KELLY BOSTIAN For the world of Tulsa
The difference of a day is what makes the fish hungry.
The waters of Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees finally stopped rising and a nasty springtime cold front became a thing of a past Saturday, and the five anglers who survived the second knockout round of the Major League Fishing Redcrest Championship have put more weight on the scale than the best dog on Friday.
Friday’s stress party gave way to Saturday’s success stories and the build-up to a Sunday slugfest for the Redcrest title and $300,000 prize.
The lake’s bountiful load of 3-6 pound northern largemouth bass are ready to cooperate with a field of boaters filling out heavy resumes. It’s a bunch of world champions and veteran anglers looking for repeats and a few dangerous ones who have come so close in the past.
Jordan Lee of Cullman, Alabama topped Saturday’s field with 11 fish for 33 pounds, 2 ounces. Only three other weights have been so significant throughout the tournament, and one of them was his 34-14 that lifted him from bottom of the pack to fourth on Thursday.
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He again used forward-looking sonar and a jerkbait to attract the hanging feeders, as several did. But late in the day, he slipped into shallows, dropped a ⅜ ounce jig through a carpet of leafy debris and saw it gobbled up by a 3-pound, 2-ounce ball of butter. in a few centimeters of water.
“I might have to bring the flippin’ stick tomorrow.” he said with a smile. “Bring the heavy stick.”
He repeated this style of capture in shallow water around brush about 20 minutes later, and showed that pre-spawning conditions are now confirmed in at least part of the lake. This means bass are gearing up to move back up shore to spawn in the coming days, not weeks. This means they are hungry and need to fuel their body for the task ahead.
Lee is one of seven former world champion title holders in Sunday’s Round of 10 Angler Championship, one of three with multiple titles and among several who have Angler of the Year titles across various professional tours.
He is one of only three anglers to win back-to-back Bassmaster Classics and he won the 2020 General Tire MLF World Championship.
Edwin Evers of Talala is the only angler in the world to hold both the Bassmaster Classic and Redcrest trophies, won in 2016 and 2019.
Spokane, Washington, angler Luke Clausen is one of only five in the world to have a Forrest Wood Cup, won in 2004, and a Bassmaster Classic trophy, from 2006.
Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama is the defending 2021 Redcrest Champion and is coming off a win at the latest MLF Bass Pro Tour event at Lewis Smith Lake in Alabama. Bryan Thrift has the 2019 Forrest Wood Cup named after him.
Jacob Wheeler won his Forrest Wood Cup in 2012.
Bobby Lane was the 2017 MLF General Tire World Champion.
The other three are hungry for victory, including Michael Neal of Dayton, Tennessee, who tops the Tackle Warehouse Pro circuit and placed second in the 2021 Redcrest.
Blanchard’s Zack Birge made the championship cut on Sunday at the last two Redcrests and finished fourth both times.
Blacksburg, SC angler Andy Montgomery has reached the first knockout round of the 2021 Redcrest, but he’s also a veteran angler with four Bassmaster Classic appearances and four Forrest Wood Cup appearances under his belt.
Evers said the level of competition and the fact that everyone starts the championship on Sunday with a zero behind their name leaves everything wide open, regardless of who caught what in the last week or the last decades.
“You look at the whole field and anyone can win,” he said. “Major League Fishing has put together the best ground ever. That’s what it’s built on. Any one of them is just as capable of winning as the other.
Even with a marker on the boat showing anglers where they stand in the leaderboard, anglers just need to focus on their game and do their best from start to finish, he said.
Even after experiencing the tough conditions with a peloton on Friday catching half of what the top of the peloton caught on Saturday, now is not the time to worry. He said he feels good about what he knows before the final.
“It’s super exciting to do it,” he said. “You have to be in it to earn it.”
Lee reflected on the on-court resumes and echoed that sentiment in front of the Redcrest crowd late on Saturday.
“You really don’t know, and no one in the business does until you’re out there,” he said. “And then someone can turn it on in the last period, so you never know.”