JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. (March 20, 2023) – After ending the second period in 14th place, with only three fish, Adrian Avena of Vineland, New Jersey went on a third period flurry to win the Group A Qualifying Round Monday at the Major League Fishing (MLF) Stage Two tournament on Douglas Lake. The New Jersey pro finished the day with a five-bass limit weighing 16 pounds, 2 ounces, for a two-day total of 30-13, earning him the Qualifying Round win by a 2-pound, 5-ounce margin over second place angler Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama, who finished with a two-day total of 10 scorable bass weighing 28-8.
Justin Lucas of Guntersville, Alabama ended the day in third place with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 27-7, while Pike Road, Alabama pro Keith Poche finished the round in fourth place with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 27-2. Rounding out the top five was Bass Pro Tour rookie Nick LeBrun of Bossier City, Louisiana, with a two-day total of 10 bass totaling 26-15.
Frigid morning temperatures in the teens and a strong afternoon warm-up also made for a lot of third period movement around the Toro Cutline, with pro Fred “Boom Boom” Roumbanis dancing back and forth across the cutline throughout the day to slide into the 20th spot by the end of the third period and pro Dakota Ebare moving from 26th place to finish the day in 15th. Georgia pro Jared Lintner made big moves in the final period as well, jumping from 30th place into the 12th spot, but Edwin Evers made the biggest jump, moving from 25th to end the day with a fifth place finish.
Avena began the morning in second place, but had dropped to 20th by the end of Period 1 after not catching a single fish.
“When we’re talking about springtime fishing, it’s always going to warm up in the afternoons, so the first day of competition I was able to catch a few key fish late in the day and today was no different,” said Avena. “I was having a bunch of fish follow my bait throughout the morning, but they just weren’t committing to it. When the water is that cold early in the day, they’re just sluggish and not willing to bite.”
Avena said he spent both days of competition focusing on isolated wood – targeting lay downs, pine trees, logs in the water – pretty much anything isolated, especially on shallow flats. He said he caught the majority of his fish on a Berkley Stunna Jerkbait, one on the brand-new Berkley Cull Shad and the other two on a KGB Chad Shad Glide Bait.
“As mid-day began, the bite started to pick up,” said Avena. “I caught a couple in the second period and seven in that third period and was able to finish out my limit and cull several times. That last hour was just magical and I caught some really nice fish.”
The top 20 advancing anglers from Group A will now have an off day from competition Tuesday, while the 40 anglers competing in Qualifying Group B will complete their two-day Qualifying Round. The top 20 anglers from each group advance to Wednesday’s Knockout Round. In the Knockout Round, weights are zeroed, and the remaining 40 anglers compete to finish in the top 10 to advance to the Championship Round on Thursday. In the final day Championship Round, weight carries over from the Knockout Round and the angler with the heaviest two-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.
The top 20 pros from Group A that now advance to Wednesday’s Knockout Round on Cherokee Lake are:
1st: Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., 10 bass, 30-13
2nd: Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 10 bass, 28-8
3rd: Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., 10 bass, 27-7
4th: Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala., 10 bass, 27-2
5th: Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., 10 bass, 26-15
6th: Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., 10 bass, 26-13
7th: Anthony Gagliardi, Prosperity, S.C., 10 bass, 26-4
8th: Chris Lane, Guntersville, Ala., 10 bass, 26-1
9th: Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., 10 bass, 24-15
10th: Cliff Pace, Petal, Miss., 10 bass, 24-10
11th: Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., 10 bass, 24-7
12th: Jared Lintner, Covington, Ga., nine bass, 23-13
13th: Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., 10 bass, 23-13
14th: Dylan Hays, Hot Springs, Ark., nine bass, 23-11
15th: Jacob Wall, New Hope, Ala., 10 bass, 23-9
16th: Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., 10 bass, 23-9
17th: Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, S.C., 10 bass, 23-5
18th: Dakota Ebare, Brookeland, Texas, 10 bass, 22-13
19th: Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 10 bass, 22-8
20th: Fred Roumbanis, Russellville, Ark., 10 bass, 22-7
Hays earned Monday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award with a stocky largemouth weighing 6 pounds, 13 ounces that he caught in Period 2 on a jerkbait. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and another $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament.