Robinson keeps lead on gusty Dale Hollow - Major League Fishing
Robinson keeps lead on gusty Dale Hollow
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Robinson keeps lead on gusty Dale Hollow

Image for Robinson keeps lead on gusty Dale Hollow
Marshall Robinson finished atop SCORETRACKER® with a two-day total of 37 bass weighing 115-11. Photo by Garrick Dixon. Angler: Marshall Robinson.
April 12, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Bass Pro Tour

BYRDSTOWN, Tenn. — Maintaining his spot atop SCORETRACKER® wasn’t Marshall Robinson’s primary focus during a windy, cold second day of qualifying for Group B at PowerStop Brakes Stage Three Presented by Mercury. But the 20-year-old still managed to catch enough Dale Hollow Lake bass while exploring new water Friday that he stayed ahead of Alton Jones Jr.Dustin Connell and the rest of his pursuers. Robinson boated eight scorable bass that combined to weigh 23 pounds, 3 ounces, bringing his two-day total to 115-11.

While Jones and Connell both finished within 3-2 of Robinson’s total, the primary drama didn’t come from the top of the leaderboard but the cut line. Seven anglers finished within 10 pounds of 10th place, all of them holding a spot within the Top 10 at some point during Friday’s action. Ultimately, it was Alton Jones who claimed the final spot with a two-day total of 71-15.

Jones will join his son and the rest of the Top 10 in Saturday’s Knockout Round. Weights will zero overnight, then those anglers will face off with the Top 10 finishers from Group A with 10 bids to the Championship Round on the line. You can watch all the action Saturday and Sunday on MLFNOW!, which will start at 7:45 a.m. CT and streams through 4:30 p.m. each day on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

Complete results can be found here.

Robinson expands spawning smallmouth pattern

Robinson spent most of Friday scouting Dale Hollow for tomorrow’s Knockout Round. Photo by Garrick Dixon

A cold north wind howled across Dale Hollow throughout the competition day, increasing until it culminated in a storm that dumped rain and even some hail. Given those conditions, which made it difficult for anglers fishing away from the bank to position their boats and present baits accurately, Robinson was grateful for his 90-plus-pound effort on Wednesday, still the best day of anyone in the field so far. As a result, he didn’t have to catch a scorable bass Friday to qualify for the Knockout Round.

“I told my boat official and my camera guy — we were looking around, there’s like 4-footers crashing around us — and I’m like, ‘Man, it’s a good day to not have to catch them,’” Robinson said. “I definitely enjoyed that. That was super relaxing.”

Robinson didn’t visit any of the areas he’d explored during practice or the first day of competition, instead searching for new spots that fit the pattern he’s discovered. Targeting mostly smallmouth, which accounted for seven of his eight scorable bass Friday, he’s hitting areas that contain gravel, shelf rock and deep-water access in close proximity.

“If you can find that mix on a bank that has good, deep water close by, it’s like a light switch,” he said.

While he’s using forward-facing sonar to locate fish, Robinson said they’re not chasing shad. He believes the smallmouth have mostly been spawners. He’s used a few different finesse techniques to catch them, primarily leaning on a 3-inch Yamamoto Scope Shad in either Tennessee shad or sexy shad on a homemade, 1/4-ounce ball head.

“I think they’re on beds, but I’m making them come up and eat,” Robinson said. “I’ll see a lot of them on bottom, and I’ll throw over top of them, they come flying up and eat it out of anger.”

Robinson thinks the bite will improve as Saturday brings more mild weather. But in his case, his lower weight Friday had more to do with his approach than the conditions. Every time he caught a fish, Robinson said, he saw others with it, but he purposely avoided catching more than one from any group, hoping to save them for the Knockout and Championship Rounds.

“When I would catch one, a lot of times there’d be more, eight or 10 more, and I wouldn’t throw back in there,” he said. “So, I feel good that I found some new stuff.”

Looking to make his first Championship Round appearance in just his third Bass Pro Tour event, Robinson already has a goal in mind for the Knockout Round – 55 to 60 pounds. If he can hit that mark, he thinks he’ll be comfortably clear of the cut line, and he might even give himself more time to practice for a shot at his first professional win.

“I feel good about tomorrow,” Robinson said. “I feel like I need to catch 55 or 60 pounds. … So, I’m going to go out there and try and hit that mark, and if I reach it earlier than expected, I may do some more practicing, try to find some new stuff then.”

A crowded race to clear the cut

While Mother Nature prevented the cut weight from climbing as high as many might have expected given that 11 anglers topped 40 pounds during Group B’s first day on the water, Friday’s brawl to finish among the Top 10 proved to be especially crowded. Eleven anglers wound up finishing within 13-2 of one another, ranging from Shin Fukae in seventh place to Keith Carson in 17th.

Carson started the day in 10th place, but a slow morning caused him to tumble out of the Top 10. Wesley StraderLuke ClausenDean Rojas and Dave Lefebre all hovered around the cut line for most of the day but wound up just short. Mark Davis and Nick LeBrun both made spirited comebacks to put themselves in contention. Davis started the day in 18th place and stacked more than 36 pounds on SCORETRACKER® using a Carolina rig but ultimately finished 8 pounds shy. LeBrun started all the way back in 32nd and climbed as high as 10th with the biggest total of anyone in the field (53-10), but he found himself one spot out of the Top 10 at lines out.

Anthony Gagliardi and Grae Buck, meanwhile, pulled off successful rallies. Starting the day in 14th, Gagliardi started slow with just one scorable bass in the first 3 1/2 hours before catching fire and climbing to ninth. Buck totaled 41-3 to vault from 16th to eighth and make his first Bass Pro Tour Knockout Round.

Jones and Fukae did just enough to keep their spots among the Top 10 after strong Day 1 performances. Jones, in particular, came through in the clutch, catching a pair of scorable bass in the final 30 minutes to cement his spot in the Knockout Round. Fukae caught the day’s Berkley Big Bass, a 5-1 smallmouth.

Fishing Clash Angler of the Year

The anglers taking the water this weekend won’t just be competing for the Stage Three trophy and accompanying $100,000 paycheck but key points in the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year race. The top contenders from Group B — Jacob Wheeler, Connell and Jones Jr. — all made the cut. They entered the event first, fourth and fifth in the standings and will tussle with second place Jesse Wiggins for the top few spots in the standings.

Fishing Clash, an interactive 3D fishing simulation game that’s played by more than 80 million people worldwide, is the official AOY sponsor of the Bass Pro Tour, Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, Toyota Series and Phoenix Bass Fishing League. You can download Fishing Clash for free in the App Store and on Google Play, or log on to www.fishingclash.game for more information.