Big bites power Hays to Knockout Round win - Major League Fishing

Big bites power Hays to Knockout Round win

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Dylan Hays won the Knockout Round with 22 bass weighing 53 pounds, 13 ounces. Photo by Garrick Dixon. Angler: Dylan Hays.
June 29, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Bass Pro Tour

RICHMOND, Va. — The James River has produced bass in bunches during General Tire Stage Six Presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts, with anglers routinely catching 20-plus fish in a day. While the rate at which bass hit the scales flagged a bit during Saturday’s Knockout Round, Dylan Hays made up for it with some serious quality on his way to topping SCORETRACKER®.

Hays totaled 53-13 on 22 scorable bass, which put him 3-6 ahead of Andy Montgomery. Four of the Arkansas pro’s fish weighed at least 4 pounds, including the Berkley Big Bass — a 5-12 that earned him an extra $1,000. His five biggest catches combined to weigh nearly 22 pounds.

Hays’ total marked the third-best day for any angler during Stage Six, and he said it could have been even better, noting that he lost another big one that likely would have topped 5 pounds at the boat. Still, after weights zero overnight, he predicted the Championship Round will be “anyone’s game.”

Watch all the action on the MLFNOW! live stream at and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday as the Top 10 anglers duke it out for the trophy and $100,000 first-place prize.

Full results can be found here.

Hays hits on both tides

Hays is focused on working with both high and low tide situations. Photo by Garrick Dixon

The tidal nature of the James has made for some pronounced bite windows this week. While that remained the case for Hays Saturday, with most of his weight coming during three distinct flurries, he didn’t only capitalize on low tide, when the bite has been best.

Even though high tide had just passed, Hays started the morning strong, boating five scorable bass in the first hour. He wound up totaling 13-1 during the first period. That marked a welcome change after he struggled during each of his first two mornings on the water. Hays knows finding a way to add to his total outside of the low-tide bite will be pivotal to his chances of earning his first Bass Pro Tour win.

“The biggest factor for me is trying to not have big slow periods on high tide,” he said. “That’s been so hard all week long, in practice and everything. I feel like I could have had a lot more weight today if I wanted to, but a big key to that was I caught like 13 pounds in the first couple hours.”

While his pair of 50-pound days might not suggest it, Hays said the James has tested his patience. Forcing himself not to run back to his low-tide juice when the tide is high and the bite is tough has been important. He’ll need to maintain that discipline Sunday, with low tide not forecast to arrive at the mouth of the Chickahominy River until around 3 p.m.

“One big key is not getting in a hurry and fishing the tide when it’s wrong, not fishing a good spot when the tide’s not right,” he said. “Because I haven’t caught a big one on a high-tide situation yet. Zero all week.”

Once low tide arrived, Hays took advantage. In a span of a little more than 30 minutes during the second period, he caught six fish for 15-12. That included a pair of 4-pounders one minute apart.

Running a pattern on a roughly 10-mile stretch of the Chickahominy Rover, Hays would continue to pick up a scorable bass here and there throughout the afternoon. With about 1 hour, 20 minutes left in the competition day, he knew his spot in the Championship Round field had been secured, so he decided to check on a spot he hadn’t visited since practice. There, he surprised himself by catching the aforementioned 5-12. He then ran to a brand new spot and promptly caught a 4-14. He’s hopeful those spots can produce for him again during the Championship Round. 

“I was like, you know what, I need to go just check some stuff, and I pulled up there and I caught the 5-12 like third cast,” Hays said. “I’m like, dang, I need to get off this. So, I was like, how about those over there? So, went over there, and something just looked good. Just trying to fish free — that’s something I’ve done a lot this week. And like third cast, catch another almost-5-pounder.”

Of the 14 bass of 4-plus pounds caught by the 20-angler Knockout Round field, Hays accounted for four of them. He admitted he’s not sure what, exactly, was the key to generating such big bites, but he attributed some credit to his bait choice. All of Hays’ fish ate a white 1/2-ounce bladed jig from Brazalo Custom Lures with a Zoom Z-Craw as the trailer. He tossed it on a 7-foot-3 Kistler Helium rod with a 7.3:1 Kistler Chromium reel spooled with 15-pound TUF-LINE fluorocarbon.

Between the fluctuating tide and fishing pressure, the bite has been different each day on the James. Add in the fact that just about every angler in the Top 10 has already experienced at least one day in which he’s topped 45 pounds, and Hays knows the competition will be wide open. Predicting it will take upwards of 60 pounds to win, he’s optimistic about his chances of lifting his first trophy on a national tour.

“Man, it’s anybody’s game,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys that have caught a lot of weight this week. We’ll see what’s going on tomorrow, but I’m pumped to be able to go back.”

Montgomery rides momentum into Championship Round

After narrowly making the cut to qualify for the Knockout Round, Andy Montgomery nearly topped the field on Saturday. Photo by Garrick Dixon

Montgomery was two minutes and 1 ounce away from driving home Thursday. Instead, the South Carolina native will fish on Championship Sunday feeling like he has a real chance to claim his first Bass Pro Tour victory.

Montgomery, who caught a 1-11 less than two minutes before lines out during Group A’s second day of qualifying to move into a tie for 10th place then beat out Jared Lintner on a tiebreaker, carried the momentum from that late charge into Saturday’s Knockout Round. He spent much of the day atop the leaderboard, racking up more than 42 pounds in the first two periods before using the final stanza to explore new water.

“Just an incredible day,” Montgomery said. “One of them days you dream about, you just dream that it’ll be on Championship Day. But we’ll take it today.” 

After he didn’t weigh a scorable bass for the first hour, Montgomery found his footing and made a steady climb to the top of SCORETRACKER®. During the second period, he boated 11 scorable bass for 23-10. That included a flurry that saw him catch four fish off the same duck blind and vault into the lead. 

During the last hour or so, Montgomery made an effort to shake off fish that bit his Strike King Thunder Cricket in preparation for his first Championship Round of the year. Most of his bass came on the bladed jig, while the rest ate a Strike King Rage Bug.

“It was a really easy day, never really was in jeopardy of not making it,” he said. “Tomorrow will not be easy. It’ll be a horse race all the way to the end. But we got a chance, man. We got a legit chance to make a run at winning this thing, and I couldn’t be more excited.” 

Fishing Clash Angler of the Year

For just the second time in 2024, we will have a Championship Round without Jacob Wheeler or Alton Jones Jr. on the water. Wheeler, the leader in the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year race, finished 11th in the Knockout Round, with Jones five places behind him.

Falling short of the cut line will undoubtedly sting for Wheeler after he blitzed through the Qualifying Round, winning Group A by more than 20 pounds. Still, he managed to pad his advantage in his quest for a third AOY crown in four years. 

Wheeler will head to the St. Lawrence River with a 19-point advantage over Jones and 35 points ahead of Dustin Connell in third place. Given his dominance on northern smallmouth waters during his BPT career, which includes a win on the St. Lawrence in 2021, Wheeler has to feel good about his chances. As long as he makes the Knockout Round, which he’s done in every regular-season event this year, he will claim the $100,000 prize.

Fishing Clash, an interactive 3D fishing simulation game played by over 80 million people worldwide, is the official AOY sponsor of the Bass Pro Tour, Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, Toyota Series and Phoenix Bass Fishing League. You can download Fishing Clash for free in the App Store and on Google Play or log on to for more information.