STAGE 1 – JORDAN LEE
After finding an area of clean water on the north end of Lake Garcia, Lee put together a flurry of 2- and 3-pounders in the third period by winding a vibrating jig through the grass, adding over 32 pounds to SCORETRACKER in the period to distance himself from Edwin Evers and Jared Lintner. Lee finished the day with 55-1 on 26 to Evers’ 44-3 and Lintner’s 33-9 to win B & W Trailer Hitches Stage One presented By Power-Pole. “(The third period) was an unbelievable period,” Lee said. “I fished my way into that last area and got bite after bite after bite – and caught good ones, too – and just found myself in a spot with clear water and a lot of fish. Fish were moving in to spawn, so there were bigger fish in there. Edwin was coming on strong right there at the end, it feels pretty darn good.”
Jordan Lee now a 43-pound piece of hardware that nobody else will ever be able to claim: the inaugural MLF Bass Pro Tour championship trophy.
STAGE 2 – EDWIN EVERS
In the immediate aftermath of the first Major League Fishing® (MLF) Bass Pro Tour event in Kissimmee, Florida two weeks ago, Edwin Evers’ dissatisfaction with finishing second was palpable. Ever the professional, Evers complimented his fellow competitors and smiled for photos at the Berkley Postgame Show, but no talk of Cup points could bring the Oklahoma pro comfort.
Sunday afternoon on Lake Conroe, Evers made sure that the only postgame talk would be of how he earned his first-ever MLF Bass Pro Tour trophy.
Evers racked up 51 pounds, 12 ounces
Evers’ pattern was to flip his way down the bank with a Black Blue Berkley Havoc Pit Boss,
picking out small indentations and grassy, undercut banks and flipping his bait as close to the bank as he could. He also caught some fish on a vibrating jig.
The area that Evers fished – a canal that he found during the Elimination Round – was shallow at the entrance, but fell off into slightly deeper water the further back he went.
“I feel like I know this lake as well as any lake I fish, but I’d never been in that canal before,” Evers admitted. “It looked right when I looked at it on the map, and I had it all to myself – I assume because it was probably pretty muddy in practice. The water was just a little warmer and a little bit cleaner on a couple of those key stretches.”
STAGE 3 – JACOB POWROZNIK
When it all comes down to it, the Major League Fishing® (MLF) format has always been about identifying fishing conditions on the fly, and making the right adjustments as those conditions change.
MLF pro Jacob Powroznik learned enough from the first fish he saw on Championship Sunday to tell him all he needed to know. That fish, which rolled on a floating worm in the first pocket that the Virginia pro fished on Shearon Harris Reservoir, clued Powroznik in that the lake’s largemouth were in extremely shallow water and spawning.
Powroznik didn’t catch that fish, but it caused him to pick up a wacky-rigged 5-inch V&M Chopstick and start fishing for spawners. It was the right decision: Powroznik connected with 20 fish for 63 pounds, 4 ounces to earn a shiny new red-and-silver trophy and the $100,000 first-place check at the Bass Pro Tour Favorite Fishing Stage Three Raleigh presented by Evinrude.
“I saw that fish swim over on that floating worm, and I knew right then fish were spawning,” Powroznik said. “They were really shallow, and I picked that wacky-worm up right then and didn’t take it out of my hand the rest of the day.”
Powroznik, one of the most skilled sight-fishermen in the field, dedicated some time early in the day to bedding fish, but then pulled off the beds and started casting to shallow water when mid-day clouds spoiled the visibility. That, too, proved to be a key decision.
“I love sight fishing, but the farther you stay off of them, the better,” Powroznik confirmed. “Those fish were in a foot of water, so they wanted something really subtle. It’s probably a good thing that it got cloudy and I couldn’t see those fish anymore, or I might’ve spent the day trying to get fish to bite sight-fishing to them. It turned out that it was better to cast to points that were a little further out toward the mouths of those pockets instead.”
STAGE 4 – ANDY MORGAN
From the moment he announced his intention to compete on the Major League Fishing® (MLF) Bass Pro Tour, Tennessee pro Andy Morgan was tabbed by his fellow competitors as an angler to watch. Based on both his exceptional 23-year career and his catch-every-fish-that-swims fishing style, Morgan came into the season as a near-universal pick by his contemporaries to take home one of the eight regular-season Bass Pro Tour trophies. It turns out that Morgan’s first Bass Pro Tour trophy didn’t have far to travel: 7.1 miles from Lake Chickamauga to the trophy room in his home in Dayton. Fishing a lake that he grew up on – and finishing the day in a pocket that he and his dad have won “a number of April tournaments in over the years” – Morgan weighed in 34 Lake Chickamauga largemouth for 80-0 pounds to run away with the Championship Round of the Econo Lodge Stage Four presented by Winn Grips. “I wanted to win one more tournament on Chickamauga,” Morgan admitted. “I can’t explain how hard it is to win an event at this level, and I can’t explain just how bad I wanted to win right here in front of my family and friends – I wanted it bad. It means the world to me to be able to come out here on this lake where I won my first tournament when I was 15, fish against this bunch of guys, and get that trophy. I’m awful proud of it.” Jared Lintner finished second with 60-7, Todd Faircloth was third with 59-5, Jacob Powroznik was fourth with 54-4 and Mike Iaconelli completed the Top 5 with 54-2.
Morgan fished Championship Sunday as one would expect a seasoned veteran to work his home fishery, committing his entire championship round to a long backwater north of Dayton that locals refer to as “The Branch”. Morgan woke up on Championship Sunday, looked at the weather forecast calling for heavy morning rain and afternoon winds, and knew immediately that he had an outstanding chance for a big day in two sloughs inside “The Branch”. “As soon as I saw the weather, I knew that I wasn’t going to leave that area all day,” Morgan confirmed. “I was going to fish it all day long and figure it out, because I thought it had the best population of fish to work on. I knew it could all go down right in those two sloughs, and that I needed to just stay put and be patient.” Morgan’s patience paid off. The Favorite Fishing pro worked his way around two areas he refers to as “Back Slough” and “Bus Slough” with a jig and Zoom Super Salt Plus Z Craw, a lipless crankbait and a vibrating jig, picking up 11 fish apiece in the first and second periods to claim and hold a 7-1 lead heading into the final period. Jared Lintner, who spent a good part of his day sight fishing, had crept to within 2 pounds of Morgan midway through Period 2 and had located one spawner that he identified as “a double-digit fish.” But while Lintner added 11 fish to his SCORETRACKER™ total through the final 2 ½ hours of competition, eight of those were under 2 pounds; Morgan, meanwhile, connected with his two biggest fish of the day – a 5-7 and a 6-9 – and a 4-4 to gradually open up his lead. “I had no other competitors in my area and the weather kept the local traffic out, so I had the whole place to myself,” Morgan said. “I’ve had some pretty special days on Chickamauga – I won my first Angler of the Year title on this lake – but today was the one day in my whole career where the deck was stacked for me to win.”
STAGE 5 – DEAN ROJAS
It’s an age-old question in competitive bass fishing: pattern or location? If you ask MLF pro Dean Rojas this week, he’ll come down firmly on the side of “location”.
Fishing an area on the upper end of Smith Lake that he had found during practice for the Bass Pro Tour Phoenix Boats Stage Five Presented by Mercury, the Arizona pro went to work on the Sunday-morning shad spawn with a mix of baits (primarily a crankbait, swim jig, frog and swimbait). By the end of the first period, Rojas had put 23 fish on SCORETRACKER® for 36 pounds, 5 ounces – enough spotted and largemouth bass that Rojas could’ve put his rods down for most of the rest of the day and still won.
“It’s not too often that you get into a Championship Round where the fish are biting like that and you can use multiple baits to rack up a big lead,” Rojas said. “The conditions were right: we had overcast skies, a breeze, warm temperatures, and the fish were just feeding in the area I was in. It was just about capitalizing on this format. I knew I had to catch as many fish as I could early to put some distance between me and the field.”
Rojas added an additional 9-1 in the second and third periods for good measure, finishing with 47-0 and a 6-plus-pound win over Brent Chapman (40-14), Michael Neal (34-15), Jason Christie (32-6) and Todd Faircloth (32-2). Mark Rose (29-14), Brent Ehrler (26-0), Dustin Connell (24-14), Mike Iaconelli (17-14) and Fred Roumbanis (10-1) rounded out the Top 10.
“At the end of the first period, that was the end of (the bite),” Rojas admitted. “It was a big deal that I caught as many fish as I could to build a big lead. Period 2 and Period 3 were a matter of catching a few here and there, but I was struggling because they just wouldn’t bite.”
Rojas was one of a handful of anglers in the 80-man field who identified his primary area, a stretch of bushes in the Ryan Creek Arm. Rojas hit the area throughout the week of competition, sharing it periodically with Boyd Duckett, etc., but had the whole stretch to himself on Championship morning.
“I had to mix it up to catch all those fish, but there was bait all over that area, so I had a feeling the fish should be there this morning,” Rojas said. “I went to that spot every morning in the ride-around to see if they were still spawning, because that’s what they were doing in practice. I didn’t go to it until the Elimination Round because my other stuff wasn’t working, and then didn’t fish it in Knockout because Boyd was fishing there. I went there this morning and they were busting, so I sat down on it and fished it out.”
STAGE 6 – AARON MARTENS
If you ask Major League Fishing® (MLF) pro Aaron Martens what his least-favorite technique is, he’ll giggle and tell you “Drop-shotting, bro.” It’s a running joke that the West Coast native has maintained for several years, claiming that he’d much rather be flipping a creature bait swimming jig, all the while racking up win after win using a technique he helped pioneer.
Martens can now add 100,000 more reasons to love the drop-shot.
Methodically plinking his way around a series of offshore brushpiles and flooded cedar trees in the main stem White River on Table Rock Lake, Martens connected with 50 fish for 86 pounds, 4 ounces, running away with the Championship Round of the Bass Pro Tour Berkley Stage Six Presented by TrueTimber and claiming a $100,000 paycheck (plus his first MLF championship trophy).
And he did it in true “A-Mart” fashion. While first-period leader Andy Montgomery watched his shad-spawn bite flame out in the second period, Martens kept a steady fish-catching pace from lines in to lines out, starting the morning connecting with multiple fish on a spinnerbait and swimbait between Moonshine Beach and Indian Point before picking up the drop-shot rod in the second period.
Martens stayed in the same area throughout the rest of the day, battling the wind and current while repeatedly dropping a Roboworm to fish he was seeing on his electronics and putting 34-14 on SCORETERACKER® in Period 1, adding 33-12 in Period 2 and holding on to the lead through the final period with 14 fish for 14-7.
“I spent my whole practice graphing,” Martens admitted. “I figured if I could find more waypoints and schools, that’s how I should spend my time. I knew every day the fish were going to change, but I had my graphs pretty dialed in where I can see fish in the trees, and see if they’re a bass, a white bass or shad. I know the bluff walls were a big deal, but I just felt better about what I had deeper.”
STAGE 7 – JACOB WHEELER
One week after the Major League Fishing® (MLF) Bass Pro Tour field rewrote the league’s record books with an astounding display of fish-catching efficiency on Table Rock Lake, Jacob Wheeler was at it again.
Fishing the first tour-level afternoon/evening competition day in recent years – a noon-to-8 p.m. game day – Wheeler wrote his name in the MLF record books twice: Once for most weight caught in a single day of competition, and one for most scorable bass landed in a day.
By the time lines came out for Friday’s Shotgun Round at the Bad Boy Mowers Stage Seven Presented by Covercraft, Wheeler had racked up 88 fish for 129 pounds, 14 ounces, a 17-pound cushion over Shin Fukae in second place (112-4) and the most productive day in the league’s young history.“Unbelievable,” Wheeler said simply as he strapped his rods down after the day. “Just unbelievable.”
“I grew up fishing weeknight tournaments: I fished a Tuesday-nighter, a Wednesday-nighter, a Thursday-nighter, and sometimes a Friday-nighter, every week. That’s where I started. Some of my favorite memories are those evening tournaments. The fish bit pretty well for me today, and I enjoyed that noon-to-8 schedule.”
STAGE 8 – CLIFF PACE
Pace grabbed the lead in the second period and never looked back. The windy and cloudy conditions played a significant role in his victory, and how he was able to catch 47 bass for 81-9.
The majority of Pace’s fish fell for a Jackall Rerange Jerkbait, but he started the day plucking them off with a Jackall Crosstail Shad fished on a drop-shot rig.
“After the delay, the wind was still blowing, and when we went back out, I caught one on the jerkbait on the first cast,” Pace said. “I never put it down after that. It was all about the conditions. I was looking for areas with rock since there was so much sand everywhere. The main thing on natural lakes is to find where there is a mix of rock and sand.”
For his win, he takes home $100,000 and the title of Stage Eight Champion.