By Todd Ceisner
BassFan Editor

When Zack Birge reached the 80-pound mark today, he figured hed back off the gas pedal a little and start hunting around Lake Chickamauga for different areas he might incorporate into his Knockout Round strategy Saturday.

He uncovered a couple new spots, but it turns out his hunting trip carried him into the history books, too.

The Oklahoma pro, who had caught 51-04 on Wednesday during Group Bs Shotgun Round, eclipsed that total by nearly 3 pounds today and became the first Bass Pro Tour angler to hit the century mark over the course of the Shotgun and Elimination rounds when weights are combined to determine who advances to the Knockout stage.

Birge caught 28 bass for 54-03 today, pushing his two-day totals to 51 bass for 105-06. It was the latest superlative stat line in a week slap full of them. While his 54-03 total exceeded Casey Ashleys top Elimination Round weight in Group A (43-04) by more than 10 pounds, it was only fifth-best among the 40 competitors on the water today.

I was pretty much going to quit fishing when I got to about 80, then I rode around looking for new areas, Birge said. I pulled into one place and within 30 minutes, Id caught enough to get the lead. Then I figured I might as well as try to win it and then I got to 100.

Fred Roumbanis had a stellar day with 58-11 (he caught 36-01 on Wednesday) as he climbed from 17th to 2nd with 94-12 overall (44 fish).

Mark Davis started the day in 23rd and rocketed up to 3rd, a tremendous rally considering hes caught just one 3-pound bass in 15 hours of competition so far. Of the 40 anglers competing in the Knockout Round, only James Elam (2-15) has a smaller big bass this week.

Davis tallied an Elimination Round record 64-15 on 42 fish and closed with 93-07 along with a group-best 59 fish.

Mike Iaconelli caught 28 for 51-12 today and wound up 4th with 91-10 (51 fish) while Andy Morgan shrugged off a frustrating Shotgun Round and jumped from 21st to 5th behind a 26-fish, 56-13 effort on his home lake. He finished with 88-05 (43 fish).

Day-2 leader Cliff Crochet tallied just eight fish for 18-01 and clinched his first Knockout Round berth by finishing 6th in Group B with 87-07 (42 fish).

Jacob Powroznik, winner of the BPT event in Raleigh, N.C., two weeks ago, more than tripled his Shotgun Round weight with 60-14 today and rallied from 34th to finish 11th and make the Knockout Round.

Further down the standings, Luke Clausen (17th) and Cody Meyer (20th) both secured their first trips to the Knockout Round by hanging onto their top-20 spots from Wednesday. Clausen caught 12-01 in the third period, including four for 6-0 in the final 30 minutes to move above the cut line. Meyer, meanwhile, had 12-05 in the third, helped by a 3-pounder at 1:45 p.m.

With Davis, Morgan and Powroznik fishing their way into the weekend, Josh Bertrand (19th to 26th), John Murray (14th to 31st) and Greg Vinson (18th to 24th) came up short in their bids to stay in the top 20.

Despite the morning rain and afternoon clouds and wind, the conditions were very fisherman friendly. The 40 anglers today tallied 748 fish for more than 1,400 pounds. By comparison, Group A amassed 609 fish for 1,189-06 during its Elimination Round on Thursday.

Showers Friday night will hang around into Saturday morning when thunderstorms are forecasted for the Dayton, Tenn., area. Winds will be light and temperatures will be in the upper 70s.

Birge didnt feel as though he used up any particular areas today as the majority of his weight came from different spots.

The areas set up the same. Only now I just have another place if I need it because tomorrow, Im going to need every bite I can get, he said. Its just another area I have confidence in.

Birges day started with a 4-03 just 12 minutes into the first period. He added a 4 1/2-pounder later in the first, then caught a 4-01 just before 2 p.m. His other 25 fish today weighed less than 3 pounds. Hes one of 13 anglers left whos yet to catch a 5-pounder.

Im surprised I havent, he said. Ive caught plenty of 4s. Maybe tomorrows the day.

While others have had great success in the first period, Birge feels the fish in the areas hes fishing are more prone to bite later in the day and hes banking on that happening again Saturday.



MLF/Josh Gassmann
Photo: MLF/Josh Gassmann

No matter where Andy Morgan made a cast today, it seemed like he left with at least one more fish on his scorecard. He tallied 26 today.

Im not gonna smash em early on by any means, but my bite should get better as day goes on, he said. Im excited to get out there and fish those areas I found this afternoon again.

If they bite as well as they have for two days, hes confident hell be among the 10 anglers heading to the finals on Sunday.

Im pretty confident I can get there, he said. My only concern is I wont do it fast and furious in the morning. Im banking on that mid to late day bite to pull through for me.

Davis said he was surprised by how well he caught fish today. He attributed his stellar production to something that usually works against anglers. He said the lake level dropped, which in turn grouped the fish up.

Once I figured that out, I could run a pattern all over the lake and catch them that way, he said. They werent in large groups maybe 10 to 12 in each but its pretty special to get something like that working.

I was fishing slow with soft plastics (on Wednesday) and today with that wind, it was just a good fishing day. I was able to get it figured out. It could change tomorrow. Who knows?

Davis caught more than half (22) of his fish today in the second period as he piled up 33-00 to surge up the leaderboard. Of his 59 fish so far, just nine have weighed 2 pounds or more. Still, hes not frustrated or deterred by his lack of big bites.

Not really, especially when you catch numbers like that, he said. With the water going up and down, that might be keeping the big ones from moving up shallow. All of my fish are in 3 feet or less so youd think some would move up there, plus Ive been catching fish on bigger lures stuff that catches big ones. There are just a lot of males up there now.

He thinks it could take 50 pounds to crack the top 10 tomorrow, a number he feels he can reach.

Im confident I can do that if its like today, he said. It can change, though, but if conditions stay the same it could happen again.

Morgan is a prideful man and he wasnt about to make the same mistakes two days in a row on his home waters. After timing his stops poorly during the Shotgun Round, Morgan started fast with 11 fish for 21-07 in the first period. He never looked back, tacking on 26-07 in the second to secure a spot in Knockout Round.

Bottom line, they were biting today, he said. Its one of those deals I jacked around on day 1 and got my timing totally backwards. Today, I straightened up and Id say they were biting better today than the other day. It was just good timing and a good day to catch a bass. It didnt matter where I went, it was just good.

His concern on Saturday centers on a couple local tournaments that will be taking place on the lake simultaneous to the Knockout Round. He knows that will bring some congestion into some areas.

Another set of problems is I dont have anywhere to go to get away, he said. With the water where its at, there are no cracks to slip through. Thats my biggest concern and it should be everybodys concern. Places are going to get picked through by not just our guys.

Youre still going to have to catch them to make the top 10. Even though everybody is painted into a corner, 10 guys will have good days. Big fish havent bit well yet, but its coming. Im not sure when, but its coming.

MLF/Phoenix Moore
Photo: MLF/Phoenix Moore

Cody Meyer was thrilled to survive the Elimination Round and qualify for his first Knockout Round.

With time winding down in the third period today, Meyers official informed him hed slipped back to 19th place. Moments later, he makes a cast toward a second point and within seconds sets the hook. During the fight, the fish jumped just before an osprey swooped down out of nowhere and tried to snatch the bass out of the water. Luckily, it missed and Meyer landed the fish and ultimately moved into the Knockout Round for the first time.

Its so awesome to shave years off your life with all the stress about little green bass, he joked later on. Its nice not to have to pack up the camper yet.

Hes unsure whats left to be caught in the area that got him through the first two days. He shared it with Todd Faircloth, who also made the Knockout Round and he was unable to tap into another productive area at any point.

Ive fished one area so far and left it both days in the second period to run around, he said. I didnt figure anything else out. That one area has to be depleted and who knows who fished it in Group A. Theres no way possible to make the top 10 there. Im just going to go fish new stuff tomorrow and maybe by the luck of God stumble into something.

Notable

> Day 4 stats: Period 1 277 fish, 502-14; Period 2 235 fish, 438-08; Period 3 234 fish, 454-11; Total 748 fish, 1,400-11.

> Three anglers caught 40 or more pounds today but failed to advance to the Knockout Round Gerald Swindle (23rd), Randall Tharp (25th) and Anthony Gagliardi (27th).

> There are eight anglers whove yet to qualify for a Knockout Round this season: Mike McClelland, Cliff Pace, Roy Hawk, James Watson, Britt Myers, Paul Elias, Scott Suggs and Jason Lambert.

Weather Forecast

> Sat., April 13 Overcast - 73/55
- Wind: Light and variable

> Sun., April 14 Rain - 70/56
- Wind: From the S at 5 to 10 mph

Day 4 (Group B) Results

1. Zack Birge -- 23, 51-04 -- 28, 54-02 -- 51, 105-06

2. Fred Roumbanis -- 18, 36-01 -- 26, 58-11 -- 44, 94-12

3. Mark Davis -- 17, 28-08 -- 42, 64-15 -- 59, 93-07

4. Mike Iaconelli -- 23, 39-14 -- 28, 51-12 -- 51, 91-10

5. Andy Morgan -- 17, 31-08 -- 26, 56-13 -- 43, 88-05

6. Cliff Crochet -- 34, 69-06 -- 8, 18-01 -- 42, 87-07

7. Michael Neal -- 22, 47-10 -- 22, 39-00 -- 44, 86-10

8. Fletcher Shryock -- 25, 47-12 -- 17, 38-11 -- 42, 86-07

9. Jared Lintner -- 24, 44-07 -- 21, 41-12 -- 45, 86-03

10. Edwin Evers -- 28, 55-02 -- 18, 30-00 -- 46, 85-02

11. Jacob Powroznik -- 11, 20-01 -- 32, 60-14 -- 43, 80-15

12. Tommy Biffle -- 19, 37-08 -- 21, 42-06 -- 40, 79-14

13. Todd Faircloth -- 21, 43-14 -- 20, 35-15 -- 41, 79-13

14. Brent Ehrler -- 21, 44-08 -- 14, 32-13 -- 35, 77-05

15. Gary Klein -- 25, 47-00 -- 14, 29-05 -- 39, 76-05

16. Jacob Wheeler -- 15, 32-01 -- 24, 43-10 -- 39, 75-11

17. Luke Clausen -- 25, 41-15 -- 19, 31-12 -- 44, 73-11

18. Adrian Avena -- 17, 36-13 -- 18, 36-07 -- 35, 73-04

19. Alton Jones -- 16, 37-15 -- 16, 34-06 -- 32, 72-05

20. Cody Meyer -- 17, 38-12 -- 20, 33-06 -- 37, 72-02

The following anglers missed the cut and will not compete in the Knockout Round.

21. Andy Montgomery -- 17, 31-06 -- 23, 36-06 -- 40, 67-12

22. Alton Jones Jr -- 9, 26-14 -- 21, 39-12 -- 30, 66-10

23. Gerald Swindle -- 11, 20-10 -- 24, 45-07 -- 35, 66-01

24. Greg Vinson -- 20, 32-05 -- 23, 31-08 -- 43, 63-13

25. Randall Tharp -- 10, 17-00 -- 25, 45-13 -- 35, 62-13

26. Josh Bertrand -- 14, 32-04 -- 12, 30-06 -- 26, 62-10

27. Anthony Gagliardi -- 10, 19-01 -- 18, 43-01 -- 28, 62-02

28. Jason Christie -- 11, 25-14 -- 19, 35-15 -- 30, 61-13

29. Mark Daniels -- 10, 27-00 -- 18, 32-05 -- 28, 59-05

30. James Watson -- 7, 18-01 -- 20, 38-02 -- 27, 56-03

31. John Murray -- 20, 37-11 -- 13, 17-08 -- 33, 55-03

32. Wesley Strader -- 12, 20-13 -- 18, 32-00 -- 30, 52-13

33. Kevin VanDam -- 15, 24-14 -- 18, 26-09 -- 33, 51-07

34. Paul Elias -- 18, 28-04 -- 11, 19-00 -- 29, 47-04

35. Brandon Coulter -- 11, 22-09 -- 11, 21-02 -- 22, 43-11

36. Justin Atkins -- 9, 13-10 -- 12, 25-10 -- 21, 39-04

37. Jason Lambert -- 8, 17-01 -- 12, 18-00 -- 20, 35-01

38. Boyd Duckett -- 12, 26-13 -- 3, 7-06 -- 15, 34-03

39. Shin Fukae -- 12, 20-08 -- 7, 11-12 -- 19, 32-04

40. Kelly Jordon -- 9, 18-00 -- 6, 8-09 -- 15, 26-09