The Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota is a unique opportunity for the top 50 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit anglers and also a big challenge. Fishing under the Major League Fishing (MLF) format on an unfamiliar body of water with just two practice days won’t be easy. Plus, they’ll have to contend with the other anglers in the tournament, none of whom are to be taken lightly.
We gathered together a few pundits to take some guesses at who might come out on top.
– Kyle Wood, FLW Senior Editor
Newly crowned Angler of the Year Ron Nelson had an incredible season, no doubt. So, how could it get any better? Well, a win on Sturgeon Bay in the TITLE this week certainly would be the icing on the cake. Though Nelson is fishing at another level now, the scary part is that he really comes into his element when you add smallmouths in the equation. Being that he calls Michigan home, Nelson is actually one of the few pros in the field with Lake Michigan experience and that certainly can’t hurt the cause this week. Nelson’s mind is one of the brightest in the game when it comes to the why’s and how’s of finding and catching bass and that will also be a big factor this week as conditions on the fishery can change daily – or even hourly. Don’t expect the Nelson train to stop any time soon.
– Jody White, FLW Digital Editor
Though he’s not a smallmouth expert, Jeremy Lawyer has a lot of the traits necessary to do well in this event. He’s got the right sonar on his trolling motor for one, and he’s in the swing of things based on his success in the Super Tournament on Erie. Moreover, he’s on a roll – having finished 31st or better in the last two events, Lawyer clawed himself back to 21st in the Angler of the Year standings after an uncharacteristically bad start.
Additionally, Lawyer is a big-game angler. He’s showed up in the top five in two of the three FLW Cups he’s fished, won the Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American (and finished second), and won at the Pro Circuit and Toyota Series level. None of those wins are going to be applicable from a pattern standpoint, but he doesn’t get rattled and he’s a fierce competitor. There’s not an angler in the field that wants to be fishing against Lawyer in the Championship Round.
– Todd Hollowell, FLW Live Co-Host
Spencer Shuffield has to be one of the odds-on favorites to win this event. He has overcome some real-life adversity over the past few years and has burst back onto the national scene with a vengeance, finishing second in AOY. Shuffield is on the cutting edge with his electronics and has a sensational spinning rod skill set that fits perfectly with Sturgeon Bay smallmouths. Did you see him flawlessly handle the Lake St. Clair smallmouth in the last Pro Circuit event with no net? On top of all of that, I just get the feeling that it may be Shuffield's time.
– Travis Moran, FLW Live Co-Host
Miles Burghoff has not done great in the past on smallmouth waters, but over the last two years of watching him compete on the Pro Circuit he has impressed me with the ability to turn his weaknesses into strengths. Originally, he moved from California to Florida to attend college and learn how to better fish the Sunshine State, which has paid off with great finishes in college and throughout his career. Next, he moved to Tennessee to learn the Tennessee River. This year, he finished sixth on Chickamauga, compared to 117th back in 2019. I believe these Northern fisheries are the last puzzle piece for Burghoff and with his extensive knowledge of electronics, it would be no surprise to see him prove why he is one of the most versatile young anglers in the game this week.
– Todd Hollowell
Matt Becker has emerged as one of the most consistent anglers on the Pro Circuit the last two years and I expect him to be in the mix on the final day at Sturgeon Bay. He is a smallmouth guru that grew up fishing Lake Erie and big water who should have no problem adjusting to the challenges of landing fish in the MLF format. Happy-go-lucky and usually fishing barefooted, Becker should handle the SCORETRACKER® pressure perfectly well.
– Kyle Wood
When it comes to catching Great Lakes (and St. Clair) smallmouths there’s none better than Dobson. The man is a wizard at snatching big smallmouths, and like Nelson, is on another planet when it comes to making them eat. The one knock on Dobson may be that he’s better suited for a five-fish-limit tournament versus catch all you can, but I think he should have no issue making the necessary adjustments. Dobson is also really good at finding smallmouths both shallow and deep. Though shallow fish may not play that much this week, depending on weather, having a few areas to catch a handful of good ones from could be the difference in moving on or going home.
– Chris Jones, FLW Weighmaster
Dylan Hays will go over $300,000 in career earnings next weekend regardless of where he finishes in the TITLE (last place is guaranteed $10,000) and is riding the momentum of an eighth-place finish in the Angler of the Year standings. He has 15 FLW top 10s and a Toyota Series win on his resume. He’s been in position to win several times on the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit, but has yet to seal the deal. One reason he’s my top pick may be a gut feeling, but I interviewed him for an episode of my video podcast “Catching up with Chris Jones” and learned a lot about this guy. If you follow him on social media then you know he fishes nearly every day, whether it’s fun fishing, guiding, or tournament-related fishing. He is extremely versatile, understands electronics (which will be a big key this week), understands changing conditions and how to adapt, but still has some old-school stubbornness in him. There’s just something about his fire, his passion, that gives him an incredible amount of focus on the water. In old-school terms, he’s got the eye of the tiger! Rocky Balboa! Look at what he did in 2018 at Lake St. Clair. That event was a Pro Circuit event where he finished second and crushed over 95 pounds in four days on the famed fishery. If you’ve watched him on FLW Live then you have seen an angler that is straight-up … in … his … element. I’ll never forget watching him on that final day. He actually may have had the fish on to win it. I think maybe he gets revenge on some smallmouth this week.
– Todd Hollowell
Matthew Stefan may have the local advantage and have the most history of any angler in the field. He's won quite a bit of money on Sturgeon Bay over the years, albeit usually in the spring. He understands the nuances of wind direction, current and water clarity in Sturgeon Bay that others may miss as this event progresses through the week. In the prime of his career at the age of 40 and making his sixth championship appearance in seven seasons, Stefan has the poise and experience to make a run at the TITLE this week.
– Chris Jones
Bradford Beavers is another young gun on the Pro Circuit and I believe he is one of the best anglers in the game today. His shy, reserved and conservative personality gets him overlooked sometimes because he’s not doing interviews and creating social media every day, but this guy is absolutely dialed-in and figures it out everywhere we go on the Pro Circuit. Plus, if you watched him on FLW Live at the Mississippi River event a month ago, then you know he can handle the pressure of the camera and the moment. He’s won the Toyota Series Championship in his career, has logged a top-10 finish at the FLW Cup and has a total of five FLW wins at various levels. I’m thinking if you don’t know Beavers very well, you might by the end of this week.