JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. – It was a frigid start to the day at U.S. Air Force Stage Two Presented by Power-Pole on Douglas Lake, but the bite is starting to heat up in East Tennessee. By all measures, the fishing improved dramatically on Day 3 as Adrian Avena was one of six anglers to crack 15 pounds on the day, compared to just one during the first two days of competition combined.
Avena led the group with 30 pounds, 13 ounces. Now he and 19 more anglers from Group A will shift gears to Cherokee Lake and the Knockout Round, where weights will reset on Wednesday with the Top 20 from Group B entering the fold.
Avena’s afternoon flurry boosted his catch total to 16-2 and a 2-5 aggregate over second-place angler Dustin Connell, who landed an event-best 17-5 today and 28-8 overall.
Avena entered the day in second place after catching 14-11 on Saturday’s kickoff to the event; but endured an extremely slow start today (likely due to the below-freezing temperatures in the morning). His first scorable bass didn’t hit SCORETRACKER® until after 1 o’clock. He says this is typical bass fishing this time of year.
“That’s textbook spring fishing, as the bite only gets better as the day goes on,” he said. “This morning, I had a bunch of fish follow my jerkbait, but they wouldn’t commit. As it warmed up, I started catching a bunch of nonscoreable fish, and then the bigger ones started to bite.”
The last 15 minutes of Avena’s day included a 4-11 and two that weighed 3-0. Those fish ate a swimbait, but the jerkbait was his biggest player on the day.
“I was fishing it on isolated stuff and the bite kept getting better,” Avena said. ” If I could’ve fished until dark today, the bite would’ve kept improving. I would’ve kept catching them. Anytime you have sunny and calm conditions with stained water, the afternoon bite is always the strongest this time of year.”
Looking ahead to Cherokee, Avena expects fewer fish catches, but better quality from the field.
“It seems like, right now, Douglas is the better lake for numbers,” he said. “Cherokee has much bigger fish in it. I spent half a day there and only caught five, but they weighed over 17 pounds. The guy who wins it over there may not get a lot of bites, but we will see some good fish caught.”
Alabama pro Connell is one of the best there is with a jerkbait while watching his forward-facing sonar and that’s how he planned to attack Douglas this week. But, plans changed in practice.
“I practiced down the lake and intended to fish a jerkbait around isolated wood,” Connell said. “But, I didn’t like how many boats were doing the same thing and there’s not a lot of wood in the water right now. I didn’t like how much pressure those areas were getting and had to look for a backup plan. The fishing pressure got to the fish around the wood and they’d just follow the bait out and wouldn’t eat it.”
During practice, Connell found something completely different, which proved to be the right pattern for him.
“I found this area with some current in practice and caught two on a jig, but didn’t know how good it was,” he said. “I started my day there on the first day, caught a good one early, and then filled my limit. I realized then that the area was pretty good, so I left to save it for today and went down and tried the jerkbait deal.”
Connell’s 11-3 on the first day had him sitting in 17th and his plan for today was to return to his current spot with the jig.
“I planned to give it longer today and after the first period, ‘boom,’ I’ve got a good bag,” he said. “I stayed up there for the first two periods and dragged the jig, just letting it wash in the current. After I had a good bag, I came down the river and poked around some.”
Connell’s fish came on a 1/2-ounce green pumpkin finesse jig paired with a Googan Baits Bandito Bug Jr. in blue baby. He fished it on a 7-foot, 2-inch medium heavy Favorite Fishing Hex rod with a high-speed reel and 20-pound test Seaguar Red Label fluorocarbon.
After fishing Douglas for two days, Connell expects similar fishing on Cherokee.
“I tried out deep and didn’t catch any over there in practice,” he said. “I think it’s going to be won fishing shallow and think a jerkbait is going to be a big player.”
1st to 21st: After one day of fishing, Randy Howell was riding high with his 15-2 bag leading the group and some extra cash from the Berkley Big Bass award after landing a 5-14. Today was much different as he caught just four scoreable bass and dropped to 21st place.
Big movers: Aside from Howell’s big move in the wrong direction, several others greatly helped their cause with solid bags today. Jared Lintner and Dylan Hays only mustered four fish to open the event, but both cracked over 15 pounds and will advance to Cherokee.
An improving bite? Before today, Howell’s 15-2 on the first day of fishing was the best any angler could muster from Douglas. Today, six anglers surpassed his total. Besides Avena, Connell, Linter and Hays, Anthony Gagliardi and Keith Poche also crossed that mark. There were also several other quality totals in the teens placed on SCORETRACKER®. That bodes well for Group B, who has one more day on Douglas before the tournament shifts to nearby Cherokee Lake.
Stage Two continues on Tuesday as Group B returns to Douglas Lake. The Top 20 anglers will advance and the other 20 will be eliminated from contention. The action starts at 8:45 a.m. ET with MLFNOW! streaming live on MajorLeagueFishing.com and lines going in at 9 a.m. ET. The pros will fish for three periods until 5 p.m. ET.