HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Mich. – After Monday’s second Qualifying Day for Group A at General Tire Stage Six at Lake St. Clair Presented by John Deere Utility Vehicles saw Ott DeFoe, the leader in the Bally Bet Angler of the Year standings, fail to qualify for the Knockout Round, we knew there would be a significant shakeup at the top of the standings.
Tuesday brought yet another unexpected development, which has blown the race wide open.
Dakota Ebare, who entered Tuesday looking primed to take over the top spot from DeFoe, caught just three fish for 8-1 after equipment issues, falling from sixth place in Group B to 37th. As a result, he, too, will miss out on the Knockout Round.
Ebare’s rough day was obviously unexpected. Not only did he come into the event in second in the AOY race, having made every Knockout Round this season, he’s been particularly dominant on northern smallmouth waters during his young career. Prior to this week, Ebare had gone 3-for-3 in making the Top 10 during Bass Pro Tour events on northern fisheries, not to mention logging a second-place finish on the St. Lawrence River and a third place on Lake Champlain on the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit in 2022.
Before Tuesday, Ebare had filled out his limit on 37 consecutive competition days under the best-five-fish format.
Ebare’s misfortune means DeFoe still has a chance to maintain his lead entering the seventh and final stage of the BPT season. However, DeFoe isn’t the only one who will be happy to see Ebare slip up.
There are now four anglers, including DeFoe, who could claim the top spot following Thursday’s Championship Round. Rookie Matt Becker, who entered the week in third place, has the best chance to do so. He would surpass DeFoe with a finish of 15th or better. Alton Jones Jr. will do the same if he earns a spot in the Championship Round. Becker and Jones, who both finished among the Top 10 in Group A, entered the tournament separated by just five points, so their positions relative to one another will also be worth watching during the next two days.
And don’t look now, but the two-time defending champ is squarely back in the mix. Jacob Wheeler sacked up 21-9 on Tuesday to easily clinch a spot in the Knockout Round. Should Wheeler, who has finished fourth or better in each of the past two events, finish among the top four again, he would pass DeFoe. He currently trails Becker by 11 points and Jones by just six, so it’s not far-fetched to envision him entering the season’s final event leading the AOY race or only trailing by a few points in his quest for a rare three-peat.
Two other anglers who entered Stage Six in the Top 10 of the AOY race narrowly missed out on the Knockout Round Tuesday in Edwin Evers and Brent Ehrler. That should give Adrian Avena a chance to make a major move, as well. Avena snuck into the Knockout Round by finishing 20th in Group A. He can’t overtake the top spot yet, but considering he showed an ability to win on northern waters with his victory at Cayuga Lake in Stage Five, he can’t be discounted from the race.
The closing minutes of the third period saw several shifts around the Toro Cut Line, with four new anglers jumping into the Top 20, at least temporarily, in the final 21 minutes of competition.
The most clutch late catch came courtesy of Fred Roumbanis. It also completed the biggest comeback of the day.
Roumbanis boated a 4-12 smallmouth with less than five minutes remaining before lines out. That boosted his bag to 21-8 and vaulted him from 33rd place at the start of the day to 17th at its close.
Roumbanis pulled off the comeback by turning to an old-school smallmouth staple. According to SCORETRACKER Insider, he caught four of his five keepers by burning a spinnerbait.
Roumbanis was one of four anglers to qualify for the Knockout Round after starting the day worse than 21st. Cliff Pace, Scott Suggs and Jacob Wall also jumped across the Toro Cut Line. Wall was the last man into the Knockout Round, finishing 20th. He bested both Keith Poche and Shin Fukae by just 1 ounce and had eight anglers finish within 11 ounces of his 34-5 total, illustrating the importance of every ounce this week.
Kevin VanDam has made it clear all year that this, his final full BPT season, is not just a farewell tour. And after finishing 10th at Cayuga Lake during Stage Five, the legend showed that he’ll be a factor yet again this week.
VanDam weighed in 20-14 on Tuesday, the seventh-biggest bag of the day. That included the Berkley Big Bass of the day and the tournament so far, a 6-2 brute, which propelled VanDam to an eighth-place finish in Group B.
A win for VanDam would be notable not just because it would allow him to close out his decorated career with one more trophy. It would mark VanDam’s first career victory at Lake St. Clair.
Given St. Clair’s proximity to VanDam’s hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan, the number of times he’s fished there and the fact that he’s dominated on just about every body of water across the country, that might come as a surprise. But VanDam hasn’t finished better than 31st in any of his past four events on the popular tournament trail stop. While he does have a pair of second-place finishes on the lake, both in the 1990s, he hasn’t made a Top 10 on St. Clair since 2001.
He’s now put himself in contention to buck that trend this week.