BAY CITY, Mich. – Things are getting spicy at Minn Kota Stage Seven Presented by Suzuki on Saginaw Bay, with plenty of fish biting and tight weights filling up SCORETRACKER®. It’s so close that tiebreakers were needed to decide the Group B winner and the last angler to advance to the Knockout Round.
Jeff Sprague claimed the top spot in Group B after sacking up 17 pounds, 11 ounces of smallmouth to bring his two-day total to 37-4. He swapped positions with Britt Myers (previously leading Group B), who’s doing his damage with largemouth and caught the same weight over two days. Sprague won the tiebreaker based on his biggest bass, a 4-12 he caught Friday.
The 20th and final spot to advance went to Brent Chapman with 27-5, beating out Kelly Jordon thanks to Chapman’s 3-9 big bass from the first day of Group B Qualifying. Add an ultra-tight Bally Bet Angler of the Year race, and this event is shaping up to be one to remember.
Even though both groups have been led by anglers primarily targeting smallmouth, brown fish only made up around 10% of the total catch on Friday.
Sprague is all-in on the Saginaw Bay smallmouth but was forced to scrap his plan early two days ago and head inshore for largemouth due to the wind and waves. Today, he stuck with bronzebacks as long as he needed to, believing they’re the ticket to winning Stage Seven.
“Today, the wind was in our favor and allowed us to get out there for smallmouth, and I took advantage of it,” he said. “I got some key bites and landed all of them, which is something I didn’t do our first day. I fished clean today, which was the difference.”
Sprague wasn’t trying to take the lead. He abandoned his key area after catching just four and went searching for more spots after that, eventually finding another to add to his arsenal.
“I caught four good ones and felt like I was in and then went looking and caught another one to take over the lead,” he said. “The good news about my main area is that I never saw another competitor fishing there. Guys from the other group may also be fishing it, but I won’t know for sure until tomorrow.”
Sprague will do the same thing when he returns for Saturday’s Knockout Round.
“Same plan for tomorrow; I feel like I don’t have a choice,” he admitted. “I’ll be out there for smallmouth until the weather doesn’t allow us to.”
After seeing the weights this week, Sprague has two goal weights in mind – which vary based on the conditions.
“If it’s calm, I think you’ll need at least 17 pounds to advance, and if it’s windy again, I think 16 will get you in the Championship Round,” he said.
Myers lost a spot in the standings on a tiebreaker decided by the biggest bass caught. There’s no bonus for winning the group, so Myers’ prize is advancing to the Knockout Round.
“I had the lead yesterday and ended up tied today, but that’s only for bragging rights,” he said. “The tournament really starts tomorrow.”
Like the first day, Myers rode a strong largemouth bite and added another solid limit, weighing in 15-13 today. He fished the same areas and did the same thing as on Group B’s first day of competition, which he doesn’t plan to change.
“I started in my primary area but slowly started working away from it,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate in this event so far because I’ve been able to practice a lot. Tomorrow, I have a few areas I’ll go to, and I won’t deviate too far from them.”
If nothing else, Myers is having a blast catching fish this week and said he couldn’t even begin to estimate how many he caught today.
“I’ve never had a tournament day where I’ve had more bites on a buzzbait than today – it was insane,” he said. “I found one area stacked with 2-pounders and purposely caught every one I could just to see if any bigger ones were mixed in. It was every third cast. I never found one over 3 pounds there.”
He believes the 15- to 16-pound mark will be what he needs to advance and has hope based on the caliber of fish that he’s on.
“I was fishing around some other guys today and some of them caught a random 4-pounder here and there, so I know there are some bigger fish in the area,” Myers said. “It should take at least a 3-pound average to make Championship Round – maybe even more.”
This was already the closest Bally Bet Angler of the Year race in Bass Pro Tour history, and it’s going to stay that way for at least another day. Jacob Wheeler and Ott DeFoe made it to the Knockout Round, and now, they’ll be joined by current leader Alton Jones Jr. and Matt Becker, who finished 7th and 19th, respectively, in Group B.
It’s a four-horse race, with everyone else being mathematically eliminated. With weights starting at zero tomorrow, things will get exciting – and we still may not have a winner at the end of the Knockout Round.
Jones entered with 391.5 points – seven points ahead of Wheeler. Behind Wheeler is DeFoe, (just two points back) and Becker is one point behind DeFoe.
Saturday’s Knockout Round will combine the Top 20 anglers from both groups as they vie for a spot in the Championship Round’s 10-angler field. Fishing starts at 8 a.m. ET, but the action starts earlier with the MLFNOW! live stream kicking off at 7:45 a.m. You can follow the action and get live scoring updates at MajorLeagueFishing.com.