother – who was among the contingent to greet him at the boat ramp after his win – about asking his mother to drive him to the lake so he could fish from a canoe.

In some ways, this triumph – even with its lucrative first-place paycheck – is nothing new for Connell. He’s won REDCREST before, in 2021 at Lake Eufaula. It’s his sixth Bass Pro Tour win and his second in the past six weeks after he engineered a similar final-day beatdown at Stage One on Toledo Bend.

But making another fond memory on the Coosa River and celebrating in person with some of the people who got him into fishing make this victory particularly sweet. Connell doesn’t think he could have made the winning decisions without his support system.

“I think I’ve just started to mature as an angler and understand how things happen and just be very methodical about things,” he said. “I guess, getting older, I just slow down a little bit more, just kind of analyze everything. Used to be I would freak out, run around and just make bad decisions. Now, decision-making is good, it’s solid. I’m in a good place. I have great sponsors. And when you’ve got that kind of support behind you, you can settle down.”

The top 10 pros at Bass Pro Shops REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium at Lay Lake are:

1st:        Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 28 bass, 83-0, $300,000
2nd:       Alton Jones, Jr., Waco, Texas, 19 bass, 52-2, $50,000
3rd:       Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Mich., 12 bass, 39-9, $40,000
4th:        Takahiro Omori, Tokyo, Japan, 13 bass, 36-11, $28,000
5th:        Jesse Wiggins, Addison, Ala., 12 bass, 32-8, $25,000
6th:        Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 11 bass, 29-13, $20,000
7th:        Gerald Spohrer, Gonzales, La., 11 bass, 29-9, $18,000
8th:        Cole Floyd, Leesburg, Ohio, 10 bass, 25-15, $16,000
9th:        Nick Hatfield, Greeneville, Tenn., nine bass, 24-2, $14,500
10th:     Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., seven bass, 18-1, $12,500

A complete list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

Overall, there were 132 scorable bass weighing 371 pounds, 6 ounces caught by the final 10 pros Sunday. Throughout the entire four-day event, the 50 REDCREST 2024 competitors caught a total of 1,038 scorable bass weighing 2,283 pounds, 3 ounces.

Pro Ron Nelson of Berrien Springs, Michigan, earned Sunday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award with a 5-pound, 3-ounce spotted bass that he caught on a swimbait in Period 1. Power-Pole pro Chris Lane earned the $3,000 Berkley Big Bass Bonus for weighing in the heaviest bass of the event – a 7-pound, 1-ounce spotted bass that he caught on Day 2 of competition. 

Bass Pro Shops REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium on Lay Lake was hosted by the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau, and showcased the top 40 professional anglers from the 2023 Bass Pro Tour, along with the top champions and finishers across all MLF circuits.

Television coverage of REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium will be showcased across two, two-hour episodes, premiering at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, July 6 and July 13 on Discovery Channel. Starting in July 2024, MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on Discovery Channel, 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.

Field of 10 Anglers Set for Championship Sunday at Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Shops REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium on Lay Lake

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (March 16, 2024) – The Knockout Round at Bass Pro Shops REDCREST Powered by OPTIMA Lithium turned into a no-holds-barred melee. It didn’t matter whether anglers were chasing spotted bass with forward-facing sonar, beating the bank or dissecting current, the bite caught fire across Lay Lake, with the top spot on SCORETRACKER® and the weight needed to qualify for Sunday’s Championship Round fluctuating all day as a result.

Ultimately, Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama, wound up atop the leaderboard with 18 scorable bass for 52 pounds, 15 ounces. Connell bailed on his main-lake area where he caught most of his fish during the Qualifying Round, instead opting to run up the river and fish beneath the Logan Martin dam. He started slow, spending the first two periods below the cut line, before making an adjustment and boating 10 spotted bass for 29 pounds even in the final period. He finished just 1 ounce ahead of Gonzales, Louisiana’s Gerald Spohrer , who ended the day in second place.

Meanwhile, after 39-1 across two days proved enough to qualify for the Knockout Round, it took nearly as much Saturday alone to earn a spot in the Top 10 and a shot at the $300,000 first-place paycheck. Nick Hatfield claimed the 10th and final spot with 38-14, 1-8 ahead of BFL All-American champion Emil Wagner. University of Montevallo angler Dalton Head narrowly missed extending his dream event another day as well, finishing 12th.

Connell has emerged as a vocal proponent of forward-facing sonar, and for good reason. The technology played a role in each of his five previous Bass Pro Tour wins, including Stage One this year on Toledo Bend. But this week, on a lake he grew up fishing without modern electronics, he’s making it a point to try and win old school.

“I don’t want this tournament to get won, on my home lake, ‘Scoping,” he said. “I’m going to do my best to save it.”

Connell believed his best chance to find bass in the same numbers as those anglers using live sonar would be in the turbulent tailrace at the upper end of this week’s playing field. Finding the morning bite slow there surprised him; he was the last angler in the field to post a scorable bass.

“That first period was just brutal,” Connell said. “There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to get some bites here and there, but the speed at which I was going to get a bite was just slow. I mean, it was just dead.”

Knowing he needed to make a move to keep pace with the cut line, Connell resisted the temptation to run to the lower end of the lake, instead moving about 10 miles downriver to a current seam shortly after the start of the third period. It didn’t take long for the decision to pay off.

During a 32-minute flurry from 1:37-2:09 p.m., Connell used a Rapala CrushCity Freeloader on a scrounger head to haul in seven scorable bass and leap from outside the Top 10 into the lead. Not even getting his line tangled in his clip-on microphone could slow him down.

“I pulled up on a place and stomped ‘em, right off the rip,” Connell said. “And then I was like, okay, we’re good.”

Lay Lake continues to showcase its diversity, with five distinct patterns producing spots in the Top 10. However, Connell believes the championship will boil down to a battle between anglers fishing current up the river and those using forward-facing sonar to chase schooling spotted bass at the lower end of the main lake.

The Knockout Round results support that assessment. Connell wasn’t the only angler in the river to catch fire late. Berrien Springs, Michigan pro Ron Nelson, who hunkered down in a honey hole just beneath the Logan Martin dam spillway, also started the third period outside the Top 10. Like Connell, he stacked 10 scorable bass on SCORETRACKER® in the final 2½ hours, climbing all the way to third. Spohrer did all his damage in the current, too.

While those three ended up claiming the top spots in the Knockout Round, that might have had something to do with the fact that the most proficient anglers using forward-facing sonar caught their weight early before intentionally backing off the throttle. Michael Neal, Cole Floyd and Jacob Wheeler all spent much of the day in the top five. Neal has looked particularly in tune with the roaming fish, leading after Day 1 of qualifying and after each of the first two periods Saturday.

“I feel like I’ve pretty much led the tournament all the way through even though I haven’t technically been at the top of the leaderboard, just because I’ve quit every day,” Neal said. “But tomorrow, there’s no quitting. We’re going to burn it to the ground.”

Connell acknowledged that Neal and company will be tough to beat. He also noted that the generation at Logan Martin dam is scheduled to change Sunday, which might reposition his fish.

Still, he’s “all-in on the river.” Predicting it will take more than 50 pounds to hoist the trophy, he doubts he can catch as many fish as his lower-lake competition but hopes to make up for it with a bigger average.

“I’m trying to catch big ones,” he said. “I want to catch big spots. That’s why we come here.”

Another variable that could favor Connell’s approach is having less company nearby. Neal, Wheeler, Floyd, Hatfield and Alton Jones Jr. are all scanning the same section of the lake, often within sight of one another. While a few of the anglers who occupied that same zone during the first three days of competition missed the cut, the fish have to be feeling the pressure.

Meanwhile, Connell didn’t see another angler near his Saturday afternoon spot. Even if someone else has stopped by, he said, the dynamic nature of river fishing means the fish probably won’t be caught with the same presentation.

“I’m in a section of the river I don’t think is getting a lot of pressure,” Connell said. “And tomorrow, the water schedule is supposed to change some, so it’s going to change the whole deal. It’s going to mix up a lot of things.”

Connell admitted that there’s a chance he’s being too stubborn. But whether it’s because he’s already experienced a REDCREST win, taking home the trophy at Lake Eufaula in 2021, or because of his many memories catching spotted bass out of Coosa River current, he doesn’t just want to add another title to his resume. He wants to do it his way.

“It’s very sentimental to me to have a chance at a major, major tournament at one of my home waters that I’ve always fished, but I worry if I’m being too stubborn or not,” Connell said. “So, it’s back and forth. I don’t mind going down there and ‘Scoping, but it would mean way more to me if I won it doing what I’m doing.”

The top 10 pros that made the cut and will advance to Championship Sunday on Lay Lake are:

1st:        Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 18 bass, 52-15
2nd:       Gerald Spohrer, Gonzales, La., 20 bass, 52-14
3rd:       Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Mich., 17 bass, 51-12
4th:        Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 18 bass, 48-12
5th:        Alton Jones, Jr., Waco, Texas, 19 bass, 46-8
6th:        Cole Floyd, Leesburg, Ohio, 17 bass, 45-14
7th:        Takahiro Omori, Tokyo, Japan, 17 bass, 44-15
8th:        Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 17 bass, 44-6
9th:        Jesse Wiggins, Addison, Ala., 17 bass, 42-13
10th:     Nick Hatfield, Greeneville, Tenn., 14 bass, 38-14

Finishing in 11th through 20th place are:

11th:     Emil Wagner, Marietta, Ga., 14 bass, 37-6
12th:     Dalton Head, Moody, Ala., 13 bass, 33-12
13th:     John Cox, DeBary, Fla., 10 bass, 32-6
14th:     Anthony Gagliardi, Prosperity, S.C., 10 bass, 26-12
15th:     Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala., eight bass, 24-12
16th:     Greg Vinson, Wetumpka, Ala., nine bass, 24-4
17th:     Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., seven bass, 18-1
18th:     Ryan Salzman, Huntsville, Ala., six bass, 16-15
19th:     Cliff Pace, Petal, Miss., five bass, 14-10
20th:     Jonathon VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., four bass, 11-2

A complete list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

Overall, there were 260 scorable bass weighing 709 pounds, 11 ounces caught by the 20 pros Saturday.

Cox won the $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award Saturday with a 5-pound, 6-ounce largemouth bass that he sight-fished off of a bed on a wacky-rigged worm in Period 1. 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. Chris Lane’s 7-pound, 1-ounce spotted bass that he weighed on Day 2 is currently the biggest bass weighed in the competition thus far.

All 50 Anglers competed on Days 1 (Thursday) and 2 (Friday) of the event. After two days of competition, the field was cut to just the top 20 based on two-day total cumulative weight. Weights were zeroed, and the top 20 anglers competed on Day 3 (Saturday). Only the top 10 anglers now advance to the fourth and final day of competition. Weights are zeroed again for Sunday’s championship round, and the winner is determined by the heaviest one-day total cumulative weight, with the victor earning the top prize of $300,000 and the REDCREST 2024 trophy.

The General Tire Take Off Ceremony will begin each morning at 6:15 a.m. on Championship Sunday at Beeswax Landing, located at 245 Beeswax Park Road in Columbiana, Alabama. The final 10 anglers will depart at 7 a.m. and return after competition ends at 3:30 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch events and also encouraged to follow the event online throughout the day on the MLF NOW!® live stream and SCORETRACKER® coverage at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

In conjunction with the event, the FREE, family-friendly REDCREST Outdoor Sports Expo will also take place Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex, located at 2100 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. N., in Birmingham. Fishing and outdoor enthusiasts will have the opportunity to visit numerous booths and vendors, showcasing the latest and greatest in fishing, boating and the outdoors. The biggest names in the outdoor industry will be on hand, including the professional anglers that compete on the Bass Pro Tour and legends of the sport.

Children are welcome to visit and play in the MLF Kids Zone, plus meet Skye & Marshall from PAW Patrol. Throughout the day there will be giveaways and prizes, including signed MLF angler jerseys, rods and reels, gift cards, and more. On Sunday one lucky attendee will walk away with a brand new 2024 Toyota Tacoma truck. Fans must be present to win the Tacoma grand prize. For more information on the MLF Outdoor Sports Expo, visit REDCRESTExpo.com.

The 2023 Bass Pro Tour featured a field of 80 of the top professional anglers in the world competing across seven regular-season tournaments around the country. The top 40 anglers in the Angler of the Year (AOY) standings after the seven events qualified to compete in REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium.

The MLFNOW!® broadcast team of Chad McKee and J.T. Kenney will break down the extended action live on Championship Sunday from 7:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. CT. MLFNOW!® will be live streamed on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

Television coverage of REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium will be showcased across two, two-hour episodes, premiering at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, July 6 and July 13 on Discovery Channel. Starting in July 2024, MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on Discovery Channel, 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.

Day 2 Results – Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Shops REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium on Lay Lake

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (March 15, 2024) – Since the start of practice, the buzzword at Bass Pro Shops REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium has been “change.” That remained the case on the second day of qualifying, with Thursday’s sunny skies giving way to morning thunderstorms and subsequent overcast conditions.

The ever-evolving spring bite on Lay Lake shifted as a result, and so did the name atop SCORETRACKER®. Huntsville, Alabama pro Ryan Salzman climbed to the top spot with a two-day total of 65 pounds, 14 ounces. Fishing at the upper end of the playing field below Logan Martin Dam, Salzman boated 10 scorable bass Friday for the second day in a row, adding 30-3 to his tab for a 65-14 Qualifying Round total.

Salzman leads a tightly bunched and dangerous group of anglers at the top of the standings. Coosa River local and 2021 REDCREST champion Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama, finished the round in second place with 63-4. Within four pounds of him are former Bass Pro Tour winners Michael Neal of Dayton, Tennessee, and Jesse Wiggins of Addison, Alabama, as well as local favorite Dalton Head of Moody, Alabama, the Abu Garcia College Fishing representative from the University of Montevallo who happens to call Lay his home lake.

Considering the logjam at the top of the leaderboard and the fact that weights will zero when the Top 20 anglers take the water for Saturday’s Knockout Round, the race for the championship trophy and $300,000 first-place paycheck remains wide open. Just about every technique still has a chance to account for the win, too, as the suspended spotted bass pattern that dominated Day 1 appeared to cool and shallow power fishing in pockets, bedding bass and heavy current all produced big days.

Salzman first branched out from pond fishing as a college student at North Alabama on the shores of Pickwick Lake. The only vessel he had access to was a jon boat with no electronics and a 25-horsepower outboard, so he quickly found that the easiest way to catch bass on the Tennessee River impoundment was by braving its turbulent tailraces.

He’s has been enamored with fishing heavy, manmade current ever since. Now a guide on the Tennessee River, Salzman focuses many of his outings on various tailraces.

While Salzman said the area he’s patrolling on Lay is smaller and shallower than most of the tailraces he fishes at home, that knowledge has served him well so far at REDCREST.

“The main difference is this one is shallower,” he explained. “Our (Tennessee River) dams are so massive, there’s sections that set up just like this. So, we just have more options. This dam is just a lot smaller.”

While the current tends to position fish predictably, Salzman said the front that rolled through the area Friday morning impacted his bite. He caught just three bass in his first four hours on the water. He closed strong, though, catching more than half his weight (17-9 on five fish) in the final period.

Salzman kept coy about the nuances of his approach, but he said the key to his strong afternoon was getting into the perfect spot. He shared the area with two other anglers during most of the Qualifying Round, and one beat him to his primary location Friday morning. That’s why he wasn’t afraid to keep catching fish long after he’d locked up a place in the Knockout Round – by qualifying in the top spot, he’ll be the first boat to launch Saturday.

“Yesterday, we had someone who had zero run up there in the middle of the day, and he kind of got on one of my main places and sacked it pretty good,” Salzman said. “Then he was on it all morning, and then he finally got off of it, and I was able to get on it at the end of the day, and I caught some of my bigger fish. That was really the big goal was to win the round so that I could have a good boat number.”

Fishing his first REDCREST, Salzman said he’s not nervous entering the weekend – for good reason. He has a strong track record when championships are on the line. In both his two previous appearances in championship events, the 2019 Forrest Wood Cup and 2021 Tackle Warehouse TITLE, Salzman finished among the Top 10. He thinks being able to take risks and not worry about points suits his style.

“I feel like I feel no pressure, because you don’t have to worry about just going and getting a few bites,” Salzman said. “You can just go all-in on whatever you’re doing.”

Salzman isn’t quite all-in on fishing the tailrace. He recognizes that a change in generation at Logan Martin dam could occur at any time and make the area far less productive, if not unfishable, so he has a few backup patterns in mind. But he’d much rather stick to his comfort zone in the current.

“Pending a drastic change, I will be up there,” he said. “But I did figure out some patterns down the lake that I felt good about. I didn’t know that I could catch the weight that I caught up there, but I feel like I can catch fish other places. I’d like to be up there, but you just never know. With the current, every day is different up there, and you’ve just got to keep an open mind.”

The top 20 pros that made the cut and will advance in competition on Lay Lake are:

1st:        Ryan Salzman, Huntsville, Ala., 20 bass, 65-14
2nd:       Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 25 bass, 63-4
3rd:       Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 25 bass, 61-13
4th:        Dalton Head, Moody, Ala., 23 bass, 61-11
5th:        Jesse Wiggins, Addison, Ala., 25 bass, 59-10
6th:        Cole Floyd, Leesburg, Ohio, 23 bass, 58-14
7th:        Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 23 bass, 56-12
8th:        Nick Hatfield, Greeneville, Tenn., 20 bass, 54-1
9th:        Anthony Gagliardi, Prosperity, S.C., 20 bass, 52-11
10th:     Cliff Pace, Petal, Miss., 16 bass, 50-12
11th:     Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Mich., 18 bass, 48-2
12th:     Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala., 15 bass, 46-12
13th:     Emil Wagner, Marietta, Ga., 17 bass, 46-11
14th:     Takahiro Omori, Tokyo, Japan, 18 bass, 45-13
15th:     John Cox, DeBary, Fla., 17 bass, 44-12
16th:     Greg Vinson, Wetumpka, Ala., 15 bass, 41-13
17th:     Jonathon VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., 15 bass, 41-8
18th:     Gerald Spohrer, Gonzales, La., 15 bass, 40-7
19th:     Alton Jones, Jr., Waco, Texas, 16 bass, 40-1
20th:     Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., 14 bass, 39-1

Finishing in 21st through 50th place are:

21st:      Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., 14 bass, 38-13
22nd:    Dakota Ebare, Brookeland, Texas, 14 bass, 37-9
23rd:     Spencer Shuffield, Hot Springs, Ark., 13 bass, 37-5
24th:     Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., 14 bass, 37-1
25th:     Todd Faircloth, Jasper, Texas, 13 bass, 36-13
26th:     Matthew Stefan, Junction City, Wis., 13 bass, 34-13
27th:     Chris Lane, Guntersville, Ala., 11 bass, 34-7
28th:     David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., 12 bass, 32-4
29th:     Ott DeFoe, Blaine, Tenn., 12 bass, 31-15
30th:     Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., 11 bass, 31-9
31st:      Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., 13 bass, 31-9
32nd:    Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., 13 bass, 30-5
33rd:     Alton Jones, Lorena, Texas, 11 bass, 26-4
34th:     Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., nine bass, 24-6
35th:     Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., eight bass, 22-12
36th:     Joshua Weaver, Macon, Ga., seven bass, 21-11
37th:     Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., eight bass, 21-3
38th:     Mark Rose, Wynne, Ark., nine bass, 21-2
39th:     John Hunter, Shelbyville, Ky., eight bass, 20-14
40th:     Cody Meyer, Star, Idaho, seven bass, 20-2
41st:      Jeff Sprague, Wills Point, Texas, six bass, 19-11
42nd:    Mark Daniels, Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., seven bass, 19-8
43rd:     Dylan Hays, Hot Springs, Ark., six bass, 16-8
44th:     Josh Butler, Hayden, Ala., five bass, 14-4
45th:     Kelly Jordon, Flint, Texas, six bass, 13-14
46th:     Jordan Lee, Cullman, Ala., four bass, 13-13
47th:     Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., four bass, 11-5
48th:     Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., four bass, 9-2
49th:     Chad Mrazek, Montgomery, Texas, three bass, 7-12
50th:     Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, S.C., one bass, 3-2

Overall, there were 284 scorable bass weighing 773 pounds, 5 ounces caught by the 50 pros Friday.

Lane earned the $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award on Friday with a 7-pound, 1-ounce spotted bass that he caught on a soft plastic jig-head minnow in Period 1. 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. Lane’s 7-pound, 1-ouncer is the biggest bass weighed in the competition thus far.

All 50 Anglers competed on Days 1 (Thursday) and 2 (Friday) of the event. After two days of competition, the field is now cut to just the top 20 based on two-day total cumulative weight. Weights are zeroed, and the top 20 anglers compete on Day 3 (Saturday). Only the top 10 anglers advance to the fourth and final day of competition. Weights are zeroed again for the final-day championship round, and the winner is determined by the heaviest one-day total cumulative weight, with the victor earning the top prize of $300,000 and the REDCREST 2024 trophy.

The General Tire Take Off Ceremony will begin each morning at 6:15 a.m. each day of competition at Beeswax Landing, located at 245 Beeswax Park Road in Columbiana, Alabama. Anglers will depart at 7 a.m. each day and return after competition ends at 3:30 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch events and also encouraged to follow the event online throughout the day on the MLF NOW!® live stream and SCORETRACKER® coverage at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

In conjunction with the event, the FREE, family-friendly REDCREST Outdoor Sports Expo will also take place throughout the weekend, March 15-17 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex, located at 2100 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. N., in Birmingham. Fishing and outdoor enthusiasts will have the opportunity to visit numerous booths and vendors, showcasing the latest and greatest in fishing, boating and the outdoors. The biggest names in the outdoor industry will be on hand, including the professional anglers that compete on the Bass Pro Tour and legends of the sport.

Children are welcome to visit and play in the MLF Kids Zone, plus meet Skye & Marshall from PAW Patrol. Throughout the day there will be giveaways and prizes, including signed MLF angler jerseys, rods and reels, gift cards, and more. On Sunday one lucky attendee will walk away with a brand new 2024 Toyota Tacoma truck. Fans must be present to win the Tacoma grand prize. For more information on the MLF Outdoor Sports Expo, visit REDCRESTExpo.com.

The 2023 Bass Pro Tour featured a field of 80 of the top professional anglers in the world competing across seven regular-season tournaments around the country. The top 40 anglers in the Angler of the Year (AOY) standings after the seven events qualified to compete in REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium.

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 7:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. CT. MLFNOW!® will be live streamed on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

Television coverage of REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium will be showcased across two, two-hour episodes, premiering at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, July 6 and July 13 on Discovery Channel. Starting in July 2024, MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on Discovery Channel, 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.

Day 1 Results at Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Shops REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium on Lay Lake

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (March 14, 2024) – In the days leading up to Bass Pro Shops REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium, no one seemed to know what to expect from Lay Lake. While it’s normal for competitors to keep coy prior to lines in, the air of mystery felt real this time – Kevin VanDam even reported that he took the water on Day 1 with 43 rods rigged and ready.

Through one day, at least, the answer has been lots of bass, particularly offshore on the main lake. The 50-angler field accounted for 362 total scorable bass, with 20 pros topping the 20-pound mark. And even though air temperatures climbed into the 80s Thursday and water hit the 60s, spotted bass chasing bait in the main channel on the lower end of the reservoir produced much of that weight, with more than half of the Top 10, including the Day 1 leader, pro Michael Neal of Dayton, Tennessee, roaming the same stretch.

Neal stacked 21 scorable bass weighing 52 pounds, 9 ounces on SCORETRACKER®, giving him an 8-pound, 3-ounce lead over Dalton Head of Moody, Alabama. The 21-year-old University of Montevallo angler put his local knowledge to good use, creating plenty of distance between himself and the cut line and even climbing to the top of the standings at one point. Pro Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, South Carolina, who fished within sight of Neal for much of the day, sits in third with 38-13, just 13 ounces clear of Coosa River local pro Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama, who ended the day in fourth.

While many of the top performers Thursday employed similar approaches, that could change as the weather, water clarity and current all remain in flux. Connell even went so far as to predict that using forward-facing sonar to target suspended fish will not win. And with weights set to zero twice before a champion is crowned, the event is still wide open.

For about the first six hours of competition, Neal never cranked up his Mercury. He spent that entire time milling around in an area on the main lake, spinning rod in hand, scanning for spotted bass.

It didn’t take long to see why he started in that area, which he found the final day of practice, and spent so much time hunkered there. During a 30-minute flurry that started around 8 a.m., he boated seven scorable bass that weighed a combined 17-10, vaulting to the top of SCORETRACKER® in the process.

Neal described his approach as typical late winter/early spring spotted bass fishing: find the baitfish, find the bass.

“They focus their whole life around bait besides when they go to spawn, and that’s what I’ve been doing is just focusing on bait,” he explained. “It doesn’t really matter how deep it is or where it’s really located; just the more bait the better.”

Yesteryear’s conventional wisdom would have suggested that, with the water temperature in the 60s, it was time to beat the bank. And while we did see a few anglers sight-fishing for spawning bass Thursday, Neal believes the healthy population of Alabama bass in Lay Lake spawn later than their largemouth counterparts, especially given the amount of current that’s been rolling through the reservoir recently.

“I went to the bank and tried to make them be on the bank, kind of like everybody else did, and just didn’t get any bites,” Neal said. “And the ones I did were just real little. It’s just a matter of listening to what the fish have got to say and not worrying a whole lot about what the weather’s telling you. You’ve just got to fish where they are and let them tell you what they’re doing.

“I think these spots will be spawning way after the largemouth here. I think they wait on like no current and things like that to spawn on the river, and they just haven’t had those options yet.”

While Neal said he could have put more weight on SCORETRACKER® – he went into practice mode with about 90 minutes left in Period 3, once he hit the 50-pound mark – he doesn’t think he can ride his starting spot to a championship. For one thing, he’s concerned about the number of other anglers in the area. Neal plans to use the second day of qualifying to try to find a less-popular school.

“I’ve got some other places I can go run, and I’ve pretty much got a full day tomorrow to go try and find some other stuff, too,” he said. “Just gotta be smart with how I play the day tomorrow to try and find some fresh stuff.”

There’s also a weather change in the forecast, with thunderstorms expected Friday. While Neal doesn’t think that will have too great an impact on the fish he’s targeting – of all the bass in the reservoir, they should be the most stable – he said there’s a chance it stirs up the pollen that has collected in the water. Pollen has proved to be the enemy of ‘Scopers, clouding their screens and making it difficult to identify fish.

“It wasn’t bad – like, I didn’t really notice it to start,” Neal said of the pollen Thursday. “But as the day went on, it got worse and worse. But we’re supposed to have like an inch of rain tomorrow, so it’s going to change. Whether it makes it better or worse with the pollen, I don’t know, but it’ll be one or the other.”

While he hopes to find new fish Friday, Neal doesn’t plan to veer too drastically from his game plan. He’s fully committed to targeting spotted bass on the lower end of Lay Lake.

“I’m going to do some shallow stuff, but I’m not going largemouth fishing at all,” he said. “I’m going to go in some pockets and fish some places where I feel like spots would spawn and stuff, but I’m going to go to the same area of the lake and kind of put all my eggs in one basket and hope for the best.”

The standings after Day 1 on Lay Lake are:

1st:        Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 21 bass, 52-9
2nd:       Dalton Head, Moody, Ala., 17 bass, 44-6
3rd:       Anthony Gagliardi, Prosperity, S.C., 15 bass, 38-13
4th:        Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 16 bass, 38-0
5th:        Ryan Salzman, Huntsville, Ala., 10 bass, 35-11
6th:        Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 15 bass, 35-9
7th:        Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Mich., 13 bass, 33-14
8th:        Cole Floyd, Leesburg, Ohio, 13 bass, 32-1
9th:        Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala., 10 bass, 31-0
10th:     Nick Hatfield, Greeneville, Tenn., 11 bass, 29-2
11th:     Jonathon VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., nine bass, 26-11
12th:     John Cox, DeBary, Fla., 10 bass, 26-9
13th:     Alton Jones, Jr., Waco, Texas, 10 bass, 25-12
14th:     Greg Vinson, Wetumpka, Ala., nine bass, 25-1
15th:     Jesse Wiggins, Addison, Ala., 10 bass, 24-6
16th:     Gerald Spohrer, Gonzales, La., nine bass, 22-15
17th:     Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., seven bass, 22-9
18th:     Ott DeFoe, Blaine, Tenn., eight bass, 21-14
19th:     Todd Faircloth, Jasper, Texas, eight bass, 21-4
20th:     Matthew Stefan, Junction City, Wis., eight bass, 20-11
21st:      Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., eight bass, 19-11
22nd:    Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., eight bass, 18-15
23rd:     Spencer Shuffield, Hot Springs, Ark., seven bass, 18-14
24th:     Dakota Ebare, Brookeland, Texas, six bass, 17-15
25th:     Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., six bass, 17-5
26th:     Takahiro Omori, Tokyo, Japan, six bass, 16-8
27th:     Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., six bass, 16-6
28th:     John Hunter, Shelbyville, Ky., six bass, 15-6
29th:     Alton Jones, Lorena, Texas, six bass, 14-14
30th:     Cliff Pace, Petal, Miss., five bass, 14-12
31st:      Dylan Hays, Hot Springs, Ark., five bass, 14-5
32nd:    Cody Meyer, Star, Idaho, five bass, 13-12
33rd:     David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., five bass, 13-11
34th:     Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., four bass, 13-8
35th:     Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., five bass, 13-2
36th:     Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., five bass, 13-1
37th:     Joshua Weaver, Macon, Ga., four bass, 11-15
38th:     Mark Rose, Wynne, Ark., five bass, 11-6
39th:     Jordan Lee, Cullman, Ala., three bass, 10-8
40th:     Emil Wagner, Marietta, Ga., four bass, 10-4
41st:      Mark Daniels, Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., three bass, 9-2
42nd:    Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., three bass, 8-12
43rd:     Jeff Sprague, Wills Point, Texas, three bass, 8-9
44th:     Josh Butler, Hayden, Ala., three bass, 7-8
45th:     Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., three bass, 7-0
46th:     Kelly Jordon, Flint, Texas, three bass, 6-5
47th:     Chad Mrazek, Montgomery, Texas, two bass, 5-12
48th:     Chris Lane, Guntersville, Ala., two bass, 4-4
49th:     Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., one bass, 3-8
50th:   Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, S.C., one bass, 3-2

Overall, there were 362 scorable bass weighing 968 pounds, 13 ounces caught by the 50 pros Thursday.

Salzman earned Thursday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award with a 5-pound, 10-ounce spotted bass that he caught on a squarebill crankbait in Period 1. 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.

All 50 Anglers will compete on Days 1 (Thursday) and 2 (Friday) of the event. After two days of competition, the field is cut to just the top 20 based on two-day total cumulative weight. Weights are zeroed, and the top 20 anglers compete on Day 3 (Saturday). Only the top 10 anglers advance to the fourth and final day of competition. Weights are zeroed again for the final-day championship round, and the winner is determined by the heaviest one-day total cumulative weight, with the victor earning the top prize of $300,000 and the REDCREST 2024 trophy.

The General Tire Take Off Ceremony will begin each morning at 6:15 a.m. each day of competition at Beeswax Landing, located at 245 Beeswax Park Road in Columbiana, Alabama. Anglers will depart at 7 a.m. each day and return after competition ends at 3:30 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch events and also encouraged to follow the event online throughout the day on the MLF NOW!® live stream and SCORETRACKER® coverage at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

In conjunction with the event, the FREE, family-friendly REDCREST Outdoor Sports Expo will also take place throughout the weekend, March 15-17 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex, located at 2100 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. N., in Birmingham. Fishing and outdoor enthusiasts will have the opportunity to visit numerous booths and vendors, showcasing the latest and greatest in fishing, boating and the outdoors. The biggest names in the outdoor industry will be on hand, including the professional anglers that compete on the Bass Pro Tour and legends of the sport.

Children are welcome to visit and play in the MLF Kids Zone, plus meet Skye & Marshall from PAW Patrol. Throughout the day there will be giveaways and prizes, including signed MLF angler jerseys, rods and reels, gift cards, and more. On Sunday one lucky attendee will walk away with a brand new 2024 Toyota Tacoma truck. Fans must be present to win the Tacoma grand prize. For more information on the MLF Outdoor Sports Expo, visit REDCRESTExpo.com.

The 2023 Bass Pro Tour featured a field of 80 of the top professional anglers in the world competing across seven regular-season tournaments around the country. The top 40 anglers in the Angler of the Year (AOY) standings after the seven events qualified to compete in REDCREST 2024 Presented by OPTIMA Lithium.

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 7:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. CT. MLFNOW!® will be live streamed on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

Television coverage of REDCREST 2024 Presented by OPTIMA Lithium will be showcased across two, two-hour episodes, premiering at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, July 6 and July 13 on Discovery Channel. Starting in July 2024, MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on Discovery Channel, 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.

Wheeler Earns Seventh Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour Victory at Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick at Santee Cooper Lakes

CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. (Feb. 25, 2024) – During the final period of the final day of Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick, the Santee Cooper lakes that had churned out chunky bass all week simply shut down. At one point, the 10 pros duking it out during the Championship Round went 45 minutes without boating a scorable bass. They combined to catch just 18 fish, none breaking the 4-pound mark, during the final frame.

The one angler who managed to manufacture consistent action – Rapala pro Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tennessee. Wheeler accounted for five of those bass, which combined to weigh 14 pounds, 2 ounces. That boosted his final-day total to 47-4, lifting him past Suzuki pro Dean Rojas of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, by 5 pounds for his seventh career Bass Pro Tour victory.

Bucking conventional Santee Cooper tactics by fishing offshore with a jighead minnow, Wheeler did what he’s done for the past six years, seemingly willing bites into existence. He started the third period 2-8 back of Rojas but promptly took the lead with a 3-12 largemouth. A little more than an hour later, with everyone else at a standstill, he boated three fish over 2-pounds in about 10 minutes. After Rojas closed within 2-6 in the final 30 minutes, Wheeler ran across Lake Marion to hit one more spot, where he added a 2-10 to all but seal the victory.

“I stuck to my game plan this whole week, and I stayed out offshore and I tried to fish isolated stuff,” Wheeler said. “It really came down to just keeping my head down and keeping my rotation going. I tried to make other tactics work, but those last two periods really came down to throwing that Freeloader, locking it in my hand. I’ve got so much confidence in it; I know it’s going to generate the bites if they are going to bite at all.”

Both Wheeler and Rojas, who pulled away from the rest of the pack Sunday, largely ignored the fishery’s innumerable cypress trees, with Wheeler fishing offshore and Rojas skipping boat docks.

Wheeler said he had 30 to 40 spots that he cycled through during the event, mostly located in the middle and lower sections of Lake Marion. He primarily targeted brushpiles but also found a few productive locations that featured stumps or hard spots on the bottom.

“I didn’t feel like it was the winning pattern,” Wheeler said. “But I basically was able to find enough stuff that I could keep to myself and rotate on myself and really manage that it ended up being that way. And it was a combination of the right bait, the right area, the right stuff.”

While most of the field focused on cypress trees or submerged vegetation, Wheeler wasn’t the only angler in the Championship Round fishing offshore. Justin Lucas stacked up 42-6 on six bass doing virtually the same thing during the Knockout Round.

What separated Wheeler was his ability to generate strikes amid the tough, postfrontal conditions that greeted the field on Sunday.

His final-period flurry will likely be remembered as the winning moment, but surviving the first period might have been more important for Wheeler. The morning brought chilly, windy conditions that made fishing offshore difficult. Seeing that fish were tucked tighter to the bottom, Wheeler pulled out a jig and used it to catch his first bass of the day, a 5-10. Without that fish, his biggest of the day, he would’ve fallen 10 ounces shy of Rojas’ total.

“I just felt like the fish were on the bottom,” he said. “When the wind blows, a lot of times, those fish will suck down to the bottom. Basically, all I was using ActiveTarget for then was just making the right casts.”

As the wind died down and the water warmed, Wheeler turned to the Rapala CrushCity Freeloader, a soft-plastic, pintail minnow of his own design. The Freeloader has become a confidence bait for Wheeler — no surprise considering he’d already won one Bass Pro Tour event, 2023 Stage Four on Lake Guntersville, with it.
He came into the week unsure whether it would be effective in Santee Cooper’s shallow, off-color water. But as the event progressed, he found that bass that would eat a jerkbait earlier in the week could still be enticed by a Freeloader — even Sunday afternoon, when no one else in the field could get bit consistently.

“The water’s starting to clean up a little bit, the fish were definitely really fickle,” he said. “When the water was a little bit dirtier, you could catch ‘em on a spinnerbait, you could catch ‘em on a jerkbait; it was a lot better. And then as the water slowly cleared, it became a deal where I had to change up. And that was the key.”

Wheeler’s latest triumph adds to an already sterling Bass Pro Tour resume. He’s now amassed seven wins and 29 Top-10 finishes in his first 43 BPT events — both easily the most among his peers on tour. He’s already claimed two Fishing Clash Angler of the Year titles and is back in the driver’s seat to add a third.

So, has all that success gotten old yet? Not a chance.

“My little girl, she’s sort of like me, she always likes to win,” Wheeler said with a laugh. “And she told me, ‘Daddy, you don’t let (roommates) DC and Adrian win this week. You’ve got to bring home the trophy.’ So, we’re bringing home the trophy, darling.”

The top 10 pros from the Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick at Santee Cooper Lakes finished:

1st:        Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 15 bass, 47-4, $100,000
2nd:      Dean Rojas, Lake Havasu City, Ariz., 17 bass, 42-4, $45,000
3rd:       Jesse Wiggins, Cullman, Ala., nine bass, 29-14, $38,000
4th:        Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., four bass, 19-10, $32,000
5th:        Dylan Hays, Hot Springs, Ark., five bass, 18-12, $30,000
6th:        Casey Ashley, Donalds, S.C., six bass, 16-8, $26,000
7th:        Dave Lefebre, Erie, Pa., five bass, 15-5, $23,000
8th:        Cole Floyd, Leesburg, Ohio, five bass, 11-5, $21,000
9th:        James Watson, Lampe, Mo., three bass, 7-13, $19,000
10th:     Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala, one bass, 4-8, $16,000

A complete list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

Overall, there were 70 bass weighing 213 pounds, 3 ounces caught by the final 10 pros Sunday. The catch included four 5-pounders, one 6-pounder, and one 8-pounder.

Reigning Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) Matt Becker of Ten Mile, Tennessee, won Championship Sunday’s Berkley Big Bass Award, with a largemouth totaling 8 pounds even in the first period. 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. Pro David Dudley of Lynchburg, Virginia, earned the $3,000 Berkley Big Bass award for the overall largest bass of the event with his 9-pound, 11-ounce largemouth that was weighed on Day 4 of competition.

The Suzuki Stage Two at Santee Cooper Lakes Presented by Fenwick featured the MLF catch, weigh, immediate-release format, in which anglers caught as much weight as they could each day, while also feeling the pressure and intensity of the SCORETRACKER® leaderboard. The tournament featured 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 six-day tournament, hosted by the Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce, showcased 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 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. After two events in the 2024 season, Jacob Wheeler leads the AOY race with 157 points. Jesse Wiggins of Addison, Alabama, moved into second place with 150 points, while defending AOY Matt Becker of Ten Mile, Tennessee, sits in third, two points back of Wiggins with 148 points.

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.

Final 10 Anglers Set for Championship Sunday at Major League Fishing Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick at Santee Cooper Lakes

CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. (Feb. 24, 2024) – For most of his first three days on the water at the Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick at the Santee Cooper lakes, pro Cole Floyd of Leesburg, Ohio , lurked just behind the leaders – safe from the cut line but never really threatening to overtake for the top spot on SCORETRACKER®. He qualified for Saturday’s Knockout Round by finishing ninth in Group A, then hovered in the middle of the Top 10 throughout Saturday’s action.

Until the final few hours, that is.

During an explosive Period 3 that saw Santee Cooper’s big bass start snapping for just about everyone in the field, Floyd boated eight bass weighing a combined 28 pounds, 6 ounces. That brought his total on the day to 46-9, vaulted him into the top spot on the leaderboard and sent a clear message to the rest of the field that he’s not to be overlooked during Sunday’s Championship Round.

Seeking his first win as a touring pro, Floyd will have his work cut out for him. Looming within the top five were pros Justin Lucas of Guntersville, Alabama, who stacked up an epic 42-6 on just six bass; Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tennessee, the six-time Bass Pro Tour champion; and pro James Watson of Lampe, Missouri, who caught a pair of 8-plus-pounders Saturday.

The final 10 anglers are now set, and competition resumes Sunday morning with the Championship Round. In the Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

Floyd, who hasn’t had a camera in his boat all week, doesn’t mind operating outside the spotlight. He said he relishes the underdog role.

In fact, he wasn’t necessarily trying to finish the Knockout Round in first place. He spent much of Saturday running new water, and he just happened to hit a productive area in Lake Marion during the final couple hours. He added to his total as he sampled the bass population living there.

“Every time I got off pad with my boat, it seemed like I could get a bite,” Floyd said. “Everything was just kind of going my way.”

Like much of the field, Floyd has caught his fish winding a bladed jig – in his case, a Strike King Thunder Cricket – around cypress trees, “trying to cover as much water as [he] can.” He believes the key to his hot afternoon was the west wind, which picked up speed as the day progressed and pushed water into his section.

“The wind just seemed to blow in all that mud, that dirty water from the other side of the lake, and it just helped my area a lot more,” Floyd explained. “Stained it up and got it more active.”

Floyd is optimistic that the area he found has plenty of bass to carry him through the Championship Round. However, the forecast – sunny skies, cooler temperatures and a light breeze out of the north – has him concerned that he might have to switch up techniques.

“Obviously, I had a good day today,” he said. “I feel like I’m in a good area to possibly win it, but I feel like the weather is going to hurt me more than anything. I think it’s going to be calmer tomorrow, and it’ll just make the bite tougher.”

Floyd, who will compete in his second career BPT Championship Round, is no stranger to tournament success. He won multiple events at the college level, plus took home three straight Angler of the Year titles in the LBL Division of the Phoenix Bass Fishing League from 2017-2019.

A BPT victory, however, would represent a whole new frontier. Floyd called the prospect of landing his first national win “life-changing.”

“It would be a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve worked my ass off – I’m not super old – my whole life just to have this opportunity, so it would be something very special, that’s for sure.”

The top 10 pros from Saturday’s Knockout Round that now advance to the final day Championship Round on Santee Cooper Lakes are:

1st:        Cole Floyd, Leesburg, Ohio, 14 bass, 46-9
2nd:       Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala, six bass, 42-6
3rd:       Dylan Hays, Hot Springs, Ark., 10 bass, 39-14
4th:        Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 11 bass, 34-1
5th:        James Watson, Lampe, Mo., seven bass, 32-3
6th:        Dean Rojas, Lake Havasu City, Ariz., 12 bass, 30-8
7th:        Dave Lefebre, Erie, Pa., nine bass, 29-0
8th:        Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., 10 bass, 28-4
9th:        Casey Ashley, Donalds, S.C., 10 bass, 28-0
10th:     Jesse Wiggins, Cullman, Ala., 10 bass, 26-14

Eliminated from competition are:

11th:     David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., six bass, 25-8
12th:     Alton Jones, Jr., Waco, Texas, six bass, 25-1
13th:     Gerald Spohrer, Gonzales, La., nine bass, 22-0
14th:     Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., six bass, 21-13
15th:     Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., three bass, 14-14
16th:     Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Mich., four bass, 13-1
17th:     Zack Birge, Blanchard, Okla., three bass, 12-6
18th:     Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., five bass, 11-4
19th:     Bobby Lane, Lakeland, Fla., four bass, 6-10
20th:     Marshall Robinson, Landrum, S.C., zero bass, 0-0

A complete list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

Overall, there were 145 bass weighing 490 pounds, 4 ounces caught by 19 pros Saturday. The catch included six 6-pounders, three 7-pounders, and five 8-pounders.

Pros Justin Lucas of Guntersville, Alabama, and James Watson of Lampe, Missouri, tied for Saturday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award, as each weighed in a largemouth totaling 8 pounds, 15 ounces. 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 the two-day Qualifying Round was complete, the anglers that finished first through 10th from both groups advanced to Saturday’s Knockout Round. In the Knockout Round, weights were zeroed, and the remaining 20 anglers competed to finish in the top 10 to advance to Sunday’s Championship Round. Sunday, in the final-day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

On Sunday, Feb. 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, and 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 final 10 anglers will launch at 7:30 a.m. ET Sunday from the John C. Land III Landing, located at 4404 Greenall Road in Summerton. Sunday’s General Tire Takeout and Championship Celebration 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 MajorLeagueFishing.com .

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

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.

Dean Rojas Paces Field to Win Group B Qualifying Round at Major League Fishing Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick at Santee Cooper Lakes

CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. (Feb. 23, 2024) – For the first two hours of Group B’s second day on the water Friday at Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick, pro Dean Rojas of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, struggled to recapture his Day 1 success. Rojas had stacked 16 bass weighing 48 pounds, 14 ounces on SCORETRACKER® during his first day on the Santee Cooper lakes, but he went more than two hours Friday morning without boating a scorable fish.

Once Rojas relocated a population of fish, though, the action heated up in a hurry. He got on the board with a 5-pounder, then caught another 11 bass, bringing his two-day total to 76-1. He finished atop the leaderboard for Group B, a mere 10 ounces ahead of pro Brent Ehrler of Redlands, California.

Rojas’ day summed up the action across lakes Marion and Moultrie. A morning that started slow ended with two bass over 9 pounds, and 20 over 6 pounds hitting the scales. Despite many of the top anglers using the afternoon to scout new water, the field combined to catch 249 scorable bass for 824 pounds, 14 ounces – easily the biggest totals of any day so far.

The remaining 20 anglers – the top 10 from each group – now advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round, where weights are zeroed, and anglers compete to finish in the top 10 to advance to the Championship Round on Sunday. In Sunday’s final day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

Having put plenty of distance between himself and the cut line on Wednesday, Rojas, too, used his second day of competition to explore new water on the massive 170,000-acre playing field that is Santee Cooper. He never returned to the area where he caught his Day 1 bag, instead scouting a few other spots where he’d gotten bit during practice.

“The stuff I fished today was just secondary stuff that I had,” he explained. “It’s not my main stuff. I caught ‘em really good the first day, so there was no sense in working on those fish anymore.”

Rojas is doing something a bit different than the majority of anglers, not spending much time around the fishery’s many cypress trees. He didn’t want to reveal much about his tactics but said he’s focusing on areas where bass are moving up to stage.

“There’s probably a few that are up there (spawning), and there’s some that are coming,” Rojas said. “It’s still the very first beginnings of it.”

While he found plenty of fish, Rojas didn’t catch the same quality on Friday, boating just one bass bigger than 3 pounds. As a result, he still plans to return to his Day 1 area during what figures to be an explosive Knockout Round.

Still, he sees the day as a success, having eliminated some water and added more to his arsenal should he have to veer from Plan A.

“I have lots of options,” he said. “I feel very comfortable. The stuff that I fished today I can fish again tomorrow, and the stuff that I didn’t fish today, I can still go back again tomorrow.”

As for what it will take to make the Championship Round, Rojas speculated that the cut will fall around 45 pounds – although he admitted that could be way off. Santee Cooper has proven fickle this week, with lots of anglers putting together impressive bags but few doing so on consecutive days. The only safe bet seems to be that whoever does unlock the bite will have a chance to land some big ones.

“I have no idea,” Rojas said. “I’m going to try and catch every single bass I can tomorrow.”

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

1st:        Dean Rojas, Lake Havasu City, Ariz., 28 bass, 76-1
2nd:       Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., 21 bass, 75-7
3rd:       Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., 21 bass, 75-2
4th:        Casey Ashley, Donalds, S.C., 21 bass, 74-2
5th:        Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala, 18 bass, 65-1
6th:        Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 15 bass, 60-12
7th:        Marshall Robinson, Landrum, S.C., 17 bass, 58-9
8th:        Zack Birge, Blanchard, Okla., 13 bass, 55-11
9th:        David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., 18 bass, 53-13
10th:     Bobby Lane, Lakeland, Fla., 14 bass, 51-2

Eliminated from competition are:

11th:     Fred Roumbanis, Russellville, Ark., 10 bass, 49-2
12th:     Fletcher Shryock, Guntersville, Ala., 17 bass, 48-9
13th:     Luke Clausen, Spokane, Wash., 14 bass, 48-4
14th:     Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., 12 bass, 46-4
15th:     Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala., 19 bass, 45-5
16th:     Mark Davis, Mount Ida, Ark., 12 bass, 43-7
17th:     Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., 14 bass, 43-2
18th:     Ott DeFoe, Blaine, Tenn., 14 bass, 42-6
19th:     Wesley Strader, Spring City, Tenn., 14 bass, 38-10
20th:     Spencer Shuffield, Hot Springs, Ark., 11 bass, 36-13
21st:      Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., 12 bass, 36-4
22nd:    Todd Faircloth, Jasper, Texas, 10 bass, 36-3
23rd:     Drew Gill, Mount Carmel, Ill., 14 bass, 36-2
24th:     Justin Cooper, Zwolle, La., 10 bass, 34-15
25th:     Joshua Weaver, Macon, Ga., 10 bass, 32-9
26th:     Martin Villa, Charlottesville, Va., 13 bass, 32-2
27th:     Alton Jones, Lorena, Texas, nine bass, 30-4
28th:     Stephen Browning, Hot Springs, Ark., eight bass, 28-3
29th:     James Elam, Tulsa, Okla., six bass, 21-10
30th:     Keith Carson, DeBary, Fla., seven bass, 19-7
31st:      Jonathon VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., six bass, 19-4
32nd:    Boyd Duckett, Guntersville, Ala., seven bass, 18-11
33rd:     Scott Suggs, Alexander, Ark., six bass, 18-0
34th:     Ryan Salzman, Huntsville, Ala., six bass, 17-11
35th:     Gary Klein, Mingus, Texas, six bass, 15-5
36th:     Kelly Jordon, Flint, Texas, six bass, 14-9
37th:     Cliff Crochet, Pierre Part, La., five bass, 14-3
38th:     John Hunter, Shelbyville, Ky., four bass, 13-1
39th:     Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C, three bass, 12-13
40th:     Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, S.C., three bass, 7-13

A complete list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

Overall, there were 249 bass weighing 824 pounds, 14 ounces caught by 39 pros Friday. The catch included 14 6-pounders, three 7-pounders, one 8-pounder and two 9-pounders.

Pro David Dudley of Lynchburg, Virginia, won the $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award Friday with a fat 9-pound, 11-ounce largemouth that he caught on a Dudley’s Digger Blade from Treeshaker Tackle 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. Now that each group’s two-day Qualifying Round is complete, the anglers that finished 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 MajorLeagueFishing.com .

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 MajorLeagueFishing.com 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.

Wheeler Runs Pattern to Grab Early Lead for Group B at Major League Fishing Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick at Santee Cooper Lakes

CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. (Feb. 21, 2024) – For the second time in as many events this season, the Bass Pro Tour is visiting a new fishery, with the Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick at Santee Cooper Lakes in Clarendon County, South Carolina. Once again, pro Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tennessee, wasted little time figuring it out.

Wheeler, whose six wins and 28 top-10 finishes in Bass Pro Tour competition are unmatched, is back atop the leaderboard through one day of qualifying for Group B. He boated 13 scorable bass for 53 pounds, 8 ounces Wednesday, 4 pounds, 11 ounces clear of Lake Havasu City, Arizona’s Dean Rojas who caught 16 bass weighing 48-14 to end the day in second place. Those two separated themselves from the rest of the pack – pro Brent Ehrler of Redlands, California, caught 39-0 total to finish the day in third place.

The 40 anglers in Group B will now have an off day from competition Thursday, while the 40 anglers competing in Group A will wrap up their two-day Qualifying Round. Group B will finish their Qualifying Round on Friday.

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.

Like most of the field, Wheeler emerged from practice on Santee Cooper a bit concerned about the dirty water and lack of bites. He rated his practice period a 4 out of 10. But, like many, his first day of competition left him pleasantly surprised.

“Obviously, catching 29 pounds for five and catching 50-something pounds of bass is one of the best days you could ask for,” Wheeler said.

While a small handful of the Bass Pro Tour anglers had prior experience fishing Santee Cooper before the spawn, conventional wisdom suggested this would be the type of tournament in which pros would be best served picking one area and combing it thoroughly. The navigational hazards and sheer amount of cover where fish could be living didn’t figure to suit a run-and-gun approach.

Wheeler turned that idea on its head. Taking advantage of the lack of wind, he hit several areas, looking for spots with the same key ingredients — a combination he figured out thanks to one clue during practice, then dialed in Wednesday.

“I constantly changed areas,” Wheeler said. “Because it was pretty calm today, it gave me an opportunity to run around. I didn’t stay in one area. I tried to run around and sort of look for that specific pattern, and that was what I did.”

While Wheeler mostly kept coy regarding specifics, he said he used a combination of forward-facing sonar and traditional, power-fishing tactics.

“I’m doing what I love to do, but I’m also sort of mixing a few things up,” he explained. “I’m looking for something very specific, and when I can find it, I’m basically running a pattern on this lake.”

Nearly half of Wheeler’s weight came from one stop. During a 90-minute stretch in Period 2, he caught six bass totaling 26-11. That included a 4-4, a 5-5 and a 6-14 — his biggest fish of the day. With the chances of catching 20-plus scorable bass in a day being slim, Wheeler said triggering big bites and landing those fish is the single biggest key to contending on Santee Cooper.

“I had three really big bites today,” Wheeler said. “So that, to me, is everything. I knew going into this, after seeing what happened in Group A, Day 1, I had to be very calm, cool and collected and be very methodical, because it wasn’t like it was going to be fast and furious. It wasn’t a Toledo Bend. Big bites were going to be few and far between, but when you got ‘em, you better capitalize on every single one.”

Wheeler remains unsure if he’ll be able to ride his Day 1 pattern through the weekend. He predicted that, as the weather warms and the bass continue their prespawn transition, Santee Cooper will fish differently during the Knockout and Championship Rounds than it has during the first two days. In typical Wheeler fashion, he’s put himself in prime position to figure it out. As usual, he said he plans to take advantage of his fast start by using much of Friday to explore new water.

“To me, I utilized this day to the best of my ability, to be leading right now going into Day 2 and have a firm grasp right now,” he said. “I still gotta catch a few bass, probably, to solidify my spot in the Knockout Round, but I’m feeling really confident about that.”

The top 20 pros in Group B after Day 1 on Santee Cooper Lakes are:

1st:        Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 13 bass, 53-8
2nd:      Dean Rojas, Lake Havasu City, Ariz., 16 bass, 48-14
3rd:       Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., 11 bass, 39-0
4th:        Casey Ashley, Donalds, S.C., 12 bass, 38-9
5th:        Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., 10 bass, 37-0
6th:        Zack Birge, Blanchard, Okla., six bass, 29-4
7th:        Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala, 10 bass, 28-14
8th:        Marshall Robinson, Landrum, S.C., eight bass, 27-3
9th:        Fred Roumbanis, Russellville, Ark., five bass, 26-1
10th:     Spencer Shuffield, Hot Springs, Ark., seven bass, 25-10
11th:     Bobby Lane, Lakeland, Fla., seven bass, 25-2
12th:     Luke Clausen, Spokane, Wash., eight bass, 24-12
13th:     Stephen Browning, Hot Springs, Ark., six bass, 22-8
14th:     Fletcher Shryock, Guntersville, Ala., eight bass, 22-4
15th:     Joshua Weaver, Macon, Ga., seven bass, 21-5
16th:     Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., six bass, 20-0
17th:     Ott DeFoe, Blaine, Tenn., seven bass, 19-4
18th:     Kelly Jordon, Flint, Texas, six bass, 14-9
19th:     Alton Jones, Lorena, Texas, four bass, 14-5
20th:     Wesley Strader, Spring City, Tenn., six bass, 14-4

SHOW NOW!

A complete list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

Overall, there were 226 bass weighing 721 pounds, 13 ounces caught by the 40 pros on Wednesday. The catch included 16 6-pounders, three 7-pounders and two 8-pounders.

Pro Fred “Boom Boom” Roumbanis of Russellville, Arkansas, earned the $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award Wednesday with an 8-pound, 6-ounce largemouth that he caught on a lipless crankbait in Period 2. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and another $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament.

The 40 Anglers in Group A compete 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 MajorLeagueFishing.com .

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!®  will be live streamed on MajorLeagueFishing.com 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.