By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Seven Bass Pro Tour competitors will be absent from this week's event at Lake Champlain.

At least two of those anglers (Luke Clausen and Fletcher Shryock) are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Another, Anthony Gagliardi, is recovering at home in South Carolina following a bout with the coronavirus that resulted in a case of pneumonia. Randy Howell is undergoing treatment for post-COVID effects in Alabama although his only test for the disease came back negative.

Chris Lane is fully healthy and on the way to a family member's wedding in California.

BassFan was unable to immediately contact the other two absentees, Dustin Connell and Mark Daniels Jr., listed in a press release issued Wednesday afternoon by Major League Fishing. Connell, the reigning REDCREST champion, and Daniels are road roommates along with two-time 2021 BPT winner and Angler of the Year contender Jacob Wheeler.

Clausen is in a hospital in Plattsburgh, N.Y., which is the site of the tournament that gets under way Thursday. Shryock never reached that destination; he was en route when he fell ill and is in a hospital in Scranton, Pa. Howell went to Plattsburgh and then flew back home when his symptoms worsened. Gagliardi is sitting out his second straight event – he also missed the recent Pro Circuit derby at the St. Lawrence River.

Points Landscape Altered

Here's the text of the MLF press release in its entirety:

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (Aug. 4, 2021) – The following statement was released today by Major League Fishing (MLF) Executive Vice President & General Manager Don Rucks regarding the Toyota Stage Six at Lake Champlain Presented by Googan Baits event that starts Thursday:

Good afternoon –

We have had some unique circumstances this week for our Bass Pro Tour Toyota Stage Six event at Lake Champlain.

At this time, the following anglers will not be participating in competition on Lake Champlain this week:

Luke Clausen
Dustin Connell
Mark Daniels Jr.
Anthony Gagliardi
Randy Howell
Chris Lane
Fletcher Shryock

Due to privacy protocols, we are unable to divulge the exact reasonings for each angler’s absence. We do look forward to welcoming all of them back for the upcoming Stage Seven at Lake St. Clair Presented by Covercraft next month, Sept. 10-15.

Photo: MLF

Fletcher Shryock was hospitalized due to COVID while en route to Lake Champlain.

Because the angler starting groups were set going into Stage Five, and now flipped for Stage Six, we will not be changing the starting groups. If an angler is unable to fish, for any reason, that group will simply be smaller. All other rules will remain the same this week – the two group winners will advance directly to the Championship Round, while the top 19 from each group will compete in the Day 5 Knockout Round to determine who fishes in the final 10 on Championship Tuesday.

As a result of this situation, and after consulting with our Bass Pro Tour angler advisory board, MLF has made the decision to allow each angler to drop one (1) event from this year in the following manner:
We will finish the 2021 season with the current points system and crown our 2021 Angler of the Year (AOY). After the 2021 season has ended and the AOY has been crowned, each angler will drop one (1) 2021 BPT event of his choosing.

After everyone has dropped the event of their choosing, a new 2021 points structure based on each angler’s remaining six (6) events will be used for angler requalification, REDCREST 2022 qualification, and the 2022 General Tire Heavy Hitters event qualification.

We believe this is ultimately the fairest solution for all of our Bass Pro Tour competitors across the board.

I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome back Bass Pro Tour angler Aaron Martens, who has made the trip to Plattsburgh, New York and will be competing on Lake Champlain this week. His ongoing health battles have been well-documented, and we are thrilled that Aaron is feeling well enough to compete this week. It truly shows his grit, toughness, and love for the sport that we all admire him for.

We look forward to a fantastic event on the water this week at Lake Champlain. Don’t forget to tune in to the MLF NOW! livestream each day from 8:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET.


Don Rucks
Executive Vice President & General Manager, MLF

Several Hit Hard

Clausen, who turned 43 on Tuesday, conveyed in a text message that he expects to remain in the hospital for at least 3 to 5 days.

Photo: MLF

Randy Howell returned home to Alabama from Lake Champlain due to severe dehydration.

"They told me my chest scan is pretty bad, my oxygen is low and there's internal bleeding they're trying to locate," he wrote.

He mentioned that he's also dealing with a blood clot in his leg, which is cited by some sources as a possible COVID-related ailment.

The 36-year-old Shryock said he became symptomatic after the recent ICAST show in Orlando, Fla., but had begun feeling better before leaving his home in Alabama late last week. By Saturday evening, he experienced difficulty breathing while driving and the oximeter he'd brought along showed his blood oxygen level at 88 (anything below the low to mid 90s is problematic).

He turned around and went back to an emergency room in Scranton and was admitted to the hospital with an oxygen level that eventually dropped to 74. He's scheduled for a breathing test on Thursday and hopes to be released the following day.

He'd not been vaccinated against COVID, which he now regrets.

"(Doctors) were talking about the possibility of going on a ventilator a couple of days ago and they told me that if they put me on it, there was a 50/50 chance I wouldn't come off of it (alive)," he said in a phone conversation Wednesday evening. "I was pretty indifferent toward the vaccine and probably leaned a little more against it, but as much as I've been involved with this now, I'm not going without it. This is a whole new level of scary.

"I thought my immune system was strong enough to fight it off, but this kind of forces your hand. Before, I didn't feel like my hand was forced. I'm glad MLF did what they did (allowing anglers to drop one placement) because I was going to push myself to fish this tournament through hell or high water.

"They're saying my lungs have damage and they're going to take a long time to heal," he continued. "I'll be okay, but it's going to be a process."

Howell, 47, said he fell ill on the final day of ICAST (July 23) and took a COVID test the following day after returning home that came back negative. Symptoms persisted, however, so he underwent treatment for the disease and quarantined for 10 days.

"I'm sure with all the symptoms the first 5 days it had to be COVID, but the doctor said there was no need to take another test, so I just took the meds," he said via text. "Then I thought I'd be okay to fish, although I was still pretty weak. But once I got up there the weakness and dehydration had me beat down, so I flew home (Wednesday) and got IVs and an X-ray. No pneumonia, thankfully; my body's just run down and depleted, but I should improve now. It's just a slow process. I've never missed a tournament in 28 years, so it's upsetting.

Photo: MLF

Anthony Gagliardi said he contracted COVID-19 on a vacation to Alaska last month.

"I had major surgeries 28 years ago and have no colon, so my body can dehydrate very quickly and that's what basically happened after I thought I was well."

Gagliardi, who turned 44 on Wednesday, said he contracted COVID on a vacation to Alaska several weeks ago and spent three nights in a hospital after returning.

"It didn't start out terrible, I just had a little fever, but it got worse and worse and after 8 or 9 days it went into my lungs and that's when things really started to go downhill," he said via phone. "I still don't feel good and I was told that it'll be a slow recovery from the pneumonia.

"I'm still trying to get back my day-to-day (ability to) function. I'm hoping that I'll be well enough for the last tournament – maybe not 100 percent, but at least able to participate."

He hadn't been vaccinated, but says it might not have mattered either way, as just about all of the 10 people on the trip fell ill and some had received the vaccine.

Lane said he informed MLF officials last month that he'd miss the Champlain tournament to attend his sister-in-law's wedding at Lake Tahoe and left it up to the organization to make the announcement in case it opted to fill his slot with an additional Pro Circuit competitor (four such anglers are competing in each 2021 BPT event based on finishes in Pro Circuit tournaments).

"She's a nurse practitioner and she was at my wife's bedside for the birth of all of my kids," he said. "She was my wife's maid of honor and it's her big day and I wanted to do the right thing.

"The thing that made the decision fairly easy was that if I went to Champlain and had a horrible tournament, what would I have gained? This way I'm guaranteed to not miss this big life event with my family."