JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. – Bitter cold temperatures at U.S. Air Force Stage Two Presented by Power-Pole on Douglas Lake greeted the field on Day 2, and although fishing was generally tough, the weights were stacked tightly together and almost everyone has a legitimate shot at advancing.
Texas pro Todd Faircloth leads the pack with a limit weighing 14 pounds, 7 ounces, just 3 ounces ahead of rookies Josh Butler and Mitch Crane.
Like Group A leader Randy Howell, Faircloth rode a big bite to the top. His 5-0 was the second-biggest bass on the day and helped anchor his total weight. His top catch has him 5-2 over Tennessee pro Ott DeFoe in 20th on the Toro Cut Line.
The extended three-day practice period was a challenge for many anglers in the field, including Faircloth, who said he did much better than anticipated to kick off his event.
“It ended up being a really good day out there,” Faircloth said. “Practice wasn’t very good, but I felt it was decent compared to what I heard from some other guys. But I definitely didn’t think I’d be leading today; it exceeded all of my expectations.”
The 22-degree temperatures to start the morning were just part of the story as light snow flurries began to fall late in the first period. Faircloth believes the conditions helped his bite as the sunny skies helped push the air temperatures above freezing later in the day.
“For some reason, bass always seem to bite when it’s snowing,” he said. “It was cold, but the overcast conditions also seemed to trigger them. When the sun came out, it got really tough on me.”
Faircloth shared that he’s fishing a prespawn pattern and that it should only get better if the weather forecast holds.
“I’m fishing for prespawn bass and catching most everything on a Strike King jerkbait,” he said. “I’m also mixing it up a little bit with some other baits, but the fish should start biting better every day with what I’m doing if it warms up like it’s supposed to. But, that cold we had knocked the water temps down a few degrees and it will take a little bit to get them moving again.”
Looking ahead, Faircloth feels good about his chances to advance.
“The main goal is just to get to Cherokee, where everything starts over,” he said. “I have some areas I haven’t fished yet and feel like I can go and catch enough to advance when we come back out on Tuesday.”
Two of the seven Bass Pro Tour rookies find themselves with the same weight after a day of fishing on Stage Two. By catching the Berkley Big Bass (a 5-1), Alabama angler Butler is the second-place pro in Group B.
That bass was the difference-maker for Butler’s total and helped push him ahead of the pack.
“I didn’t have high expectations today,” Butler said. “Practice was tough, and I thought I might be able to get a limit of around 10 or 11 pounds. Without that big one, that’s what I would’ve had. I’m blessed to have gotten that bite because a fish like that goes a long way on this pond.”
He’s focusing on classic prespawn areas where bass are staging to spawn.
“I’m fishing a jerkbait and just trying to cover as much water as possible,” Butler said. “I’m keying on the outside of spawning pockets, fishing points and flats leading into places they’re just waiting to move up to spawn. I think this cold weather has them just staging and waiting for the water to warm up.”
Looking ahead, Butler believes a small limit will do it for him and will be enough to move to Cherokee Lake for the Knockout Round.
“I’m going to focus on catching a limit because 7 or 8 pounds should be enough for me to advance,” he said. “You can’t win it on Douglas, so I’m just trying to get myself in a position to move on. I’m really fortunate to have landed that big one today because it’s got me in good shape.”
Importance of kickers on Douglas: There’s a reason they call a big fish a kicker in a five-fish tournament – they’re difference-makers. They seem even more crucial this week.
Yesterday’s Berkley Big Bass winner, Howell, also leads his group. Butler won the prize today and is sitting in second place. Faircloth’s biggest was just an ounce shy of the award and Crane’s big bass was a 4-11. With tight weights on Douglas this week, catching a 4- or 5-pound class fish almost assures a top finish and advancement to Cherokee.
Smallmouth: Yesterday, 34 smallmouth bass were placed on SCORETRACKER® and that total increased to 50 for Group B. It may be an anomaly, or they’re starting to turn on at Douglas Lake faster than their largemouth cousins. They’re also catching some big ones, including a 4-11 caught by Mark Rose, who is currently in fourth place.
Tight weights: The difference between first through 10th in both groups is 2-3. It’s packed near the top of SCORETRACKER® and further down the list. Although it was a little trickier for Group B, DeFoe’s 9-5 has him in 20th and in Group A, that mark is Bradley Roy’s 10-9.
Stage Two continues on Monday as Group A returns to Douglas Lake. Half of the 40-angler field will advance to Cherokee Lake and the remainder 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.