The Tackle Warehouse Invitationals season will wrap up when the field heads to La Crosse, Wisconsin to fish the Upper Mississippi River this week at Mercury Stop 6. The event will mark the last chance for anglers on the circuit to land berths to REDCREST 2024, which will be awarded to the event and Angler of the Year winners, and to punch their tickets to the Bass Pro Tour next season. The top eight anglers in the AOY standings will earn BPT invitations.
It’s also the final opportunity for Phoenix Boats Fantasy Fishing players to bolster their positions in the season-long standings and the penultimate chance to take home the $100,000 prize package on offer.
Here is everything you need to know before picking your lineup for the event.
The Upper Mississippi River has been a popular summer stop on tournament trails for decades, so much of the field should have some familiarity with the fishery. Pools 7, 8 and 9, which represent the playing field this week, feature a plethora of shallow cover. Low water levels last year have resulted in more vegetation being present in the river than normal in addition to the usual targets: wing dams, cut banks, rock bars, etc. Largemouth and smallmouth bass should both be brought to the scales in plentiful numbers.
Mercury pro Matthew Stefan, who hails from nearby Junction City, Wisconsin, predicted that whichever form of cover or species of bass anglers choose to target, current will be key.
“They’re set up pretty good in their summer patterns,” Stefan said. “It’s going to be primarily current-related stuff; the backwaters will not have many fish. The largemouth will move out to the big grass flats and sand flats in the lower ends of the pools, and they’ll start setting up on eddies and wing dams in front of the spawning areas.”
The following anglers in the Stop 6 field make their homes near the Upper Mississippi:
Mike Brueggen (La Crosse, WI)
Cade Laufenburg (Onalaska, WI)
Kyle Minke (Lindstrom, MN)
Tom Monsoor (La Crosse, WI)
Jim Moynagh (Shakopee, MN)
Jeff Ritter (Prairie Du Chein, WI)
Kevin Ruh (Onalaska WI)
Kyle Schutta (Forest Lake, MN)
Matthew Stefan (Junction City, WI)
Nick Trim (Galesville, WI)
It’s been just two years since many anglers in the field competed on the Upper Mississippi, in the 2021 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit TITLE. Given the fishery’s rich tournament history, it’s no surprise that a host of competitors have strong finishes on the river on their resumes. Here’s a list of all the anglers who have logged top-10 finishes in previous tour-level or Toyota Series events.
Mike Brueggen: 2nd place — 2019 BASS Open; 4th place — 2014 Toyota Series
William Fletcher: 8th place — 2000 FLW Tour
Kyle Hall: 9th place — 2020 FLW Tour Super Tournament
Randy Howell: 10th place — 2013 Bassmaster Elite Series
Jared Lintner: 9th place — 2016 Bassmaster Elite Series
Cody Meyer: 6th place — 2020 FLW Tour Super Tournament
Tom Monsoor: 1st place — 2020 FLW Tour Super Tournament; 1st place — 2001 Toyota Series; 8th place — 2000 Toyota Series
Michael Neal: 10th place — REDCREST 2019
Keith Poche: 6th place — 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series
Jimmy Reese: 8th place — 2021 Tackle Warehouse TITLE
Jeff Ritter: 1 st place — 2004 Toyota Series; 2nd place — 2014 Toyota Series; 4th place — 2005 Toyota Series
Fred Roumbanis: 1st place — 2005 Toyota Series; 4th place — 2013 Bassmaster Elite Series
Matt Stefan: 8th place — 2017 FLW Tour
Tyler Stewart: 5th place — 2020 FLW Tour Super Tournament
David Walker: 3rd place — 2020 FLW Tour Super Tournament; 10th place — 2021 TITLE
Joshua Weaver: 2nd place — 2017 FLW Tour; 6th place — 2021 TITLE
Scott Wiley: 10th place — 2020 FLW Tour Super Tournament
Momentum is a real phenomenon in tournament fishing, with anglers often stringing together wins or high finishes. Given that the Upper Mississippi is similar in several ways to the last fishery visited by the Invitationals field, the Potomac River, targeting anglers who are coming off a strong performance could be a winning strategy.
With that in mind, no one should have more momentum on his side than Nick Hatfield. Hatfield blew away the field at the Potomac, winning by more than 5 pounds. Plus, he has plenty of motivation to stay dialed in, as he currently sits 10th in the AOY standings, just seven points out of the top eight.
Several of Hatfield’s closest pursuers from the Potomac should be riding high, as well. Cody Meyer decided to jump in a second straight Invitational after finishing second at Stop 5. He also finished 11th at the Bass Pro Tour stage at Cayuga Lake last month and 33rd at Lake St. Clair. Keith Carson has cracked the top 10 in back-to-back events, having finished second at Lake of the Ozarks and eighth at the Potomac. Same goes for Martin Villa, who finished fifth at the Potomac after coming in ninth at Lake of the Ozarks.
Finally, even though he slipped a tad by his standards at the Potomac by finishing 25th, Ron Nelson rattled off three straight top-five finishes in the events prior and remains atop the points standings. Look for him to try and finish off the season in style.
When the season reaches its final few events, it can pay to assess which anglers are motivated to put in an extra few hours studying maps, practicing on the water or rigging up gear just right. This week, two groups of anglers should fit that bill: those who have a chance to qualify for the Bass Pro Tour and those who believe they have a legitimate chance to claim the $115,000 winning prize.
The race for both Angler of the Year and BPT qualification are tight this year. Nelson has a 24-point lead over Villa atop the AOY standings, but if he slips, both Carson and Michael Neal are within 24 points of Villa. Neal could be particularly dangerous; the two-time defending AOY winner is a proven closer and the only angler currently among the top eight who doesn’t have to worry about earning a BPT invitation. That could free him up to take some risks this week.
Meanwhile, at least 13 anglers figure to be in contention to qualify for the BPT. Colby Schrumpf and Brock Reinkemeyer, who are currently tied for 12th, are less than 20 points back of eighth-place Jim Moynagh. You can check out the full standings here.
Like Neal, there should be a host of anglers who aren’t worried about points but are fishing solely for a win. That group will likely be larger than usual this week with it being the final event of the season. A few names who figure to be gunning for the top spot — and who have shown they have the chops to beat a field of this caliber — include BPT pros Meyer, Jared Lintner and Keith Poche as well as local hammers Mike Brueggen, Tom Monsoor and Jeff Ritter.
Fantasy Fishing veterans know that players are required to pick at least one angler from each of Group A and Group B who entered the event lower than 40th place in the season-long standings. While that might normally be a challenge once we reach the final event of the season, the nature of the Invitationals — in which many pros don’t fish the full schedule — provides plenty of compelling options below that threshold.
There are two obvious names to consider, one in each group: Monsoor in Group A and Brueggen in Group B. Both are La Crosse natives who have dominated tournaments of just about every level on the Upper Mississippi. Not only did Monsoor win the 2020 FLW Tour Super Tournament out of La Crosse, he has won five Phoenix Bass Fishing League tournaments and logged 24 top-10 finishes on the fishery. Brueggen, meanwhile, finished second in a 2019 Bassmaster Open and has eight BFL wins and an astounding 42 top-10s on the river. Perhaps this is his time to break through and earn a tour-level win.
Other names to consider in Group A:
Cade Laufenberg: Laufenberg won one of the BFLs that took place on the Upper Mississippi in May and finished second in the other. He’s shown the ability to win a higher-caliber tournament, too, taking first place in a 2009 Toyota Series event on the Detroit River.
Cody Meyer: As mentioned above, Meyer just proved his chops on a shallow, grassy river with his runner-up finish at the Potomac. Plus, he finished sixth at the 2020 Super Tournament on the Upper Mississippi.
Keith Poche: There should be plenty of opportunity for Poche to find a sneaky, hard-to-reach spot on the river. That’s when he’s at his best.
Other names to consider in Group B:
David Walker: The past two times this tour has gone to La Crosse, the veteran angler has finished among the top 10. What more needs to be said?
Fred Roumbanis: Roumbanis is another BPT pro who is dipping his toes into the Invitationals this week at a venue where he’s had success in the past. Roumbanis won a Toyota Series event on the Upper Mississippi in 2005 and scored a top 10 when the Bassmaster Elite series visited in 2013.
Nick Trim: Trim will look to make his first top-10 outside of the BFLs. This would figure to be the venue for him to do it. Trim won the most recent BFL on the Upper Mississippi, on May 21, and finished sixth in the previous one.