Lopez, Stefan tight at the top heading into final day on the Mississippi River - Major League Fishing
Lopez, Stefan tight at the top heading into final day on the Mississippi River
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Lopez, Stefan tight at the top heading into final day on the Mississippi River

Image for Lopez, Stefan tight at the top heading into final day on the Mississippi River
Consistency has been the watchword for Steve Lopez thus far. Photo by Hunter Rud. Angler: Steve Lopez.
July 26, 2023 • Erik Gaffron • Invitationals

LA CROSSE, Wis. – Tallying an even 16 pounds on Day 2 of Mercury Stop 6Steve Lopez edged into the lead heading into the final day of the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals season. With a 33-12 total, Lopez is 14 ounces ahead of Matthew Stefan, who sacked up 16-6 for a 32-14 total. Lopez and Stefan, both from Wisconsin, lead fellow cheesehead Mike Brueggen by more than 2 pounds. Brueggen sits in third with a 30-15 total.

On the points side of things, the final day will be a tense one. After he missed the cut, Ron Nelson‘s Angler of the Year hopes will depend on the Day 3 performance of Michael Neal. As for the Polaris Rookie of the Year race, Drew Gill and Marshall Robinson are unofficially separated by one point, and the final day will decide the title.

Read up on the takeaways from Day 2 from a points perspective in this story.

A storm put Steve Lopez off the fish for a bit on Day 2, but he still got the job done.

Lopez managing fish and time for Day 2 lead

“I found a group of fish that are biting, and I found out how to catch them,” said Lopez. “I mean, they’re just different size fish than what other people are catching, but it’s pretty special.”

Lopez is making a run and locking to his fish. As a result, time management has been paramount due to not only a hectic lock schedule but a massive rainstorm that totally changed the dynamic of Day 2. The good news is his fish have only been leaned on a little through two days.

“I’ve only fished them two and a half hours with the thunderstorms today and barges and all that sort of stuff,” he said. “Time has been very, very key this week. I’ve had to wait and be patient. Just mentally take it all in and be calm because I know the fish live there. I just have to get to them.”

Beyond the primary area that has been his honey hole all week, Lopez also noted he has other groups of fish located that he could very easily lean on if things happen to get tough for him on the final day.

“I checked my other fish (today), they were still there,” he said. “I had to lean on one of those spots today. Just managing the fish has been so key this week, and so is managing time. I don’t want to get locked out, but could I have caught more today? I think so. But I don’t want to burn fish, and I lost a few fish today, too.”

While Lopez isn’t fully confident that all of his areas are good to go on the final day, he knows that having multiple schools to lean on is going to give him a slight edge on Championship Thursday. If he can maintain the quality bites, he knows he has a good shot to claim his first Invitationals win.

“One of those places is burnt up,” he said. “I was going to start there, but there were boats on it that weren’t there yesterday, which is fine (because) I think I caught them all.

“My other fish, no one has been on. It’s got the same caliber of fish. I caught five out of it today and had 16 pounds. If I crush them first thing tomorrow, I’m going to get back early and order a pizza, just Timmy Horton it,” he said, laughing. “But if I don’t, I’m going to burn it all to the ground.”

Matt Stefan has leaned on a spinning rod a lot this week.

Stefan shoots into second

“I have one main area that I’m fishing,” said Stefan. “In practice, I went through it and caught a 2 3/4, a 2 1/4, and shook off another four or five bites.”

Stefan’s primary area is up in Pool 7, which was not in his initial game plan heading into the week. But after finding the stretch in practice, he knew he couldn’t ignore its potential and decided to lock up.

“I was originally going to go to 9,” said Stefan. “But that spot has turned into something more than expected. I’m not getting a ton of bites, but when I get bit they’re like 3-pounders. So, it’s the right quality.”

Stefan is one of the anglers who has opted to go a more finesse fishing route this week, targeting bass with wacky-rigged Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General.

“I couldn’t get bit on moving baits in practice,” he said. “The fish are still there, they’re just not hitting moving baits for me. So, I switched up and started getting them on the wacky rig.”

Like Lopez, Stefan has only had a limited time to work over his fish each day, and he has a feeling that he will have plenty of fish left with a full day to lean on them on the final day.

“I’ve only fished the area for a few hours each day,” said Stefan. “It’s like we’ve been losing hours each morning and coming back at noon each day because of barges. So, I feel like if I can lock through and fish it for five or six hours, I can get another bag like I’ve been catching.”

Top 10 pros

1. Steve Lopez – 33 – 12 (10)  

2. Matthew Stefan – 32 – 14 (10)       

3. Mike Brueggen – 30 – 15 (10)        

4. Tristan McCormick – 29 – 13 (10)   

5. Colby Schrumpf – 29 – 07 (10)

6. Cody Meyer – 29 – 04 (10) 

7. Jared Lintner – 29 – 01 (10)

8. Nick Hatfield – 28 – 15 (10)

9. Matt Reed – 28 – 14 (10)    

10. Mark Condron – 28 – 14 (10)

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