Takeaways from Championship Round at Lake St. Clair: Stage set for dramatic Bally Bet AOY finale - Major League Fishing
Takeaways from Championship Round at Lake St. Clair: Stage set for dramatic Bally Bet AOY finale
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Takeaways from Championship Round at Lake St. Clair: Stage set for dramatic Bally Bet AOY finale

Image for Takeaways from Championship Round at Lake St. Clair: Stage set for dramatic Bally Bet AOY finale
Alton Jones Jr. has taken over the lead in the Bally Bet Angler of the Year race, but three other anglers are within 10 points. Photo by Garrick Dixon. Angler: Alton Jones Jr..
June 29, 2023 • Mitchell Forde • Bass Pro Tour

HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Jordan Lee didn’t take long to dispel much of the drama surrounding who would win General Tire Stage Six Presented by John Deere Utility Vehicles at Lake St. Clair. Lee continued his dominant week by catching a 23-pound, 4-ounce limit of smallmouth bass in Thursday’s opening period and ultimately cruising to a win by 1-3 over Alton Jones Jr.

As has been the case throughout the event, however, another intriguing battle continued to play out.

The stage is now set for the most dramatic finish to the Bally Bet Angler of the Year race in Bass Pro Tour history. Jones will head to Stage Seven at Saginaw Bay in first place of the season-long points competition. Three other anglers lurk within 10 points of his 390.5 total.

Jones came to St. Clair in third place but vaulted to the top of the standings after both former leader Ott DeFoe and second-place Dakota Ebare failed to qualify for the Knockout Round. He is now 7 points ahead of Jacob Wheeler, the two-time reigning winner of the award. Wheeler finished third at Stage Six with a two-day total of 43-12. DeFoe, who entered Stage Six with a 48.5-point lead over Jones, trails Wheeler by 2 points. And rookie Matt Becker is 1 point back of DeFoe.

The decisive battle for the trophy should be intense. And no matter who prevails, the storylines will be juicy.

Wheeler is taking aim at a rare three-peat. If he can pull it off, it would represent an unlikely rally. After his 75th-place finish at Stage Three on Lake Murray, Wheeler was 25th in the AOY standings. Meanwhile, if Jones wins AOY, he might be able to lay claim to the best season in BPT history. His General Tire Heavy Hitters win and second-place finish at REDCREST aren’t even reflected in the points. DeFoe will try to finally break through after finishing second in three previous AOY races. Becker would be a rare rookie winner of the award on a national-level tour.

Throw in the variable that just about no one in the BPT field has recent tournament experience at Saginaw Bay, and it should truly be anyone’s crown to claim.

Jordan Lee’s ability to find and catch bigger-than-average smallmouth like this one propelled him to a wire-to-wire win on Lake St. Clair. Photo by Garrick Dixon.

Lee’s dominance by the numbers

Lee’s final margin of victory doesn’t tell the full story of how soundly he defeated the rest of the field this week. Here are a few numbers that illustrate just how impressive his wire-to-wire victory was.

  • Lee’s name was atop SCORETRACKER® following 11 of the 12 periods he fished.
  • A late cull by Jones on Thursday narrowly prevented Lee from boating the biggest bag in the field during each of the four days he took the water. Still, he joined rare company. Only three times before has a BPT angler won an event while also sacking up the heaviest bag on three separate competition days: DeFoe during his 2022 Heavy Hitters win, Michael Neal on St. Clair in 2021 and Wheeler at Lake Champlain in 2021.
  • Lee had already made history with his big-bass prowess prior to the Championship Round. He caught the biggest bass in the field during both of Group A’s Qualifying Days as well as the Knockout Round, a feat that had never previously been accomplished on the BPT. He added the Berkley Big Bass on Thursday for good measure with a 5-10. Add it all up, and Lee earned an extra $7,000 in Big Bass Bonuses on top of his $100,000 first-place payday this week. The 6-7 kicker Lee caught during the Knockout Round also took home Berkley Big Bass honors for the tournament.
  • Speaking of boating big bass, Lee’s ability to find and catch 5-pounders separated him from the field throughout the event. Lee caught two bass bigger than 5 pounds during the Championship Round, bringing his total to seven such fish during the week. Across his four days of fishing, Lee accounted for 23.3% of all 5-plus pounders caught, despite the fact that he represented just 3.7% of the field.
  • Had weights remained cumulative across all four days, Lee would have racked up a total of 94-0. That would have put him 9-3 clear of Mark Daniels Jr., who recorded the second-biggest four-day total. While it should be noted that several anglers who positioned themselves to make the Knockout Round eased off the throttle during the Qualifying Rounds, that margin of victory would have put Lee in rare air. No angler has won a national tournament contested under the best-five-fish format on northern smallmouth waters by that large a margin in 16 years — since Steve Clapper won an FLW Tour event on St. Clair by more than 12 pounds in 2007.

Northern swing can’t cool Wiggins’ hot streak

Like the rest of the Championship Round field, Jesse Wiggins never truly threatened to erase Lee’s lead. But he made himself some additional money with his 21-12 bag on Thursday, which vaulted him from eighth place to fourth.

Wiggins’ strong showing also continued a promising trend.

The Alabama angler is well-known as a spotted bass guru. He also won a BPT stage by catching largemouth at Lake of the Ozarks last year. But for much of his career, fishing for smallmouth up North has vexed Wiggins. Until now, it seems. Wiggins’ Top 10 marked his second such finish in his past three events on northern waters. He narrowly missed making it three-for-three, finishing 14th at Cayuga Lake in Stage Five. 

Overall, Wiggins has now logged top-15 finishes in seven of his past 11 BPT events. That doesn’t include a win at a BFL Regional last year or a fifth-place finish at the All-American this spring. Add it all together, and that’s seven Top 10s and two wins for Wiggins in the past 16 months. If he can continue to catch smallmouth like he has this season, look for him to factor into the AOY conversation in future seasons.