Sprague’s 23-8 paces Stage Three's Knockout Round on Lake Murray - Major League Fishing
Sprague’s 23-8 paces Stage Three’s Knockout Round on Lake Murray
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Sprague’s 23-8 paces Stage Three’s Knockout Round on Lake Murray

Image for Sprague’s 23-8 paces Stage Three’s Knockout Round on Lake Murray
Jeff Sprague is committed to the sight fishing approach that took him to the lead in the Knockout Round and remains optimistic about Friday's rainy forecast. Photo by Garrick Dixon. Angler: Jeff Sprague.
April 6, 2023 • Tyler Brinks • Bass Pro Tour

COLUMBIA, S.C. –Texas pro Jeff Sprague led a Knockout Round parade of 20-pound bags at Fox Rent A Car Stage Three Presented by Mercury, with a 23-pound, 8-ounce total. Sprague’s total was the best of the day by a pound over second-place pro, Missouri’s James Watson.

It took nearly 20 pounds to advance to the final day, with 10th-place pro Ott DeFoe rounding out the Championship Round field with 19-11. The weights are stacked and Friday’s final day is setting up to be an exciting and fitting end to a great event in South Carolina.

Sprague looks his way to lead

Among Sprague’s catches was a 6-11 bruiser in the third period, but he caught quality fish consistently throughout the day. It was a banner day for the Texas pro, where everything he tried worked out.

“Everything came together great and went right,” Sprague said. “My practice this week was so-so, but things have improved daily. We had those warm nights and the big females are starting to show up.”

During the final hours of the opening round, Sprague was safely inside the Toro Cut Line and spent time looking for spawning areas with male bass present. He marked many, and now the females have arrived.

“I located as many of those males as possible,” Sprague said. “Today, they were paired up, which is a good indication that those fish will be willing to bite. I’ve got several good areas with a lot of fish spawning.”

Sprague is committed to the sight fishing approach after spending time earlier in the week chasing the herring bite.

“Each day in the first round, I spent at least a period after the herring fish, but today it was all about sight fishing,” he said. “That’s what I love to do, and I feel it gives me the best shot for the win. I’m only up by a pound, which is nothing on this place. I’ll have to catch at least what I caught today to have a shot at the win.”

The weather forecast calls for rain and overcast conditions, but Sprague sees it as a positive.

“Those fish will definitely be harder to see, but in my experience, they’ll be more willing to eat bait on a bed when it’s raining,” he said. “I’ve got quite a few fish marked and was able to run a lot of new water today. I’m excited to see how it plays out tomorrow.”

SCORETRACKER INSIDER™ shows James Watson as only weighing seven bass on Thursday, but they were all quality catches that took him to second place in the Knockout Round. Photo by Garrick Dixon

Watson wallops 22

Watson’s great day included two over 5 pounds – a 5-8 and 5-12 – with three more quality bass in the 3- to 4-pound range. SCORETRACKER INSIDER™ shows him weighing just seven bass on the day, but the right ones bit.

“It seemed like every one I caught was a good one,” Watson said. “It was a special day. I couldn’t have asked for a better day. I haven’t had a day like this in a long time.”

News and Notes from Day 5

Is anyone out of it? With the top weights of all remaining anglers separated by less than 4 pounds, it’s anyone’s ballgame. There’s always a chance for an angler to crack a big bag and jump ahead to steal the win. This one seems even more likely for that scenario and anyone left has a legitimate shot at taking the win.

AOY shakeup: Of the top five anglers in the Bally Bet Angler of the Year race coming into the event, only two made the final day this week. It’s still early in the season, but DeFoe and Chris Lane are in a good position nearly halfway through. Two others, Brent Ehrler and Jacob Wheeler, missed the Knockout Round and will fall substantially.

The weather forecast: Thursday was nearly perfect for sight fishing with calm conditions and sunny skies for most of the day. That’s expected to change dramatically for Friday, with light rain forecast to start the day and become steady later. That will make things more challenging for sight fishing.

What’s next

Stage Three concludes on Friday, with the Top 10 fighting for a shot at the trophy and big payday. The action starts at 7:45 a.m. ET with MLFNOW! streaming live on MajorLeagueFishing.com and lines going in at 8 a.m. ET. The pros will fish for three periods until 4 p.m. ET.