JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. – After a slow, chilly start to the morning, pros at the U.S. Air Force Stage Two on Cherokee and Douglas Lakes Presented by Power-Pole were greeted with a little sunshine and a fired-up fishery half-way through Period 1. While the top spot on the leaderboard saw several names throughout the morning, Mercury pro Randy Howell of Guntersville, Alabama, caught a 5-pound, 14-ounce whopper mid-way through Period 2 to take over and maintain the lead, despite several hard-charging pros.
Link to Hi-Res Photo of Qualifying Group A Leader Randy Howell
Link to HD Video – Fish-Catch Highlights of Group A Qualifying Round Day 1 on Douglas Lake
Link to Photo Gallery of Group A’s Day 1 Qualifying Round Afternoon Highlights
The six-day event, hosted by the Jefferson County Department of Tourism Sports Commission, showcases 80 of the top professional anglers in the world, competing for a purse of more than $805,000, including a top payout of $100,000 and valuable Angler of the Year (AOY) points in hopes of qualifying for the General Tire Heavy Hitters All-Star event and REDCREST 2024, the Bass Pro Tour championship.
“We are thrilled to be hosting Stage 2 of the 2023 Bass Pro Tour in Jefferson County,” said Lauren Hurdle, Jefferson County Director of Tourism. “Douglas and Cherokee Lakes are in full blown Spring patterns, showcasing how incredible both tournament fisheries truly are. Douglas and Cherokee Lakes have hosted numerous Major League Fishing events, and it will be fascinating to see what each professional angler is able to produce on these waters.”
The weights are stacked at the top of the leaderboard after Day 1, with Howell bringing a modest lead into Monday’s second day of competition for Group A. The Alabama pro finished the day with a mere 7-ounce margin over second-place angler and Favorite Fishing pro Adrian Avena of Vineland, New Jersey, who weighed a five-bass limit totaling 14-11. Abu Garcia pro Justin Lucas of Guntersville, Alabama sits in third place, with a five-bass limit weighing 14-5, while local pro Brandon Coulter of Knoxville, Tennessee finished the day in fourth place with a five-bass limit totaling 13 pounds, 14 ounces. General Tire pro Edwin Evers of Talala, Oklahoma, finished the day with five bass weighing 13-11 to round out the top five.
The 40 anglers in Group A will now have an off day from competition on Sunday, while the 40 anglers competing in Group B will begin their first day of competition. Group A will resume competition on Monday.
While the temperature never got above 47 degrees, that was enough to see some big moves, especially in the second and third periods of the day. The one-hour delay in competition times for this event proved to be key for many of the pros, as the afternoon bite shook up most of the Top 10 in the final period. Avena was among the big movers in Period 3, sliding from 22nd into 2nd, while Coulter moved from 25th into 4th and Power-Pole pro Chris Lane of Guntersville, Alabama, slid from 11th into 6th. Kalamazoo, Michigan’s Kevin VanDam moved from 21st into the 8thspot, but the biggest move of the day was Evers, who catapulted from 32nd place into 5th.
Of the top six pros, five caught fish over 4 pounds and every angler within the top 13 caught a fish weighing more than 3 pounds.
“That one 5-pound, 14-ounce fish saved me today and made a huge difference between me having a decent 12- to 13-pound bag and leading the day,” Howell said. “It’s not been an easy day, but that big largemouth really got me over the hump and got my confidence up.
“I caught a 3-pounder before that, then closed out my limit, culling once or twice, but the key today was just keeping a bunch of small crankbaits in my hand,” Howell said. “Coming into Day 1, I thought without a big bite, catching 12 pounds a day would make the cut pretty easily, but after today I’m starting to think 10 pounds per day will do it.”
Howell said he caught most of his fish on a Livingston Howeller DMC Jr., a Jerkmaster Jr. and a Yamamoto Senko.
“The Livingston Jerkmaster Jr. is one of the baits that performed well in practice,” Howell said. “I didn’t do as much on it today but the Howeller Jr. – a smaller version of my bigger Howeller bait – was definitely a key bait today. I rotated back and forth between crawfish and shad-colored, throwing them on my Daiwa Tatula Elite 7’ Medium Light Shallow Cranking Rod, with 12-pound Daiwa J-Fluoro Samurai Line.
“Everything’s worked good for us today and the Lord has really blessed me,” Howell said. “I’m so thankful for what we’ve got and looking forward to getting back out there Monday morning and getting this cut locked down so we can head to Cherokee Lake for the Knockout Round on Wednesday and have a chance at Thursday’s Championship Round.”
The Top 20 pros in Group A after Day 1 on Douglas Lake are:
1st: Randy Howell, Guntersville, Ala., five bass, 15-2
2nd: Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., five bass, 14-11
3rd: Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., five bass, 14-5
4th: Brandon Coulter, Knoxville, Tenn., five bass, 13-14
5th: Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., five bass, 13-11
6th: Chris Lane, Guntersville, Ala., five bass, 13-10
7th: Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., five bass, 13-6
8th: Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., five bass, 13-0
9th: Jacob Wall, New Hope, Ala., five bass, 12-15
10th: Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., five bass, 12-9
11th: Cliff Pace, Petal, Miss., five bass, 12-8
12th: Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., five bass, 12-2
13th: Takahiro Omori, Tokyo, Japan, five bass, 11-14
14th: Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala., five bass, 11-12
15th: Dakota Ebare, Brookeland, Texas, five bass, 11-11
16th: Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., five bass, 11-10
17th: Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., five bass, 11-3
18th: Fred Roumbanis, Russellville, Ark., five bass, 10-13
19th: Wesley Strader, Spring City, Tenn., five bass, 10-12
20th: Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., five bass, 10-9
A complete list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.
Howell’s 5-pound, 14-ounce largemouth that locked onto his shallow-diving crankbait in Period 2 was also the biggest fish of the day, earning him the first $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award of the event. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and another $1,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament.
The 40 Anglers in Group A compete in their two-day qualifying round on Saturday and Monday – the 40 anglers in Group B on Sunday and Tuesday. After each two-day qualifying round is complete, the Top 20 anglers from each group advance to Wednesday’s Knockout Round. In the Knockout Round, weights are zeroed, and the remaining 40 anglers compete to finish in the Top 10 to advance to Thursday’s Championship Round. In the final day Championship Round, weight carries over from the Knockout Round and the angler with the heaviest two-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.
Anglers will launch Sunday through Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. ET from Dandridge Ramp, located at 100 Public Drive in Dandridge and Wednesday and Thursday at 8:30 a.m. ET from the TVA Boat Launch on Renfro Road in Jefferson City. Each day’s General Tire Takeout will be held at the respective launch locations above, beginning at 5 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch and takeout events and also encouraged to follow the event online throughout the day on the MLFNOW! live stream and SCORETRACKER® coverage at MajorLeagueFishing.com.
On Championship Thursday, March 23, from 5:30-7 p.m., MLF will welcome fans of all ages to come in to celebrate the Top 10 and crown the Stage Two Champion at the Trophy Presentation. The final 10 Championship Round Bass Pro Tour anglers will be on hand at the trophy celebration to meet and greet fans, sign autographs and take selfies. The celebration will take place at the TVA Boat Launch on Renfro Road in Jefferson City, Tennessee.
The U.S. Air Force Stage Two on Cherokee and Douglas Lakes Presented by Power-Pole features anglers competing with a 1-pound, 6-ounce minimum weight requirement for a bass to be deemed scorable on Douglas Lake and a 1-pound, 12-ounce minimum weight for scorable bass on Cherokee Lake. Minimum weights are determined individually for each competition waters that the Bass Pro Tour visits, based on the productivity, bass population and anticipated average size of fish in each fishery.
The 2023 MLF Bass Pro Tour features a field of 80 of the top professional anglers in the world competing across seven regular-season tournaments around the country, fishing for millions of dollars and valuable points to qualify for the annual General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and REDCREST 2024, the Bass Pro Tour championship, held March 13-17, 2024, on Lay Lake in Birmingham, Alabama.
The MLFNOW! broadcast team of Chad McKee, Marty Stone and J.T. Kenney will break down the extended action live on all six days of competition from 8:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET. MLFNOW! will be live streamed on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.
Television coverage of the U.S. Air Force Stage Two on Cherokee and Douglas Lakes Presented by Power-Pole will air as two, two-hour episodes starting at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, Sept. 16 on Discovery Channel. New MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on Discovery Channel, with re-airings on Outdoor Channel.
Proud sponsors of the 2023 MLF Bass Pro Tour include: 13 Fishing, Abu Garcia, Ark Fishing, ATG + Wrangler, B&W Trailer Hitches, Bally Bet, Bass Cat Boats, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Black Rifle Coffee, Daiwa, Epic Baits, Favorite Fishing, Ferguson, Fox Rent A Car, General Tire, Grundéns, Humminbird, Lowrance, Minn Kota, Mercury, Mossy Oak, Onyx, Power-Pole, Rapala, Star tron, T-H Marine, TORO, Toyota, U.S. Air Force, Yellowstone Bourbon, Yo-Zuri and Zoom Baits.
For complete details and updated information on Major League Fishing and the Bass Pro Tour, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow MLF’s social media outlets at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.