Hatfield ahead after Day 1 on the Mississippi River, locals hot on his heels - Major League Fishing

Hatfield ahead after Day 1 on the Mississippi River, locals hot on his heels

Image for Hatfield ahead after Day 1 on the Mississippi River, locals hot on his heels
Nick Hatfield got off to a hot start on the Mississippi River. Photo by Rob Matsuura. Angler: Nick Hatfield.
July 25, 2023 • Erik Gaffron • Invitationals

LA CROSSE, Wis. – Looking like he’s trying to go back to back, Nick Hatfield sacked up an even 18 pounds on Day 1 of Mercury Stop 6 at the Mississippi River. Behind Hatfield, the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals season finale is looking super tight, with two ties in the Top 10 and six pros above the 16-pound mark. 

Doing his damage for the lead in Pool 8, Hatfield bucked the trend to a degree, as a lot of the better weights on Day 1 came either above or below La Crosse. In second with 17-14, Hunter Litchfield did his damage downstream. In third with 17-12, Steve Lopez put together his weight upstream.

Nick Hatfield started out shooting for a limit and ended up with a bag.

Hatfield has a surprising morning

“I started in an area where I was just hoping to get 12 to 15 pounds and just get a cushion and then go to a different area and catch some big ones,” Hatfield said. “I got in there and it was kind of a slow start.”

Hatfield started to notice fish shallow and was able to see them both with his eyes and his forward-facing sonar roaming near isolated grass clumps and milfoil patches.

“I started seeing some big ones cruising, just made a little bit of a bait adjustment and started catching them,” he said. “I don’t know how to even explain it. I had a high 3, a 4, a 4-something, another one in the high 3s. It was crazy.”

While Hatfield likes his area a lot, he’s not fully confident it will hold up for the next two days. But he’s ready to adjust to the continually changing Mississippi River.

“I will obviously try to start there,” he said. “If I can just beat out 12 pounds in there tomorrow, I’ll be in good shape. I’ll probably try to start in there, but I’ve got other areas and stuff that I can go do. I’m going to aim for 15 pounds and see what happens.”

Hatfield is finding familiarity and momentum this week, having recently notched his first Invitationals win on the Potomac River. He’s hoping to continue the success this week at La Crosse. The grass and current-related bass found on both bodies of water set up similarly to each other, a style that clicks for Hatfield.

“There’s definitely similarities to both bodies of water,” he said. “Both with the grass and how you approach things. Other than the tidal deal (at Potomac), it’s really similar. As far as momentum goes, I kinda felt like I had momentum. I mean, I was confident. I had a good practice, I’m in a good place and I’m fishing well.”

Illinois angler Hunter Litchfield knocked out 17-14 to get things rolling on the Big Muddy.

Litchfield leads the locals

Two-time BFL All-American qualifier Litchfield opened up his first Invitationals appearance by posting an excellent Day 1 and holding the unofficial lead for the local contingency competing in La Crosse.

“Today blew what I wanted to do out of the water,” Litchfield said. “I just wanted to get a limit. I found one school of frog fish to fish through. The first two fish were a 4-7 and a 3-8, so that floated me for the rest of the day, and it was just about getting five fish after that.”

Litchfield knows a lot can change on the Upper Mississippi, and while he hopes his school of frog fish can hold up, he is ready to switch gears if he needs to on Day 2.

“I don’t know (if it will hold up),” he said, “I went an hour and fifteen minutes without a bite. So, I don’t know, we might have to scramble.”

If things do go south, Litchfield has a wealth of history on all the pools, having spent the last several years honing his skills in local and Phoenix Bass Fishing League (BFL) events around the area. That being said, he’s not sure how much his history will factor with the low water levels.

“I’ve fished the BFLs for the last four years,” he said. “I’ve also fished club tournaments out here for the last seven years. Coming into this week I would have thought (my history) would have helped. But in practice I checked a lot of history, it just didn’t pan out like normal. So, we are just starting from square one.”

Litchfield recognizes that steady local pressure the last few weeks and the steady water levels and flow on the competition pools is likely the main reason that fishing has been continuing to get tougher each day and will likely continue to do so throughout the tournament.

“I think (it’s tough) because the water has been so low,” he said. “The typical places the fish group up on haven’t replenished with fresh water. They’ve been leaned on for a couple of weeks and the water hasn’t been bringing fresh fish to them.”

Top 10 pros

1. Nick Hatfield – 18 – 00 (5)  

2. Hunter Litchfield – 17 – 14 (5)        

3. Steve Lopez – 17 – 12 (5)    

4. Matthew Stefan – 16 – 08 (5)         

5. Matt Reed – 16 – 06 (5)      

6. Kevin Ruh – 16 – 03 (5)       

7. Mark Condron – 15 – 12 (5)

7. Mike Brueggen – 15 – 12 (5)          

9. Jared Lintner – 15 – 07 (5)

9. Mike McClelland – 15 – 07 (5)

Complete results