One thing that the 50 anglers fishing for a $200,000 payday at the Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota have become intimately familiar with this week in Sturgeon Bay is change.
As if a 2-pound minimum weight, a catch-everything-you-can scoring system, penalties and alternating competition days aren’t enough to juggle, Wednesday brought with it the kind of change that anglers have had to adjust to their whole lives: weather and water conditions.
With an intermittent, shifting 10- to 15-mph wind pushing water around Green Bay and Lake Michigan – and drastically changing the bite in areas that the 25 anglers in Group A made hay on two days earlier – the second Qualifying Round of Group A competition played out like a rock-and-roll festival: something to look at here, a side attraction to look at there and a little bit of everything to capture your attention for a minute or two.
The leaders keep leading: Mitchell, Barnes, Scanlon, Buck, Stefan, Bohannan
After stacking 119 pounds, 10 ounces on SCORETRACKER® on the opening day of the TITLE, Kurt Mitchell knew going into the day that he didn’t have to catch a single bass to move on to Friday’s Knockout Round. The five anglers below him as lines went in on Wednesday – Evan Barnes, Casey Scanlon, Grae Buck, Matt Stefan and Greg Bohannan – also knew that they were pretty safe from falling out of the top 10.
All six of them held serve, and will fish the Knockout Round on Friday.
Mitchell spent his day thoroughly exploring his primary fishing area, putting just 8-5 on the board but finishing with a 37-plus-pound cushion over Barnes in second place. Barnes added 28-6, Scanlon added 32-5, and Buck, Stefan and Bohannan (18-11, 21-4 and 32-11 respectively) cruised on to the next round.
“I’ve done all I can here,” Mitchell says as he calls it a day 30 minutes before lines out. “This area is just four bridges and a couple little isolated areas, there’s not much else to look at. If they’re not biting, I want to stay here and figure them out. I don’t want to leave here, I know the fish live here. I’m going to stay here, and figure them out during the tournament.”
The big movers: Rusty Salewske and Jon Canada
Jon Canada headed out on Wednesday morning in the No. 10 spot, needing roughly 32 pounds of smallmouth to stay inside the Knockout Round cut. After making a move from Green Bay into Sturgeon Bay in the second period, the Alabama pro added 26 pounds in the third period alone, ending the day with 36-7 and finishing the two-day qualifying rounds in eighth place with 63-3.
California pro Rusty Salewske made an ever bigger move, climbing from 16th place (6 pounds out of the cut) to seventh with 44-6 on 13 fish. Salewske loaded 31 pounds of smallmouth on the scales in the third period alone, pushing his two-day total to 64-7.
Beating the bubble: Joshua Weaver and Ron Nelson
The two anglers breathing the biggest sigh of relief after day three: Joshua Weaver and Ron Nelson.
Weaver and Nelson were the last two anglers to avoid elimination on Wednesday, Weaver finishing ninth with 59-13 (22-12 on the day), and the newly crowned Angler of the Year Nelson scratching his way to the 10th spot with 33-14 on the day and a two-day total of 58-9 (just 1-3 ahead of Troy Morrow for the final Group A spot in the Knockout Round).
Nelson started the day with 15-6 in the first period to jump from 12th place into a seemingly comfortable spot in the Top 10. But as increasingly cold, dirty water pushed into his area in the Sturgeon Bay shipping channel, Nelson’s bite disappeared, forcing him to scramble in the third period with a 45-minute move out onto Sturgeon Bay.
That move paid off as Nelson added 5-11 in the final 35 minutes to stay 1-3 ahead of Troy Morrow for 10th place.
“I know things are really going to change over the next couple of days,” Nelson says. “I need to try to figure out how to catch a bunch of fish.”
The 25 anglers in Group B return to the waters of Sturgeon Bay tomorrow for the second and final Qualifying Round of Group B competition. The 10 anglers with the best combined weights in the 25-man group after tomorrow will advance to Friday’s Knockout Round to join Wednesday’s Top 10.
The weather forecast calls for high winds overnight, forecast to die down by morning. Thursday’s forecast is much milder – winds dropping to 7 to 10 mph through the day – but the effects of Wednesday night’s winds will likely plague the field throughout the day.
“When you have a big lake and heavy winds gusting to 30 mph, it’s going to create big waves and residual waves in the morning,” says FLW Live analyst JT Kenney. “These guys fishing on Thursday will see a different place than they saw their first day. That wind will definitely cause some places to muddy up (on Thursday).”
Qualifying Round notables
The Berkley Big Bass for Group A was Mitchell’s 5-11 that he caught early on the first day of competition. Mitchell’s big fish earned him a $500 Big Bass Bonus.
How, when, where to watch
Watch all three periods of the Knockout Round of the TITLE via the FLW Live stream, which will be hosted at www.majorleaguefishing.com. Click on the WATCH NOW link in the blue bar at the top of the page.
Hosted by Chad McKee, JT Kenney and Marty Stone – with remote reporting by Chris Jones, Travis Moran, Todd Hollowell and Tackle Warehouse pro Jared Lintner – FLW Live coverage of Thursday’s Group B action begins at 7:45 a.m CST and continues through three periods of competition through “lines out” at 4 p.m.
The Tackle Warehouse TITLE Postgame Show will begin immediately after, continuing to approximately 4:45 p.m. daily.
Top 10 pros from Group A:
1. Kurt Mitchell – Milford, Del.
2. Evan Barnes – Hot Springs, Ark.
3. Casey Scanlon – Eldon, Mo.
4. Grae Buck – Green Lane, Pa.
5. Greg Bohannan – Bentonville, Ark.
6. Matthew Stefan – Junction City, Wis.
7. Rusty Salewske – Alpine, Calif.
8. Jon Canada – Helena, Ala.
9. Joshua Weaver – Macon, Ga.
10. Ron Nelson – Berrien Springs, Mich.