JASPER, Texas – It came down to the final 30 minutes of the day for the anglers fishing Qualifying Group B on Wednesday at the Toro Stage One Presented by Power-Pole in the race for first place and the final spot inside the Top 20. While Gerald Spohrer, Shin Fukae and Randall Tharp battled for the top spot on SCORETRACKER® and the right to join Ott DeFoe in the Championship Round, multiple anglers were fighting to earn a berth in the Knockout Round. In the end, Spohrer was able to hold off Tharp and Fukae while Jeff Kriet caught a last-minute bass to secure his spot in the Top 20.
Gerald Spohrer began his day in second place and was in a good position to make a run at the top spot. He was consistent all day long and never went without a scorable bass for more than an hour and a half. While he maintained a comfortable pace, other anglers like Fukae and Tharp challenged Spohrer’s leading position as the day began to wind down.
“I knew those dudes were coming at me like a storm,” Spohrer said. “Because of that, I ran to some cypress trees that I knew I was going to be able to catch them on. I caught a 2-8 on a swim jig with about 30 minutes left and that sealed the deal for me.”
Spohrer edged out Tharp by 2-1 to secure his round win and punch his ticket to the Championship Round. The SWAT pro has spent a majority of his time on the northern end of Sam Rayburn in an area that he’s had all to himself in Group B. Now, with a day off and extra time for his fish to replenish, the Louisiana pro is feeling confident heading straight to the Championship Round.
“That means so much because all of the pressure is off of me now,” Spohrer said. “I’ve already secured a good Heavy Hitters fish with that 7-pounder I caught on Day 1 and I have a guaranteed Top-10 finish to start the year. All that’s left to do now is to go and try to win the tournament on Friday and beat nine other guys.”
While Spohrer was celebrating, Tharp was left thinking about what could have been. This is the second time that Tharp has come close to winning his group in the Qualifying Rounds—the first time being back at Stage One in 2020 on Lake Eufaula before eventually falling short to Jacob Wheeler. He began the day in 10th place with 16-3, so he felt pretty comfortable with his standing after a fast start this morning.
“I caught enough fish in the first period to really feel like I was moving on to the next round,” Tharp said after catching four bass for 12-11 in Period 1. “The rest of the day was just about trying to figure stuff out for tomorrow. I was using a frog, caught some good fish and gained some momentum.”
After going almost two-and-a-half hours without a scorable bass, Tharp brought in a 2-4 to get him back on the board. He followed that up with a 3-0, 3-14 and a 4-11 with less than 30 minutes remaining in the round. He only needed one more scorable bass to eclipse his friend, Spohrer, but he was unable to do so. Still, the “Honey Badger” admits that even though he didn’t get a straight shot to the Championship Round, it’s always fun to do battle with friends.
“I hope I made Gerald sweat a little bit,” Tharp said with a chuckle after the round ended. “He’s my good buddy and so are Shin and Ehrler. Seeing us all up there near the top at the end of the day was really awesome. It’s just fun going out there and battling against guys that you consider to be good friends.”
Jeff Kriet finished 74th in the Angler of the Year race in 2020 and 57th in 2019, so you can imagine that the Oklahoma pro came into the 2021 season with something to prove to not only himself, but the rest of the tour. Kriet can breathe a sigh of relief after his first dance with the Toro Cut Line this season, as he weighed in a 2-5 in the final minute of the day to secure his spot in the Knockout Round.
“It’s been a stressful day,” an emotional Kriet said. “I’m losing a lot of fish but I feel like I’m making the right decisions. I’m super thankful just to be moving on because I needed this.”
After lines were out, Kriet explained why a guaranteed Top-40 finish and a payday are pivotal to him at this stage of his career.
“You don’t know how bad I needed this cut because I’ve been sucking,” Kriet admitted. “I’ve missed a lot of cuts and I just haven’t been catching fish when I need to. That’s why today was so important. I know I didn’t win the tournament today or anything like that, but to make a cut and catch fish when I needed to really means a lot to me.”
The weights reset back to zero as the 38 advancing anglers take on Sam Rayburn on Thursday for the Knockout Round. Only the top eight pros after three periods of fishing will advance and move on to meet DeFoe and Spohrer in the Championship Round. Rain is expected in the morning with skies clearing up in the afternoon. Temperatures are expected to reach the low 70s.
Watch all three periods of the Knockout Round during the MLF NOW! live stream beginning at 7:45 a.m CST on Thursday. Watch for FREE on MajorLeagueFishing.com, the MLF app, or the MyOutdoorTV app.