JASPER, Texas – It’s hard to have a better Bass Pro Tour debut than Spencer Shuffield had on Sunday in the opening round of the Toro Stage One Presented by Power-Pole. The Arkansas pro finished his first-ever day of Bass Pro Tour competition on top of SCORETRACKER® with nine bass for 29 pounds, 12 ounces, and in a solid position to qualify for the first Knockout Round on Tuesday.
“I just didn’t want to come here and bomb,” Shuffield admitted after his day on Sam Rayburn. “This lake can be a lot like Florida lakes and the fish can be finnicky. I just didn’t want to come down here and struggle.”
Shuffield is fishing the opening event of the 2021 Bass Pro Tour season by way of his Angler of the Year finish in the 2020 Pro Circuit season. Shuffield finished second in the AOY standings, earning him a berth in the field for Stage One among some of the best professional anglers in the world.
Shuffield lived up to his billing on his first day of Bass Pro Tour competition. He started his morning catching largemouth the same way he did during his two practice days—with Hardcore 110 and Yo-Zuri Deep 110 jerkbaits. He caught three fish for 6-11 in Period 1, but was concerned about not catching enough fish to keep pace with some of the more experienced MLF-format anglers.
Needing more bites, Shuffield switched from jerkbaits to a drop-shot. It was a big risk, but it paid off in a big way.
“I was going down a stretch and saw this big one suspended in about 25 feet of water,” Shuffield recalled. “It’s hard to catch largemouth with a drop-shot when they’re suspended. But, when they’re wanting to bite it, you can catch a bunch of ‘em. I caught a 4-13 and then 20 yards later caught a 2-7. That’s when I knew I had ‘em figured out.”
Shuffield ended up catching six bass for 23-1, including two 5-pounders which allowed him to end his day with a 1-ounce lead over REDCREST Champion Dustin Connell. Shuffield used a 7-2, medium Phenix M1 rod for his drop-shot, which is the same rod he’s used for most of his drop-shot fishing over the last year. Since his third-place finish on Lake Martin in 2019, he’s caught hundreds of fish on the rod and worn part of the cork entirely off the reel seat.
Shuffield said he learned a lot about the stage of the fish at Sam Rayburn on Sunday, and that should greatly benefit him for the upcoming days of competition. He believes he has a firm grasp on how he’s going to catch them, now his main dilemma is just how many he wants to catch.
A win in Tuesday’s Qualifying Day 2 would give Shuffield an automatic berth into the Championship Round on Friday. While that may sound enticing to others, Shuffield isn’t so sure that a couple of days away from the waters of Sam Rayburn is what’s best for him.
“It’s kind of a toss-up for me because I don’t know what to do on Tuesday,” Shuffield contemplated. “Do I try to win my Group and go straight to the Championship Round or do I use my second day as another day of practice? I could really use an extra practice day, but I also don’t want to take any chances and miss out on a Championship Round berth. I really need to think about it, but I’m happy to be where I’m at. I’m going to go out there with a game plan on Tuesday and we’ll just see where it goes from there.”
The 40 anglers in Group B will take their first shots at Sam Rayburn Monday as qualifying competition continues. Nineteen anglers apiece will advance out of Group A and Group B to fish the Knockout Round on Thursday. The top angler from each Qualifying Day advances straight to the Championship Round.
The Berkley Big Bass of the day was Dustin Connell’s 9-pound, 5-ounce largemouth.
You can catch all three periods of competition on the MLF NOW! live stream, starting at 7:45 a.m. CT on Monday. Watch for free on MajorLeagueFishing.com, the MLF app on the MyOutdoorTV app.