LEESBURG, Fla. – Brett Hite could have taken the day off from fishing on Sunday and still would have won Group A’s second qualifying day during the Favorite Fishing Stage Three Presented by Bass Cat Boats. Hite entered the day with 83 pounds, 5 ounces and held a more than 40-pound lead over second-place pro Brent Chapman. While Hite cruised to an easy victory, it was a crowded mess around the Toro Cut Line, with Mark Daniels Jr. edging out Randy Howell for the final spot in the top 20 with just minutes to spare.
While the wind wasn’t blowing quite as hard as it was on Friday, Hite continued to show that his Z-Man ChatterBait Jack Hammer‘s could catch the fish he needed. Hite followed the same pattern that he did on his first day, focusing on holes in eelgrass with those same ChatterBaits. It’s hard to repeat the near-record-breaking day that the Arizona pro had on Friday, but Hite feels confident in his pattern, area, baits and the number of fish he’s found over his first two competition days.
“Hard work pays off every once in a while,” Hite said after his Qualifying Round win. “I think the fish were in shock today because the wind wasn’t blowing as hard as it has been the past week. Those two ChatterBaits and a swim jig were the keys again today. My shoulder needs a couple of days off after about 1,000 casts per day. I’m looking forward to having a shot at winning this thing come Wednesday.”
Hite now advances straight to the Championship Round and has a one-in-10 shot at walking away with a $100,000 prize.
Mark Daniels Jr. began his day in a pretty comfortable position on SCORETRACKER®, sitting in 10th place and nearly 14 pounds above the Toro Cut Line. But a slow morning paired with a painfully non-productive afternoon spelled trouble for Daniels in the third period. He fell out of the top 20 and was on the outside looking in with time winding down.
Daniels thought the dying wind called for a change in strategy, from winding a Z-Man ChatterBait to flipping a grass line. As he continued to struggle through the early afternoon, Daniels decided to return to his original plan, working a ChatterBait. That move proved to be the difference-maker for Daniels, as he caught his final fish of the day on a ChatterBait with only six minutes remaining. He only needed a scorable bass to pass Howell and grab the final spot, and his MLF official gave him the good news with a 1-8.
“I don’t have any gray hairs, but I might now after today,” Daniels said after a stressful final period. “That’s the hardest I have ever fished in my entire life, probably. I thought I was only going to need a couple of fish to move on and I only caught four fish all day. The guys smashed them today and that left me scrambling. Such a stressful and such a hard day, I’m just happy to be on the right side of it this time.”
Daniels beat out Howell by just 5 ounces and 22nd-place angler Jeff Kriet by 1-8 to claim the last spot in the top 20 and move on to his 15th Knockout Round. After finding out that he was knocked out of the top 20 by Mark Daniels Jr. in the final minutes, Howell was obviously disappointed in the outcome.
“They say it’s the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat and I’m feeling the agony right now,” Howell said. “I had a good comeback after struggling on the first day I just couldn’t catch enough fish. I’m going to go back to Alabama, lick my wounds and come back angry at those fish on Lake Chickamauga for Stage Four.”
The Favorite Fishing Stage Three Presented by Bass Cat Boats continues on Monday with Qualifying Day 2 – Group B. The 40 anglers in Group B return to the Harris Chain with their weight they caught on their first day of competition. Only the top 20 anglers on SCORETRACKER® at the end of the day will advance in Stage Three competition. Leader Bobby Lane will begin the round with a 24-pound cushion over David Walker while Andy Morgan is the man right above the Toro Cut Line with 15-6 to his credit. Coverage begins with the MLF NOW! live stream on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MLF app beginning at 6:45 a.m. ET. Lines go in at 7 a.m. ET.