HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Mich. – The decisive day is still to come at General Tire Stage Six Presented by John Deere Utility Vehicles on Lake St. Clair. But one significant storyline became official during Wednesday’s Knockout Round – for the first time since Stage Two, the Bally Bet Angler of the Year race will have a new leader.
Who will take over the top spot from Ott DeFoe, however, remains to be seen.
DeFoe, as well as second-place Dakota Ebare, opened the door for their pursuers in the season-long points competition by failing to qualify for the Knockout Round. Alton Jones Jr. and Jacob Wheeler took advantage, both claiming spots in Thursday’s Championship Round.
Jones has already assured that he will surpass DeFoe in the AOY standings. He sacked up 23 pounds, 2 ounces during the Knockout Round. That has him in second place entering the final day of competition, 1-7 back of Jordan Lee.
However, there’s still a chance that he could find himself once again looking up at Wheeler, the two-time reigning winner of the award. Should Wheeler finish among the top four at the conclusion of the Championship Round, he would pass DeFoe. If he also winds up six or more spots ahead of Jones, he will take the AOY lead with one event remaining in the season. Currently, Wheeler sits in fifth place, an even pound behind Jones.
One thing is for sure; regardless of who sits atop the standings when the Bass Pro Tour descends on Saginaw Bay, it’ll be a four-way brawl to claim the AOY trophy. If Thursday’s Championship Round doesn’t bring any changes to the Top 10, Jones would hold a nine-point lead over both DeFoe and Wheeler. Just one point behind them would be rookie Matt Becker, who finished Wednesday in 17th place.
We’re all but assured that, for the first time in BPT history, multiple anglers will enter the final event of the season within 10 points of the leader. Mark your calendars for Aug. 1-6.
As usual when the tournament trail visits Lake St. Clair, there’s been no shortage of bronze fish weighed in this week. But those who have managed to find the lake’s elusive 5-plus-pounders have struck gold.
On a day when all 40 competitors filled their five-fish limits and a three-way tie had to be broken to decide who would advance to the Championship Round, finding 5-pounders served as the differentiating factor. Each of the top nine anglers caught at least one fish weighing 5 pounds or more. That group combined to catch 12 of the tournament-high 14 5-pounders on the day.
Five-pounders made a difference not just around the Toro Cut Line, but at the top of SCORETRACKER®, too. Lee continued his dominant week by catching not just a 5-3 smallmouth, but anchoring his limit with a 6-7 lunker, the Berkley Big Bass both of the day and the tournament so far.
Lee’s ability to find and catch bigger than average bass has truly been on another level this week. During his first three days of competition, he has caught five fish of 5 pounds or more. The other 39 guys on the water with him across all three days combined have caught 20 fish over 5 pounds. Lee has boated the biggest bass on each of those three days.
If Lee can continue that trend during the Championship Round, he should stand an excellent chance of lifting his first trophy since the 2020 season.
There aren’t a lot of fisheries where Gary Klein hasn’t experienced success during his Hall of Fame career. But the veteran clearly has a special connection with Lake St. Clair.
Klein weighed in 22-11 during the Knockout Round, which has him in fourth place. He’ll make his first appearance in the Top 10 since Stage Seven of the 2021 season, which also came on Lake St. Clair. He has two other Top-10 finishes at the lake on his impressive national tour résumé, as well.
Only 7 ounces out of second place and less than 2 pounds behind Lee, don’t expect Klein to simply be happy to be fishing the Championship Round. A win would be his first since a 2003 Bassmaster Tour event on Lake Seminole.
No matter the location or tournament format, the BPT always seems to deliver drama around the Toro Cut Line. Wednesday’s Knockout Round might have provided the tightest race for qualification we’ve seen yet. Just 15 ounces separated seventh place from 14th, and three anglers tied for ninth with matching limits of 21-4.
Unfortunately for Justin Lucas, not all three will fish on Thursday. Lucas lost out to Terry Scroggins and John Hunter on a tiebreaker, decided by each angler’s biggest bass of the round. Scroggins boated two 5-pounders, while Hunter anchored his limit with a 4-9. Lucas’ biggest bass weighed 4-6.