JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. – A stingy Douglas Lake was the site for the first day of the U.S. Air Force Stage Two Presented by Power-Pole, and nothing came easy for the 40 pros fishing in Group A. With a cold front moving through the Smokey Mountains and temperatures dropping rapidly over the past few days, Douglas’ largemouth and smallmouth were locked in a funk on Saturday that kept even the Top 10 guessing from lines in to lines out.
Alabama pro Randy Howell finished Day 1 with the lead, but he’s really just focused on making it to the Knockout Round on Lake Cherokee and surviving Douglas. Howell caught a limit worth 15 pounds, 2 ounces on Saturday to give him a slight lead over Adrian Avena (14-11) and Justin Lucas (14-5), and a more comfortable 4-9 cushion over the Toro Cut Line.
It was a slow start for Howell. One period into the competition day showed a zero next to his name on SCORETRACKER® as the weather shut down the bite in the best spots he had located in practice. But, Howell kept moving in the second period, eventually picking up fish as he identified and began to develop what he considers a good pattern for the conditions.
“I’m just running a bunch of points, but they have to be the right kind of points,” Howell said. “It needs to have some wind blowing on it and some baitfish — I have about four or five of those areas. Of course, a big fish helps on days like today too.”
That big fish was a 5-14 largemouth that Howell caught for his second fish of the day on a Livingston Lures Howeller DMC Jr. in Guntersville craw color. That was the Berkley Big Bass of the day by more than a pound and has Howell sitting in first place by 7 ounces over Avena. After catching that monster on his crankbait, the Alabama pro was able to settle down and into his pattern while trusting he had the right bait in his hands — for now.
“There are already a lot more fish a little bit deeper and suspended than they were in practice,” Howell said. “I didn’t throw a jerkbait a lot today because my crankbait pattern was so strong, but I wouldn’t be surprised if jerkbaits begin to play more as the week goes on.”
As he heads into his day off on Sunday and prepares for more cold temperatures in the next 48 hours, Howell has reconsidered what he believes it will take to clinch a spot in the Knockout Round on Cherokee Lake.
“I was thinking coming into today that without a big bite, you could catch 12 pounds a day,” Howell said. “I figured about 12 pounds a day would make the cut. Now I think it’s more like 10 pounds a day, seeing how tough it is.”
With the shad dying off, the cold temperatures and low water levels, it was the perfect storm of difficulty for the 40 pros on Saturday. Here’s what just a few anglers had to say after experiencing their first day on Douglas:
Stage Two continues on Sunday with Group B’s first day on Douglas Lake. The 40 pros in Group B will get their first crack at it and will brave the elements just as Group A did on Saturday. Overnight lows will dip into the 20s and daytime highs will struggle to get above 40. It all gets started at 8:45 a.m. ET with MLFNOW! streaming live on MajorLeagueFishing.com with lines going in at 9 a.m. ET. The pros will fish for three periods until 5 p.m. ET and will have their weights carry over to their second day of fishing on Tuesday.