By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Justin Lucas seems to be getting a pretty good handle on the Major League Fishing format.

The B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year in 2018 had a mediocre campaign as the Bass Pro Tour debuted last year, finishing 46th out of 80 anglers in the points race. Then he got off to a bad start this year, placing 45th, 57th and 73rd in the first three events.

He turned things around with a 4th-place finish at Heavy Hitters on the Kissimmee Chain last month after the long break caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Now he's followed that up with what was by far his best day on the circuit, catching 50 fish for 141-09 at Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin in the first of two Group A qualifying rounds.

His total weight for the day is a BPT record. He registered more than half of that (78-12) in the first of the three 2 1/2-hour periods, which is also a new standard for the league.

Coming in, he figured he needed to post a top-30 finish to qualify for next year's Redcrest Championship. Now he's got a leg up on something much better than that.

"I had a bad start to the year with a couple bad tournaments, but lately it's been good," he said. "I'm feeling good and I'm fishing good and I'm really excited."

He has a lead of almost 18 1/2 pounds over good buddy Josh Bertrand, who registered 123-03 on 40 fish. Scott Suggs also scored in triple digits with 119-04 on 33 scorable catches (2 pounds or heavier).

All of the top 3 are Berkley-sponsored anglers who did most of their damage with a MaxScent Flat Worm on a dropshot rig.

From there, it's a drop of more than 30 pounds down to 4th-place Brett Hite (88-14 on 30 fish). The remainder of the top 10 consists of James Elam (76-15, 25), Randall Tharp (65-06, 21), Jonathon VanDam (64-15, 22), Justin Atkins (64-08, 26), Dustin Connell (58-06, 20) and Takahiro Omori (57-09, 27).

Points leader Jordan Lee, who'll compete in Group B, got a bit of help as his closest pursuers had less-than-stellar outings and put themselves in jeopardy of missing the top-20 cut after Sunday's second qualifying round. Fletcher Shryock, who came in at No. 2 on the list, is 18th (39-06, 14) and No. 3 Jacob Wheeler is 27th (21-15, 7).

Aaron Martens, who missed the Kissimmee tournament after undergoing two brain operations to remove cancerous tumors followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments, had a solid showing with 52-02 on 18 fish. He'll begin the group's second day on the water in 12th place.

"It was a pretty good day but I was hoping for better – I was hoping to get 100 pounds," he said. "I never did find a big group that would stay. I'd see them from 30 feet away (on his graph), but by the time I stopped on them they were gone."

One surprising name near the bottom of the standings is Kevin VanDam in 35th. The winningest competitor in the history of the sport is always among the favorites on smallmouth fisheries in his home region, but he managed just 11-13 on four fish.

Lucas planned to move around more than he did, but ended up making casts on just two locations.



MLF/Garrick Dixon
Photo: MLF/Garrick Dixon

Scott Suggs caught 10 fish that weighed 4 pounds or more, including a 5-06 that was the biggest of the day.

"I've got a bunch of other stuff I want to hit," he said. "We'll see what the wind does – that's going to dictate the game plan moving forward. I'd like to come back out and dominate on Sunday, go to the top 10 (group winners receive an automatic berth in the Championship Round) and make it into Redcrest."

It took Bertrand a while to get rolling, but his action was fast and furious once he did.

"It was a little bit of a rough start, but the last 2 1/2 periods were really good," he said. "The area I ended on has a lot of big fish, but unfortunately it's not real close to the other places I'm fishing. I've got some decisions to make."

Suggs, who came in at No. 35 in the points, might have secured his spot in Redcrest with his opening-day performance. He fished a canal that featured heavy current for much of the day and compiled more than 50 pounds in each of the first two periods.

A 5-06 specimen he boated in the second period was the day's biggest fish and earned him a $1,000 bonus. He caught nine others that checked in at 4 pounds or better.

"What's so amazing about today was I caught over 100 pounds and I'm in 3rd," he said. "That's what kind of fishery we're sitting on right here.

"I started the day on a bridge pier and caught a couple, then I went looking for current breaks the rest of the day and they were piled up on some of them. Sometimes you go into a tournament and you've got a lot of fish found (from practice) and they end up not being there, but today was one of those dream days – they were there and it was a lot of fun."

Group A Qualifying Round 1

(Figure at far right indicates weight of angler's heaviest fish for the round.)

1. Justin Lucas -- 50, 141-09 -- 4-03

2. Josh Bertrand -- 40, 123-03 -- 4-07

3. Scott Suggs -- 33, 119-04 -- 5-06

4. Brett Hite -- 35, 88-14 -- 4-05

5. James Elam -- 25, 76-15 -- 4-10

6. Randall Tharp -- 21, 65-06 -- 5-01

7. Jonathon VanDam -- 22, 64-15 -- 3-13

8. Justin Atkins -- 26, 64-08 -- 3-11

9. Dustin Connell -- 20, 58-06 -- 4-02

10. Takahiro Omori -- 17, 57-09 -- 4-14

11. Brent Chapman -- 20, 56-09 -- 3-10

12. Aaron Martens -- 18, 52-02 -- 3-13

13. Mark Rose -- 17, 51-02 -- 4-02

14. Dean Rojas -- 16, 48-12 -- 4-12

15. Jesse Wiggins -- 15, 40-02 -- 4-08

16. Mark Daniels, Jr. -- 14, 40-02 -- 4-09

17. Andy Morgan -- 12, 40-00 -- 4-10

18. Fletcher Shryock -- 14, 39-06 -- 4-00

19. Fred Roumbanis -- 12, 37-06 -- 4-06

20. Kelly Jordon -- 9, 29-07 -- 4-03

21. Shin Fukae -- 9, 28-12 -- 4-09

22. Jeff Sprague -- 8, 26-14 -- 4-06

23. Paul Elias -- 8, 25-05 -- 3-10

24. Dave Lefebre -- 10, 25-04 -- 3-02

25. Brandon Coulter -- 7, 24-05 -- 4-10

26. Timmy Horton -- 7, 24-03 -- 5-02

27. Jacob Wheeler -- 7, 21-15 -- 3-15

28. David Walker -- 7, 21-10 -- 3-13

29. Casey Ashley -- 7, 21-02 -- 4-06

30. Anthony Gagliardi -- 8, 19-15 -- 3-12

31. Mark Davis -- 6, 16-08 -- 3-11

32. Shaw Grigsby -- 5, 16-02 -- 3-13

33. Boyd Duckett -- 5, 15-15 -- 3-12

34. John Murray -- 4, 14-07 -- 4-11

35. Kevin VanDam -- 4, 11-13 -- 3-09

36. Jason Lambert -- 4, 10-11 -- 2-12

37. David Dudley -- 3, 9-11 -- 3-12

38. Jacob Powroznik -- 4, 8-11 -- 2-04

39. Gary Klein -- 3, 8-04 -- 3-05

40. Cliff Crochet -- 1, 2-02 -- 2-02