By Todd Ceisner
Nobody got on a 100-pound pace, but day 2 of the Lake Fork Bass Pro Tour featured plenty of big-fish fireworks and consistent action. While it wasn’t quite to the level of what their Group A counterparts produced on Friday in terms of sheer numbers, the Group B anglers acquitted themselves well against a lake that continues to face a fierce amount of fishing pressure.
A trio anglers surpassed the 50-pound mark, led by Michael Neal’s 57-00. Another 10 competitors exceeded 35 pounds as the overcast skies from Friday lingered through today with some rain falling later in the day.
It’s the second straight event that Neal has led after day 1 of the Qualifying Round and it took a third-period surge to get him there today. He caught 10 of his group-leading 16 bass in the final 2 1/2 hours and racked up 36 pounds.
Brandon Coulter is exactly one pound behind Neal after totaling 14 fish while Justin Atkins needed only nine fish to reach the 51-00 mark, which put him in third. Less than 24 hours after Jason Christie set the MLF big fish record with a 10-04, Atkins went ahead and broke it with a 10 1/2-pounder during the second period today. It is Atkins’ personal-best largemouth. Check out video of the fish catch below:
James Watson (14, 49-12) and Wesley Strader (14, 43-04) rounded out the top 5. Lake Okeechobee winner Jacob Powroznik sits in 11th with 36-04 while BPT points leader Jacob Wheeler bounced back from a fishless first period to amass 32-08 and climb up to 16th.
Anthony Gagliardi occupies the 20th spot with 27-13, which is well off the 40-11 total his Group A counterpart Bradley Roy caught on Friday.
Based on the Group A results, Neal figured it’d take more weight to be leading today, but he’s happy to be where he’s at.
“I thought I’d catch some, but didn’t think I’d be leading,” Neal said. “Even with the weight I had, I wouldn’t have expected to be leading.”
Now, his task is to avoid a repeat of what happened at Okeechobee, where he zeroed on the second day of the Qualifying Round after leading after day 1.
“Anything above a zero will be better (on Monday),” he said. “I’d like to make it through and go straight to the Championship Round. That will be super important here with as much pressure as this lake gets and with us starting at 10 (a.m.), some of your best places could get throttled before you ever get there.”
Neal said his first stop this morning was a bust – he caught one for 2-13 there – but after that he began a rotation of hard spots on points. He caught a 5-pounder around noon and closed the first period in 13th place with 10-04.
In the second, he added new places to his rotation and cycled back to others. He caught a 5 1/2-pounder midway through the period, then hit an hour-long lull.
“I was almost ready to pull the plug and go shallow, but I went to another spot I hadn’t been to yet and caught three pretty quick,” he said.
With three key spots in close proximity to each other, Neal spent the third period jumping back and forth between them and quickly climbing the ScoreTracker. In the first hour of the third, he caught a 5-04, a 6-14 and a 4-pounder within 20 minutes of each other. After that, he picked off five more to outgain Coulter by a pound.
“These fish are going in and out,” Neal said. “I caught one that was post-spawn that was super skinny with a big head. The rest were pre-spawners. Those spots are textbook stopping points for when they move in and come out. It’s what I tried to look for all week and find as many of those as I could.”
Neal said a 4-inch Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog – rigged in a variety of ways – caught all of his fish today.
Brandon Coulter said he's more comfortable offshore at Fork right now than battling the crowds up shallow.
Like Neal, Coulter’s day went “way better than expected.” He said he had a good practice if this were a five-fish limit tournament.
“I thought I could run some offshore stuff and eventually run into them,” he said. “In this format, though, that made me nervous. It seemed like there’d be five or six in a group, not 10 to 20. I know that’s because they’re going to spawn but that’s where I was comfortable. The ones I caught in practice were great big pre-spawn females.”
His first three stops yielded nothing. He fished shallow for 45 minutes, but decided he couldn’t be effective along the bank. He made another move to a creek where he’d caught a couple big fish in practice.
“It’s a perfect little rough spot they stop on before going to spawn,” he said.
He caught seven fish there, but no big ones, which surprised him. He moved away from it and came back a while later and his first fish was a 9-05 around 2:30. An hour later, he caught a 6-pounder.
“It seemed like the bigger fish pulled on after I got the school off of it,” he said. “It was weird.”
Atkins did all of his damage sight-fishing today with the centerpiece being the 10 1/2-pounder.
“It was awesome,” he said in describing the day. “I grew up sight-fishing a lot. There are two months out of the year where you’re not doing good unless you’re looking at ‘em. So I’ve worked at it to perfect my craft.”
And he needed that experience when he encountered the big fish.
“It was in a funny little spot because I’d just made a curve into a pocket and she was right on the end of the pocket,” he said. “I was almost way too close to it on the first cast.”
To Atkins’ benefit, though, the fish was turned away from him.
“It was looking at the bank and when they’re doing that, they’re caught,” he said. “That means you can sneak up on them and they don’t know you’re there.”
He made one pitch with a spinning rod and that’s all it took. The fish inhaled his bait and a three-minute fight ensued. He accidentally loosened the drag on his reel during the fight, but quickly got it tightened up and was able to land it with no issue.
“I made a perfect cast and it was like Jesus took the wheel from there,” he said. “If I had broken it off or lost it, I would have tied the camera around my ankle and jumped in the lake.”
He’s hopeful he can stay with the sight-fishing program Monday, but may need to explore other avenues depending on what he finds early on.
“Monday should be good (with less traffic),” he said. “I would love to win my round, but if Michael Neal catches 150 pounds like he did in third period today, I might scrap it and get out and look around the lake.”
> Sun., March 15 – Scattered Thunderstorms - 68°/54°
- Wind: From the NNE at 5 to 10 mph
> Mon., March 16 – Rain - 65°/58°
- Wind: From the ESE at 5 to 10 mph
> Tue., March 17 – Scattered Thunderstorms - 73°/62°
- Wind: Light and variable
> Wed., March 18 – Thunderstorms - 75°/65°
- Wind: From the SSE at 5 to 10 mph
Group B Qualifying Round Standings
1. Michael Neal -- 16, 57-00
2. Brandon Coulter -- 14, 56-00
3. Justin Atkins -- 9, 51-00
4. James Watson -- 14, 49-12
5. Wesley Strader -- 14, 43-03
6. Kelly Jordon -- 13, 42-00
7. Kevin VanDam -- 12, 39-12
8. Todd Faircloth -- 10, 39-08
9. Bryan Thrift -- 11, 38-14
10. Brent Chapman -- 10, 37-09
11. Jacob Powroznik -- 11, 36-04
12. Dave Lefebre -- 10, 36-00
13. Casey Ashley -- 11, 35-02
14. Shaw Grigsby -- 10, 34-05
15. Randy Howell -- 8, 33-14
16. Jacob Wheeler -- 10, 32-08
17. Alton Jones Jr. -- 8, 31-05
18. Zack Birge -- 9, 30-13
19. Fred Roumbanis -- 8, 28-01
20. Anthony Gagliardi -- 8, 27-13
21. Edwin Evers -- 8, 26-09
22. Boyd Duckett -- 6, 26-03
23. Mike McClelland -- 7, 24-08
24. Dustin Connell -- 8, 24-01
25. Jared Lintner -- 7, 23-15
26. Brent Ehrler -- 8, 23-12
27. Matt Lee -- 7, 22-09
28. Dean Rojas -- 7, 22-05
29. Gary Klein -- 5, 21-12
30. Gerald Spohrer -- 6, 21-02
31. Jordan Lee -- 6, 19-12
32. Mike Iaconelli -- 5, 17-06
33. Marty Robinson -- 6, 17-05
34. John Murray -- 5, 16-05
35. Justin Lucas -- 5, 15-11
36. Jesse Wiggins -- 3, 14-01
37. Roy Hawk -- 2, 12-12
38. Cliff Crochet -- 3, 8-04
39. Scott Suggs -- 2, 5-14
40. Cliff Pace -- 1, 2-02