Lee frogs way to Knockout Round win, Thrift snags $30K big bass bonus - Major League Fishing

Lee frogs way to Knockout Round win, Thrift snags $30K big bass bonus

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Jordan Lee won the Knockout Round with 16 bass weighing 49 pounds, 14 ounces. Photo by Tyler Brinks. Angler: Jordan Lee.
May 22, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Bass Pro Tour

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The two anglers who dominated their respective groups during the Qualifying Round at General Tire Heavy Hitters Presented by Bass Pro Shops picked up right where they left off during Wednesday’s Knockout Round. 

Jordan Lee led the way with 49 pounds, 14 ounces. Trading the top spot with him throughout the day was Brandon Coulter, who wound up right behind him with 42-1. Brent Ehrler, the only angler to find a consistent bite during a grueling third period, finished third with 40-2, while Bryan Thrift’s 7-11 won him $30,000 as the Berkley Big Bass.

While it’s not often that the same bite in the same areas holds up throughout an entire Bass Pro Tour event, it sure looks like Thursday’s Championship Round is shaping up to be a slugfest between Coulter and Lee, both of whom have done their damage in matted hydrilla in Lake Toho with Berkley Swamp Lord frogs. The two anglers have been the most dialed in since competition began on the Kissimmee Chain, and both secured their spots in the Top 10 during the first period Wednesday before laying off their best water.

There will be no holding back during the Championship Round, when not only will $100,000 and the title belt be on the line for the tournament winner, but another $100,000 will be up for grabs for the angler who catches the biggest bass. Watch the action from 7:45 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. ET on the MLFNOW! live stream at MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV app.

Complete results can be found here.

Lee makes the right adjustments

Jordan Lee has been on a winning streak, topping the field on both days of qualifying in addition to the Knockout Round. Photo by Tyler Brinks

No surprise, Lee started the Knockout Round in the area that produced the bulk of his 63-4 total from his first day of qualifying – still the best day any angler has put together all week. However, he found “the grass had changed, so the fishing kind of changed with it.”

That forced Lee to adjust his location a bit. He didn’t land his first scorable bass until almost an hour after lines in. But once he relocated a school, the beatdown was on. 

During a two-hour window that included a 15-minute period break, Lee stacked 12 scorable bass totaling 33-4 onto SCORETRACKER®, more than enough to cement his place among the Top 10. 

“It was awesome,” he said. “I didn’t really know how many fish I could catch after a couple days of fishing, but I think it went really good.”

The key for Lee was covering water quickly to find sweet spots within the vast expanse of hydrilla. He explained that most of the bass seem to be congregated within small zones, the locations of which have changed a bit during the event due to grass growth and fishing pressure.

“It’s not a lot of big, giant mats with just fish everywhere,” he said. “It’s more like you find them, and they’re schooled up in one spot, and that’s where I’m catching them.”

Around 11 a.m., realizing his spot in the Championship Round was secure, Lee eased off the gas and shifted his focus to finding new hotspots and trying to catch the biggest bass of the day. He said he succeeded in the former and nearly in the latter, boating a 7-3 lunker midway through the third period.

Lee also saved a few areas that he’s discovered during the event for the Championship Round. His plan is to run from spot to spot until he finds one with a population that he thinks can earn him a second Heavy Hitters belt and a third BPT win on the Kissimmee Chain. 

“I bounced around a lot,” he said, “and that’s what I’m going to do tomorrow is bounce around and try to find the area that’s most productive.”

One variable Lee and the rest of the Championship Round field will have to contend with is a boosted variable minimum weight. In a wrinkle unique to Heavy Hitters, bass will have to weigh at least 3 pounds to count toward anglers’ totals. As a result, Lee thinks the winning strategy will center less around finding numbers of fish and more on generating a handful of the right bites. Landing those bigger bites – far from a given when fishing a frog among thick mats – will also be pivotal.

“I still think you’re going to have to catch six or seven, at least – maybe a few more – to get the win, and some big ones, some of those 6- and 7-pounders,” Lee said. “You’ve always got to have your best day on the last day to win.” 

Coulter primed for Championship Round

Brandon Coulter’s feeling confident heading into the Championship Round. Photo by Tyler Brinks

Coulter’s goal for the Knockout Round was to total 30 pounds. He hit that mark before the end of the first period, when he boated eight scorable bass for 30-8. After adding a few more for good measure early in the second period, he spent most of the afternoon patrolling his prime water, keeping other competitors from encroaching.

“To go out and catch 30 pounds in the first period, man, that just takes so much stress off,” he said. “It’s just absolutely awesome.”

Like Lee, Coulter is firmly committed to plying matted vegetation with a Swamp Lord. The increased minimum weight Thursday won’t change that. In fact, Coulter thinks it could help him. For what it’s worth, had the 3-pound minimum been in effect during the Knockout Round, Coulter would have totaled 27-13 compared to 27-12 for Ehrler and 26-1 for Lee.

An 18-year veteran of national tours, Coulter understands how rare it is to find the type of bite he and Lee are on this week. He’s excited to finally “jerk on every one of them” and see how much weight he can rack up in his primary spot.

“It’s not often you feel like going into the final day that everything is available to you, and I really feel like … the win is available to me, I feel like the big fish is available to me,” he said. “I’m fishing a way to catch big ones; I’m fishing a way to put up a big number, 60 pounds or something. So, it just feels good going into the finals.”

Big bite saves the day for Thrift

Bryan Thrift scored $30,000 during the Knockout Round for catching the biggest bass of the day, a 7-11 in Period 1. Photo by Tyler Brinks

By almost any measure, Wednesday was a grind for Thrift. He caught just four scorable bass all day, none in the final three and a half hours of competition. 

Yet he’s walking away from it $30,000 richer and with a spot in the Championship Round, where he’ll have a chance to add significantly to that total.

“It was a long, frustrating day,” Thrift said. “I didn’t get many bites, but one of the ones I did get, fortunately it was the right one.”

The 7-11 brute that earned him big-bass honors was Thrift’s first fish of the day. It ate a swim jig around scattered hydrilla – the only scorable bass he caught on the bait. One of three 7-pounders to hit the scales on the day, it stole the big-bass mark from Kevin VanDam, who had caught a 7-7 minutes earlier.

It marks the second year in a row that Thrift has cashed in on the big-bass awards offered during Heavy Hitters. Last year, he caught the biggest fish of the Championship Round, a 9-6 giant that earned him $100,000.