Qualifying Round day four recap
4:00 p.m. – Cox hangs on, top 10 set
The waning moments of the Knockout Round were intense, but John Cox managed to outlast Dylan Hays and punch his ticket to tomorrow’s Championship Round. With that, the top 10 is set.
Spencer Shuffield had a stellar day with 86-13 to lead the group. He spent the afternoon practicing and still managed to smoke them, in the process finding some massive schools to hammer on tomorrow. Shuffield is primed for a big day on Championship Saturday.
Likewise, Joey Cifuentes had a great day with 77-10. He’s the only other angler to top the 70-pound mark today, though Grae Buck, Bradford Beavers, Casey Scanlon and Rusty Salewske all went over 60 pounds.
Thanks once again for sticking around with us today. We’ll have one more day of live coverage tomorrow, starting at 7:30 a.m. CT. Be sure to come back for all the action as we crown the first-ever Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota champion.
3:30 p.m. – 30 minutes to go
There’s half an hour to go in the final period of the Knockout Round. Dylan Hays is on the move and looking for a place he can catch one quality smallmouth to jump back into the top 10. John Cox is just hoping for one more fish to solidify his standing in the top 10. Same goes for Evan Barned.
Wade Strelic is the only other pro with a shot, but he needs multiple fish in the last 30 minutes if he’s to have any chance of jumping any of the other three.
3:07 p.m. – Four-horse race for the cut
John Cox strikes back. After Evan Barnes bounced him from the top 10, he turned around and caught a 4-11 to jump all the way back up into ninth. Dylan Hays is now in 11th and Barnes in 10th. Add Wade Strelic to the mix (5-6 from the cut line) and you have your final four pieces of a puzzle that’s only missing two.
Above that group, the top eight anglers are pretty well set. They made trade places here or there, but none are in danger of getting bounced from the top 10. Below the aforementioned group, the next-closest angler is Josh Weaver, who’s 18 pounds back. Make your bets and hold on. This race might come down to the wire.
3:00 p.m. – Shake-up at the cut line
Evan Barnes has officially bounced John Cox from the top 10 with exactly an hour left to fish. Barnes caught one to move within 5 ounces and then followed that up with another scorable that went 2-9. Cox is now in 11th and back on the outside looking upward. He hasn’t landed a scorable bass in almost two hours. Dylan Hays is now the bubble boy in 10th, as Barnes also jumped Hays with that fish.
2:30 p.m. – Final 90 minutes
With 90 minutes left to fish, there hasn’t been any significant movement in the top 10. Spencer Shuffield has taken back over the top spot, but with weights zeroing again for the Championship Round, that doesn’t matter all that much. Still, Shuffield has spent a lot of time getting dialed in to a new area in which he’s found a half dozen schools and some interesting stuff to waypoint. He’s riding a ton of confidence and is already prepared for the changing conditions and fresh SCORETRACKER leaderboard tomorrow.
Down near the cut line, John Cox hasn’t upgraded in a while and is still sitting in 10th, and Wade Strelic is gunning for that spot. He just caught a 3-11 to move within 3-2 of Cox. One more decent scorable bass for Strelic and Cox could be in some trouble.
1:52 p.m. – View from the bubble
Wade Strelic is on the outside looking in right now, currently 6-3 in back of Bradford Beavers in 10th. Evan Barnes isn’t far behind Strelic (1 pound exactly). Those two are the most likely pros to jump into the top 10 by the end of the day, as Josh Weaver has just 23-1 and Matt Stefan has 22-9. No one else below those two on SCORETRACKER are very close to rallying for the cut line.
It’s pretty impressive how well these pros have caught them today when you consider that John Cox put up 66-5 to lead Group B after day two and we’ll likely have at least three pros top that mark today. Grae Buck, in the lead, has already surpassed that total by a couple ounces. Spencer Shuffield can do the same with one scorable bass.
For those anglers at the top (Buck, Shuffield and Scanlon) the rest of the day is all about practicing and finding fish for tomorrow. That should give them a bit of an advantage over the anglers still doing their best to remain in the top 10 and ahead of the cut. For the likes of John Cox and Bradford Beavers, there’s no thought of saving fish. It’s all or nothing at this point.
1:15 p.m. – End of Period 2
That’ll do it for Period 2. Things slowed down quite a bit with the rain and wind that moved in, and we’re starting to see some definition on SCORETRACKER in terms of tiers.
In the top tier, Grae Buck, Spencer Shuffield and Casey Scanlon all have 61-5 or better. Below them, a group of anglers that includes Kurt Mitchell, Kyle Hall and Rusty Salewske (who have all had the lead today) all have 44-9 or more.
The next tier down makes up the bubble boys, with John Cox at the top (38-13 in eighth) and Dylan Hays (36-5) in 10th. Wade Strelic is in 11th, 3-15 below the elimination line.
There’s still plenty of time to fish, though, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the gaps close between all those tiers. This one isn’t over by any means… except for maybe Buck, Shuffield and Scanlon. All three are likely fishing tomorrow barring something crazy happening.
12:48 p.m. – Cox, Beavers flirting with the cut line
John Cox just caught a 3-2 to move him from the bubble into eighth place and ahead of Bradford Beavers. Beavers answered back with a 2-1, but he’s still 8 ounces behind Cox and in 10th currently.
The wildcard in this scenario is Dylan Hays, who’s in eighth ahead of both of them thanks to his own 3-6 he just caught while Cox and Beavers were trading blows. Those three are all a ways back from Kyle Hall in seventh, though.
12:21 p.m. – Cut line update
It’s hard to make any definitive statements about who is and isn’t going to make the cut right now. About 13 of 20 pros are all bunched together, with five within 6-10 of one another near the cut line. But even the rest of the field still has a shot considering how good a fishery this is. All it takes is one big school to get right in a hurry, especially with an average scorable bass being in the 3 1/2-pound range this week. It’s never over until it’s over.
That said, Grae Buck is most likely safe and fishing tomorrow. He’s in the lead with 63-14, 12-2 ahead of Spencer Shuffield and 35-8 ahead of the cut line. He can probably start planning ahead and figuring out what he wants to do tomorrow.
Everyone’s goal is to just make it to tomorrow – and you’re not going to find too many pros managing their fish at this point today – but we’re going to see a curveball at some point on Championship Saturday. The forecast is calling for heavier winds that should make for drastically different fishing conditions. Managing fish today might not matter tomorrow.
12:01 p.m. – Buck doing work
Grae Buck has managed to pull out ahead of the rest of the back a bit here, creating some separation with a pair of really nice fish. His last two fish went 5-2 and 4-10, and he’s now leading Spencer Shuffield by 9-1.
Nine pounds, 1 ounce also separates second from sixth. That should tell you exactly how bunched the top of SCORETRACKER is today. The rest of the scoreboard is pretty spread out with almost every pro still having a shot at finishing the period in the top 10.
Unfortunately, there’s still six anglers who are in single digits, including AOY Ron Nelson (8-5). He’s going to need to get one some fish in a hurry if he wants to have a shot at tacking on the TITLE champion’s belt to his AOY trophy this season.
11:16 a.m. – Another new leader
The top of SCORETRACKER has been musical chairs today, as we have another new leader. Kyle Hall is atop the field with 44-9, 6 ounces ahead of Grae Buck and 1-12 ahead of Rusty Salewske.
Down to seventh (Joey Cifuentes), weights are consistent and bunched up pretty good. Below that is where we’re going to see a ton of movement from here on out. Nine pounds, 3 ounces separates Wade Strelic in eighth from Cifuentes.
John Cox keeps trying to leave his spot, and every time he tries to make a move, he catches another good fish. He just added a 3-12 to jump all the way into ninth with 23-3.
10:55 a.m. – Barnes kicks off Period 2
Evan Barnes is the first pro on the board in Period 2. He just landed a 2-2 to add a little breathing room above the cut line. Matt Stefan is just 3-3 behind in 10th.
The rain is coming down now, with a front moving in from the southwest. It doesn’t seem to pack a lot of storm energy (so maybe we’ll be able to avoid a lightning delay), but there’s a ton of rain in that front. It’s going to be a wet afternoon.
Still, as long as the smallies are chewing, you won’t hear too many people complaining.
10:30 a.m. – Period 1 in the books
With Period 1 in the rearview, all we can say is… whew. It was a good one.
As good as the fishing has been at times this week, no day got off to as hot a start as today. Grae Buck smoked them with five fish in five casts to start the morning. He slowed down a bit and gave way to Kurt Mitchell, who’s just been crushing smallmouth the last couple weeks between his Toyota Series win on Lake Erie and then winning Group A’s qualifying round. He’s in third with 40-13.
Rusty Salewske seems to have flipped a switch this week. He really struggled to start his Qualifying Round and came roaring back into the top 10 to make the cut with 44-6 yesterday. Ever since, he’s been weighing in a lot of scorable bass. A lot. Salewske currently sits in the lead with 42-13, just 1-11 ahead of Buck.
Buck may have slowed a bit, but he’s still in great shape with 41-2 in second. Behind Buck and Mitchell, Kyle Hall caught a key 4-13 as time was about to expire to move into fourth, tied for weight with Mitchell.
After Spencer Shuffield in seventh (27-12), weights begin dropping off a bit. No one else has more than 24-4. That means Period 2 is a true moving period, with plenty of room for pros to make a big jump over the cut line. Currently, Matt Stefan sits in 10th with 19-2 and John Cox has 15-10 in 11th.
Rain is moving in. Things might get a little dicey for some of these pros from here on out. We’ll see how it plays out after the break.
9:53 a.m. – New leader
Surprise, surprise. Kurt Mitchell is on top of SCORETRACKER. We got pretty used to seeing that in the Qualifying Round for Group A.
Mitchell is in the area in which he smoked them on day one of the event. His fish are still there, to the tune of 33-14 so far. Grae Buck has now slipped to second, and it has nothing to do with how Buck is performing.
With bad weather moving in and everything on the line today, pros who are on them are dropping the hammer. No one is laying off their fish to save for tomorrow. It’s do or die, and Mitchell is doing. It’s fun to watch.
9:30 a.m. – Five pros over 20 pounds
This has not been a slow morning. Just an hour and a half into fishing, we have five pros with more than 20 pounds, headlined by Grae Buck’s 32-10. Kurt Mitchell has been on a tear and recently added a 4-5. He’s in second place with 25-11.
Hot in his heels, Kyle Hall is up to 24-3 with a 4-13 on the board. Casey Scanlon is 1-2 behind Hall with 23-1, and Rusty Salewske rounds out the top five with 20-15.
Evan Barnes sits in sixth with 16-8 right now, but he’s already almost 9 pounds above the cut line.
Still no 5-pounders today, but this morning has a feel to it. They’re coming. The feeding window is still wide open (if you believe in such things) and the storms have held off – for now.
9:10 a.m. – Big girls are starting to chew
In the last five minutes, two more pros have landed 4-plus-pounders. Kurt Mitchell just hauled in a 4-13, tied for Kyle Hall for the largest fish of the day. Mitchell has now moved up to second behind Grae Buck with six scorable bass for 21-6. He’s 7 pounds even off the lead.
It’s feast or famine so far today. The top eight pros all have three or more scorables. The bottom three have zero. Everyone else has one or two, but not much size to speak of. With this feeding window opening up, though, that could change in a hurry.
9:04 a.m. – Mitchell finding his groove
Kurt Mitchell, who absolutely smashed them on day one, hasn’t had to do much for a few days. He coasted on day three to make the Knockout Round, but he’s finding a groove again today. He has four scorable bass for 14-12, now in fourth place. It seems like Mitchell is seeing a lot of fish on his graph and likes his area. The next two hours might well be crucial for him, as there’s a bite window that should extend until late morning.
Evan Barnes just caught his sixth. He’s still 11-14 behind Grae Buck, but he’s in good shape. Barnes’ nerves seem to be giving way to the fun that is smallmouth fishing on this incredible fishery.
Only three anglers are without a scorable bass so far this morning. The bite is hot, though the big girls haven’t quite shown up yet. Only two pros have caught fish over 4 pounds so far.
8:52 a.m. – Barnes and Scanlon applying pressure
Grae Buck can’t have all the fun. Evan Barnes and Casey Scanlon want to party, too.
Both Barnes and Scanlon have five scorable bass now. Barnes has 13-13 with his biggest being a 3-6. Scanlon is close behind with 12-12, his biggest being a 3-4.
Rusty Salewske is the only other angler other than leader Grae Buck with more than three fish. He has four for 11-15, just ahead of Kyle Hall (three for 11-14, including a 4-8).
8:42 a.m. – No relaxing for Cifuentes today
Joey Cifuentes said yesterday that he couldn’t help but catch fish. He was in some great areas with the right bait at the right time and coasted into a first-place finish in the Qualifying Round.
Today, the pressure is on. “I’m about to lose it right now,” he said after finally getting his first fish in the boat. Understandable, considering it was a 4-11 he had to fight with to scoop it up and get it to the scale. That’s the biggest fish of the day so far.
Kyle Hall is fishing right next to Grae Buck, and it looks like he’s getting a piece of that action, too. He has two for 7-6 and has moved into the top five.
8:34 a.m. – Buck keeps rolling, Barnes moving up
Grae Buck just caught his sixth scorable, this one being another 4-pounder. He’s up to 23-15 and showing no signs of slowing down. How much he catches and how fast will just come down to how many fish are in the school he’s on. Does he have another similar school to run to or will he milk the same area for a while? That might be the only thing keeping Buck from putting up eye-popping numbers in Period 1.
Evan Barnes now has three scorable for 9-3. Barnes has talked a lot already about nerves and not feeling comfortable until he has some tallies on SCORETRACKER. It seems like he’s settling in nicely, though. At this rate, he’ll be singing to us before too long.
Bradford Beavers and Casey Scanlon have each added a second scorable. Beavers has 6-2, Scanlon 4-6. Eight other pros have landed their first to this point.
8:10 a.m. – Buck hits for the cycle, plus one
Grae Buck just went 5-for-5 on his first five drops, and they weren’t dinks. He got on the right school at the right time and just got himself out to an early lead in a hurry. He took a second penalty to land the fifth, but I’d say it was probably worth it, all things considered. He’s catching them so fast SCORETRACKER hasn’t even been able to keep up. His reel probably has smoke coming from it.
With the weather threatening to strike at any time, it’s certainly a good thing for Buck that he’s catching some good fish early. It also has to help a lot with his nerves. Catching 19-3 in about 10 minutes will do that for a pro.
Kurt Mitchell, Dylan Hays and Evan Barnes are all on the board as well. Mitchell’s went 4 pounds even. It’ll be interesting to see how his day goes here in the early going considering he essentially just went practicing two days ago after crushing them on day one. If the conditions changed a lot or his fish moved more than he was anticipating, Mitchell will need to make some adjustments. So far so good, though.
8:04 a.m. – Lines in
Grae Buck wasted no time getting on the board in this Knockout Round. He also wasted no time getting the first fish landing penalty of the day, not that he probably minds considering that first fish went 4-7. Worth giving up the couple minutes to get that fish in and weighed.
Spencer Shuffield technically beat Buck to the punch with his first by 56 seconds because of Buck’s penalty.. His went 2-15, and we’re finding out Shuffield is pretty darn good at estimating weights as he’s playing his fish. He told the Live camera he thought it was a 2 3/4-pounder before he ever saw it.
Both Buck and Shuffield commented about nerves and adrenaline after their catches. The Knockout Round really is a pressure cooker, and we’re seeing pros acknowledge that first thing this morning. It’ll be interesting to see who lets the nerves take over today and how long they last for Buck and Shuffield.
7:30 a.m. CT – The day begins, but weather looms large
As the top 20 pros prepare to start their day in the Knockout Round of the Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota, the one thing surely on everyone's mind is the way today will play out with potential delays due to thunderstorms moving into the area. The forecast calls for 100 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms, expected to arrive probably by the end of Period 1.
Should there be a lightning delay, pros, their officials and FLW and MLF media will be advised to get off the water until it's safe to get back out and restart. Any time lost to delays will be made up at the end of the day, but the latest the day will go is 6 p.m. CT. Anglers must fish at least five hours to be considered an official tournament day.
All that said, there are still fish to be caught and a Championship Round berth to be had for 10 of these pros, and they've all been around long enough to understand how to put the worries of weather and waves aside and get the job done.
Period 1 starts at 8 a.m. CT. Fortunately, our live video coverage starts even sooner. Be sure sure to head on over to MajorLeagueFishing.com for the FLW Live stream at 7:45 CT, and hang out here all day for analysis, updates and a lot more.
Temperature at takeoff: 67 degrees
Forecast high: 74 degrees
Sky: Complete cloud cover
Precipitation: 100 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms
Wind: SE 10 to 15 mph
Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota
Sturgeon Bay, Wis.
August 24-29, 2020
Hosted by Destination Sturgeon Bay