CULLMAN, Ala. – In the weeks approaching the Bass Pro Tour Phoenix Boats Stage Five Presented by Mercury, the word “slugfest” was thrown around by multiple anglers with tournament experience on Smith Lake, Alabama, the site of the fifth Bass Pro Tour event of the season.
Local pro Jesse Wiggins – whose resume includes multiple wins on this impoundment of the Black Warrior River system north of Birmingham – predicted that 40-fish days would be a strong possibility for the 80-angler field.
And Wiggins proved it: his 49-fish performance in the Shotgun Round set the stage for one of the most prolific weeks of spotted and largemouth-bass catching displays in memory: Nearly 3,300 fish made it onto SCORETRACKER® in the first five days of competition, setting the stage for an all-out sprint to the trophy in the Championship Round.
As viewers tune in Saturday, Nov. 2 for the fifth episode of the Bass Pro Tour on Discovery Channel (7 to 9 a.m. ET/PT), here are some key storylines to follow:
Championship Sunday on Smith Lake was truly anybody’s game, with seven of the final 10 competitors having caught 25 fish or more during one or more of their qualifying rounds. Knockout Round winner Jason Christie was riding a key location that he had milked for 28 fish in the Shotgun Round and 27 fish in the Knockout Round; Todd Faircloth had stacked 33 fish on SCORETRACKER® on Day 1; Fred Roumbanis had been the model of consistency, banging out 25, 27 and 25 fish, respectively, in his three competition rounds.
As all 80 competitors witnessed through the qualifying rounds, the conditions on Smith Lake changed rapidly between Day 1 and Day 5. Early-round patterns and locations that produced massive numbers for Wiggins, Jacob Wheeler, Andy Morgan and Tim Horton evaporated in the semi-final round, thanks to capricious weather, an algae bloom, and spawn timing for the lake’s spotted bass.
So as the Championship 10 left the dock for the final round – with inclement weather forecasted for the day – the question remained: “Which version of Smith Lake will we be fishing today?”
“What Smith Lake has shown us time and time again this week is that we can expect the unexpected,” MLF NOW! live stream analyst Marty Stone said before the final day. “We have a weather change coming in, and we’re dealing with spotted bass. I really don’t have a clue what’s going to happen tomorrow, other than it’s going to be exciting.”
The Stage Five Championship Round represented the third appearance in the finals for Michael Neal and Dustin Connell, and the second title tilt for Brent Ehrler, Mike Iaconelli and Todd Faircloth. Championship first-timers Brent Chapman, Dean Rojas, Christie, Roumbanis and Mark Rose rounded out the final-day field, completing a lineup that could claim three Angler of the Year titles, a Forrest Wood Cup and a Bassmaster Classic among it.
But which angler – if any – had an edge going into the final day? A case could be made for Christie, who improved 25 places from the Shotgun Round to the Elimination Round, and had averaged nearly 50 pounds a day in the two rounds leading up to the finals. Or Chapman, who had catapulted himself into the finals by catching a 3-13 as time expired in the semifinal round.
Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Tour Episode 5 premieres Saturday, Nov. 2 on Discovery Channel (7 to 9 a.m. ET/PT). Check local listings for channel availability.