COLUMBIA, South Carolina – There have been some tightly packed SCORETRACKER leaderboards in the six-year history of Major League Fishing, but none more so than the 11-ounce bottleneck in the middle of the field in Elimination Round 3 at the Challenge Select in Columbia, South Carolina.
As reported here previously, Select anglers Michael Neal, Keith Poche, Brandon Palaniuk, Casey Ashley and Todd Faircloth battled tooth-and-nail for three qualifying spots on Lake Murray behind round winner Chris Lane. Neal grabbed second place in the round with 14 pounds, 5 ounces, Faircloth ended up in sixth place with 13-10. In between, 2 ounces separated Poche and Palaniuk (14-3 and 14-1), and 3 ounces separated Palaniuk and Ashley (14-1 and 13-3).
Even seventh-place finisher Kevin Short was in the mix, less than a pound away from making the qualifying four.
There have been some notable traffic jams in previous Challenge and Summit events – a three-way tie between Mike Iaconelli, Jeff Kriet and Jason Quinn in Sudden Death at the Inaugural MLF Cup event in 2012 being the most noteworthy – but none as congested as the five-man battle royale on Murray.
“The stress of that day was just indescribable,” said Poche, who catapulted from seventh place to third when he hooked a 2-3 with less than 10 minutes left in the final period. “It had gotten extremely, extremely tough at the end of the day – high sun, no wind, fish just don’t want to bite that time of year in those conditions. You don’t even know what to think in a situation like that, except ‘One more bite, one more bite! Just keep chuckin’.”