VanDam repeats morning success on Lake Murray, leads Group A into Knockout Round - Major League Fishing

VanDam repeats morning success on Lake Murray, leads Group A into Knockout Round

Image for VanDam repeats morning success on Lake Murray, leads Group A into Knockout Round
Michigan native Jonathon VanDam is sure to be a popular Fantasy Fishing selection for Stage Seven at Saginaw Bay. Photo by Garrick Dixon. Angler: Jonathon VanDam.
April 4, 2023 • Tyler Brinks • Bass Pro Tour

COLUMBIA, S.C. –  Michigan pro Jonathon VanDam is making it look easy on Lake Murray. Buoyed by fast limits each morning – and a couple of 6-plus-pound kickers – VanDam was able to separate himself from the pack through two days of qualifying at Fox Rent A Car Stage Three Presented by Mercury.

The Mercury pro caught just shy of 20 pounds on Tuesday, finishing with 19 pounds, 14 ounces on the day and looks to be in control as he leads 19 other anglers from Group A into Thursday’s Knockout Round with a two-day total of 41-12.

VanDam stays in control

Coming into the day, VanDam had a 1-10 lead over South Carolina native Marty Robinson in second. But, VanDam kick-started his day with some quality fish, including a 6-7 that helped him stay at the top of SCORETRACKER® from lines in to lines out.

VanDam’s initial five-fish limit was all caught in the first period; then he spent the rest of the day exploring, hoping to expand his areas.

“I spent the last two periods looking for new areas and feel pretty good about what I found,” he said of his herring-spawn bite. “I’ve only leaned on two areas so far, and not too hard, and have several more that I haven’t needed to fish yet. I feel good about the pattern I’m on and although they seem to bite the best in the morning, I haven’t had to lean on it too hard the rest of the day on either of my fishing days.”

The weather forecast for the Knockout and Championship rounds shows wind and possible rain, which VanDam welcomes.

“My guess is that it’s only going to help the bite because it’s been tougher for our group with sunny skies and slick calm conditions both days,” he said. “For what I’m doing, the wind should definitely help. The weights should only get better the rest of the week because I’m sure some guys caught what they needed to and laid off of them, so it should be a good finish.”

Andy Montgomery’s day was highlighted by an 8-pound, 8-ounce catch in Period 3.

Montgomery boats a monster

Some dandy largemouth have been caught during the three days on Lake Murray, but none bigger than Andy Montgomery’s 8-8 Berkley Big Bass, caught late in the day Tuesday. Montgomery was in an excellent position to advance already, but that monster solidified his berth in the Knockout Round. 

Montgomery mixed it up with three different patterns, and finds the afternoon best for him.

“Once again, I didn’t catch them early,” he said. “It was one here and one there for most of the day before I caught ‘ol’ big’ at the end of the day. That big one didn’t help me for the tournament because I was already pretty safe, but it’s a great Heavy Hitters fish, and hopefully, some extra change in my pocket.”

Montgomery is rotating through three different patterns but hopes one additional pattern that he discovered in practice becomes his primary.

“I’m cranking some, fishing docks, and doing some sight fishing,” he said. “I’m also mixing in some points for the bass eating herring and hope that bite gets better. It was really good in practice and the weather coming in should help turn that bite on. Good weather for that is bad weather because that makes the fishing better.”

Ebare adds another 19

After catching 19-4 the first day, Dakota Ebare added 19-6 today to give him 38-10. Ebare, like others near the top, took it easy Tuesday after catching a solid bag that ensured he would have enough to advance.

“I’m ready to come back out and catch everything I can Thursday,” he said of the Knockout Round. “I think it will take a lot of weight to advance because the conditions are only improving. I mostly had what I had each day at 10 o’clock. Now, there’s no holding back and there are so many good fish in this lake that I predict it will take 42 to 46 pounds to win, but I could also see it taking 50.”

Ebare didn’t get into full details of his pattern, but he did say that an angler could do whatever they prefer this week. 

“There are many things going on right now,” he said. “I’m focusing on one specific thing, but I also need to keep an open mind. We have two hot days and a full moon, so things are changing fast.”

News and notes from Day 3

BPT rookies: The new crop of anglers that joined the Bass Pro Tour have already made their presence felt. Three made the Top 10 at Stage Two in Tennessee and there may be more this time. One of them, Nick LeBrun, leads Group B and three more finished in the Top 10 in Group B. 

The race for the Berkley Big Bass: The size of the Berkley Big Bass of the day has increased each day. Starting at 6-12 on the first day of fishing and jumping to 7-1 yesterday, the mark keeps going up. Montgomery’s 8-8 is a true trophy, but Lake Murray might kick out an even bigger one. Fish of that caliber make a huge difference this week with many similarly solid weights.

The Toro Cut Line: Scott Suggs claimed the 20th and final spot in the Knockout Round with 31-13 in Group A. Group B’s totals were slightly higher for their first day of fishing, so it could take even more to advance. Nobody knows for sure, but it will be fun to watch to see what it takes to move on.

What’s next

Stage Three continues Wednesday, with Group B coming back to Lake Murray. The anglers are vying for a Top 20 finish to advance, with the remaining anglers being eliminated. 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.

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