The Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit presented by Bad Boy Mowers kicks off in early February on Lake Okeechobee for another action-packed season. In anticipation of great things to come during the second Pro Circuit season, a few MLF staff members and some pros have decided to play pundit and make a few predictions.
Kyle Wood, MLF Sr. Manager, Digital Production
This year’s schedule seems to set up nicely for a chance at seeing big bags of fish throughout the course of the season. Obviously, Okeechobee is a no-brainer for a bag of this caliber to be weighed. Though the lake can be fickle when the Pro Circuit rolls to town, better grass in the lake and a new moon during the event could be the perfect storm to see a big bag of fish. From there, Murray and Eufaula are both more than capable of kicking out 25 pounds of bass on a given day, especially in late spring and early summer. The St. Lawrence may be the surest bet of the year to see a truly huge limit at given how many 4- to 6-pounders call the system home. No knock on the Potomac or Smith Lake, which the fishing should be solid at, but I’ve got my eye on the other four tournaments for some fireworks.
Miles Burghoff, Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit pro
Normally the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit would begin in January and would feature at least a couple prespawn events. In 2021, from what I can tell, we might not have a single event where prespawn fish will play the biggest role. Of course, what phase of the spawn bass will be in depends on the weather patterns leading into each event, but we will likely see bass on the beds at Okeechobee, Smith Lake, and Lake Murray. In other words, the first half of the Pro Circuit season might be dominated by anglers with strong sight fishing resumes including the reigning Angler of the Year champion Ron Nelson.
Grae Buck, Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit pro
The first time I met Cody Huff was at the 2020 Bassmaster Classic. Our boats were parked next to each other in the boat yard, so while rigging we got to know each other a little. It was just after he won his first Toyota Series event on Toledo Bend so I took the time to congratulate him and pick his brain a little on his win. It blew me away how much further along he was in his fishing than I was during my college fishing career. I think he walks away with Polaris Rookie of the Year in 2021.
Jody White, MLF Managing Editor, Website
I pegged Ron Nelson to win the Angler of the Year title in 2020, and though the season was far from what we thought it would be, he still pulled it off. Despite Nelson coming off an AOY performance and the fact that he’s got another year of crushing at the top level under his belt, I don’t feel quite as good about it this time around. There are some lakes he’s certainly going to crush on, but there are also a few that could trip him up. The competition is also set to be stiffer this year, with some superlative rookies joining the fray and some of the cream of the Bass Pro Tour in the mix for the full season. Still, I’m going to go ahead and ride with Nelson until I’m wrong, and maybe not even get off the train then.
The fish on the St. Lawrence just keep getting bigger and bigger each year. I predict in the final Pro Circuit event of the year we will see a 27-pound bag one of the days and a 7-pounder weighed in.
Decks will be full of spinning poles at the season finale on the St. Lawrence, but I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb and say that finesse will win the Potomac River event as well. Last year, the Potomac fished super tough for much of the year, and though it’s a shallow, grass-based fishery, finesse always plays some sort of role there.
Justin Lucas won an Elite Series tournament on a drop-shot on the Potomac, and in the fall of 2019, Justin Atkins nearly won with a drop-shot as well. Back in 2017, Casey Scanlon crushed over 19 pounds on day two of the FLW Tour event there with a drop-shot, and that was with Bryan New fishing behind him!
In addition to the drop-shot factor, some big fish on the Potomac always fall to a weightless Senko. Plus, in recent years Gregory Wilder has done some real damage with a floating worm, and he’s been close to putting together a Toyota Series win multiple times. So, while a vibrating jig or something like that is going to me a major factor, I think there’s enough of a chance someone does their damage on a fairy wand that it’s worth calling out.
Joel Shangle, MLF Sr. Director of Digital Media
There’s been an undeniable youth movement over the past five to seven years at the highest levels of tournament bass fishing, with the emergence of 20-something dominators like Jacob Wheeler and Jordan Lee, and flashy performances from under-25 anglers like Kyle Hall and Laramy Strickland.
Five anglers over the age of 40 have raised the champion’s trophy in Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit/FLW Tour competition in the past two years, but the Tom Monsoors, Rusty Salewskes and Terry Boltons have been outliers in the trend of 25- to 35-year-old pros claiming trophies and fat tournament checks.
But 2021 will see a slight “level set” in the age of Pro Circuit winners.
I’m not saying that the AOY standings will be dominated by 50 year olds – we’ll almost certainly witness frequent Top 10 appearances by under-30 anglers like Jacob Wall, Kurt Mitchell, Matt Becker, etc. – but I expect stouter Championship Day representation from anglers one generation removed from the 20s and early 30s.
Watch out for David Williams. Beware of David Walker. Don’t sleep on Skeet Reese. Don’t be shocked when Larry Nixon shows up in the final 10. And if Monsoor qualifies for the 2021 TITLE…well, you know where I’m going with that.
Although we had an extremely strong field of anglers in 2020, for whatever reason, it didn’t take as much as it usually does to make the top 10 in the points. In fact, Kyle Hall finished 10th with just 965 points, which is the lowest 10th place total for a six-event season since 2010.
In 2021 we not only have a field filled with the usual check-cashers on the Pro Circuit, but also have some anglers from the Bass Pro Tour with stellar resumes, as well as one of the strongest fields of rookie anglers I think I’ve ever seen. I predict it is going to take over 1000 points to finish in the top 10 at the end of the year.
Matt Stefan, Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit pro
I believe we will see an MLF record four-day total winning weight of smallmouth at the St. Lawrence. The St. Lawrence Seaway is getting better every year and the smallmouth continue to get bigger. My guess is it will take roughly 100 pounds total to win that event, which would be a record winning weight of smallmouth. I can’t wait to get there, and I think the majority of the field feels the same way!
2020 was the best year of fishing for myself, Matt Becker and Dylan Hays that we have ever had. I predict we will all end up in the Tackle Warehouse TITLE for the second year in a row.
No angler finished the year on a hotter streak than Justin Lucas. The Alabama pro waylaid
108 smallmouth for 331 pounds in seven competition days at the final Bass Pro Tour and Pro Circuit regular-season events in 2020, claiming two tour-level championship trophies in just over a month.
Here’s the bad news for the rest of the field: Lucas is a momentum fisherman, and he most definitely finished 2020 with plenty of it.
Lucas went on a Top 10 rampage in the second half of 2019 to claim an Angler of the Year title, and has a habit of stitching together four-tournament windows where he makes the final day 75% of the time.
The 2021 Pro Circuit schedule is also pretty Lucas-friendly: He’s won on the Potomac River, and has tour-level Top 5s on the St. Lawrence River, Smith Lake and Lake Eufaula. If his 2020 momentum has stayed with him when the season kicks off on Lake Okeechobee, you can expect to hear Lucas’ name spoken loudly in the AOY discussion.
We saw how important forward-facing sonar was in 2020 and I see no reason why that wouldn’t continue into 2021. With Lowrance releasing ActiveTarget, which is every bit as good, if not better than other forward-facing transducers, I think we are going to hear quite a bit about it in this upcoming season. Look for it to dominate at Smith Lake, Murray, the St. Lawrence and Eufaula. It’s that good!
Alex Davis, Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit pro
Eufaula is going to show out. I’ve fished two FLW Tour tournaments there and all though each had decent weights, this lake has really been on the upswing. I think the weights have been the best in the state recently. Down there lately, 25 pounds is good, but not a double take. I just hope I get in on this big fish beatdown.
I’ve never picked myself to win the championship before, so I hope picking myself to win it this year means I’ll have a legitimate shot. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that we are going to the Mississippi River at my favorite time of year with a significantly smaller field and roughly 100 miles of fishable river available. A few years ago, I was leading the FLW Tour event on the Mississippi and let it slip away. Last year, I had an awesome practice and struggled in the event and finished a disappointing 27th. I’d love nothing more than to qualify for this year’s championship and get another swing at one of my favorite fisheries!
I think Smith Lake will prove how good of a spotted bass lake it really is. We will be going at a great time. Prespawn and spots is like peanut butter and jelly. I hope I finally get a good finish there. I’ve had great practices in the past result in bad finishes and the worst part is how much I love that lake. I’ll be glad to sleep in my own bed for this one and I’m really looking forward to it!
Rob Matsuura, MLF Feature Content Producer & Editor
It will be a growth year for Dakota Ebare, not heightwise, but as an angler. I have known him for a couple years now and his dedication and love for the game is untouchable. He fishes a thousand tournaments a year, so he is definitely due for his first win, heck I’m calling it now, Ebare for AOY! See you on Day 5!
Spencer Shuffield made quite the statement in his return to professional fishing last season and it’s probably safe to bet he’ll keep that trend rolling in 2021. Really, the only thing lacking from his performance last season was a major win, despite coming very close in three events. In fact, it’s kind of shocking to think a big win has eluded him in his five years as a pro. Shuffield is one of the most well-rounded anglers in the sport, which is why I believe he will be able to string four days of fishing together to close out his first Pro Circuit win this season. Which lake will it happen on? Honestly, I think you could make a case for any of them, so I won’t be bold enough to make a prediction about that. But, this season seems like the perfect time for Shuffield to add one of the few things missing from his impressive, young resume – a Pro Circuit win.
Justin Onslow, MLF Managing Editor
Last year we saw John Cox win the first event of the season on Sam Rayburn with a crankbait in his hand. We’re still talking about it now because it was so unusual for Cox, but here’s an important point to remember: John Cox doesn’t fish the way he fishes because it’s the only way he knows how – he does it because it works for him. Now that he’s gaining confidence in himself with new techniques, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Cox lean on something entirely different than what he’s always done in an event this season and top 10 because of it.
Coming from the West coast, the Reese brothers have been on top of the fishing game for a long time. As a fan, I’ve always wanted to know which Reese is better. So, one day I looked into the archives of all the old West coast pro-ams to see who beat who. Funny enough, Skeet happened to place higher than Jimmy in every event I looked at. Well, this is a new era, I believe Jimmy will come through and beat Skeet in at least one tournament this year. You got this Jimmy!
Miles Burghoff is good. Really good. What “Sonar” has shown in two years on the Pro Circuit is more than enough to spur confidence in his ability to hang with anyone on any fishery, and a big part of that is due to his affinity for and aptitude with his electronics. Give Burghoff a few days of practice with his eyes glued to the screen in front of him and he’s going to find the right fish to make things interesting. As fish-finding electronics take their place at the forefront of fishing innovation, anglers like Burghoff – who embrace rather than begrudgingly adopt these technologies – will continue to have a big advantage.