SPRING CITY, Tenn. – It was the second day in a row with a weather delay to start the morning — an hour and 15 minutes to be exact — but it didn’t seem to affect the bite during the Knockout Round of the General Tire Stage Five Presented by Covercraft on Watts Bar Lake. Mark Davis took the top spot on SCORETRACKER® after catching 10 bass for 25 pounds, 12 ounces during his consistent afternoon.
Jacob Wheeler is heading to his ninth straight Championship Round after finishing in fourth with 23-9, but more on him later. There were also dramatic third-period runs by both Ryan Salzman and Alton Jones to get themselves above the Toro Cut Line. Here are the eight anglers that will be joining David Walker and Kevin VanDam in the Championship Round:
You’d be hard pressed to find a more relaxed angler on the Bass Pro Tour than Bass Fishing Hall-of-Famer Mark Davis. Maybe it’s his stoic demeanor or the easygoing perch on the butt seat on the front of his boat. Whatever it is, it work for Davis, and has worked for three decades now. He’s onto another Championship Round with a strategy that may hold up come Thursday.
“I was hoping that with the cloud cover and the rain we’ve had that I would be able to come into this creek and slow down a bit,” Davis said. “This is the prettiest creek on the lake in my eyes, and I know it’s probably been fished to death over these first five days. It took a drop-shot and being a little more finesse-minded to get these fish today.”
Davis sits in 54th place in the Bally Bet Angler of the Year standings, and he admits that this season hasn’t gone quite the way that he’s wanted it to. But a Top-10 finish on Watts Bar and some solid 5-pounders he caught this week have Davis feeling confident about qualifying for REDCREST and Heavy Hitters in 2023.
“Things are starting to line up and fall into place for me, and that’s what has to happen to be successful sometimes,” Davis said. “I was really letting it slip away from me this year, but I finally feel like I’m back on track again.”
When the third period started, Jones and Salzman looked as though they would be heading back to the ramp, packing up their rods and making an early trip home. Instead, they’ll both spend tonight re-tying and thinking about how they’re going to recreate what they did on Wednesday afternoon.
Salzman was slow going for much of the day, with only five bass for 8-0 over the first two periods. Then, the Alabama pro made a move to the dam. He was able to add eight scorable bass for 15-9 over the final period to rocket up SCORETRACKER® and into the top eight. The HARDCORE pro will be fishing in the Championship Round for the first time in his rookie season on the Bass Pro Tour.
Jones spent his day fishing offshore brush with a soft plastic bait that he’s not ready to specify just yet. Jones only had three bass for 6-13 through two periods. It was in the third period where the Texas pro decided that it was time to not change up his bait, but his presentation.
“I’ve been fishing the same stuff I have been all week, I just finally figured out how to get a bite,” Jones said. “I have the right bait picked out, I just wasn’t working it right earlier in the day. I’m working my bait in a pretty unusual way, so I’m hoping this pattern will hold through tomorrow. I’m looking forward to getting back out there.”
Jones finished the third period in a flurry with five bass for 11-3 to squeak above the Toro Cut Line in eighth place. Thursday will be Jones’ third appearance in a Championship Round this season with his best finish coming at Stage One where he finished second to Bradley Roy.
It was double the fun for Wheeler and double the trouble for anyone chasing him in the AOY standings. Wheeler is onto the Championship Round again, where he’s at least guaranteed 71 additional points to his total. Kevin VanDam and Randall Tharp are the only other anglers inside the Top 10 in the AOY standings to make it to the Championship Round at Stage Five.
Second-place Jordan Lee and third-place Andy Morgan were unable to make the cut and will miss out on joining Wheeler in the Championship Round. Lee will settle for a 23rd-place finish, giving him 58 points for Stage Five and pushing his total to 341 points. Morgan grabbed 19th place, earning him 62 points and totaling 317 points for the 2022 season with two events left.
It’s down to the final 10 anglers on Watts Bar Lake and only one will walk away with the $100,000 and the Stage Five trophy. Walker and Kevin VanDam await the eight advancing pros from the Knockout Round as weights will once again be reset to zero. The angler with the most weight on SCORETRACKER® at the end of three periods of fishing will be named the Stage Five champion. Fishing kicks off at 8 a.m. EST on Thursday. Live coverage starts at 7:45 a.m. EST on the MLF NOW! live stream. Watch for free on MajorLeagueFishing.com, the MLF app, or the MyOutdoorTV app.
The 2022 Bally Bet Angler of the Year will take home a $100,000 prize at the end of the 2022 Bass Pro Tour season. Jacob Wheeler leads the race entering this event with 300 points, followed by Jordan Lee with 283 points and Andy Morgan with 255 points. Only Wheeler will be fishing in the Championship Round with a massive chance to increase his lead in the standings.