Stefan Wins MLF Invitational Stop 6 at the Mississippi River in La Crosse

July 27, 2023
Major League Fishing (MLF) Archive

LA CROSSE, Wis. (July 27, 2023) – Thirteen seasons as a professional angler. Eighty-eight professional-level events. Numerous top-10 and top-20 finishes. Now, finally, pro Matthew Stefan of Junction City, Wisconsin, can add another accolade to his impressive resume – champion. Stefan brought a five-bass limit to the scale, Thursday, weighing 15 pounds, 8 ounces, to overtake Oconomowoc, Wisconsin’s Steve Lopez and win the Major League Fishing (MLF) Invitational Mercury Stop 6 tournament at the Mississippi River – his first career victory – and the first-place prize of $80,000.  

Stefan’s three-day total of 15 bass weighing 48 pounds, 6 ounces, earned him the win by a 10-ounce margin over Lopez, who weighed in 15 bass for 47-12, good for second place. The top 10 was extremely Wisconsin-heavy, as fellow Wisconsinites Tom Monsoor of La Crosse (3rd), Nick Trim of Galesville (4th), Cade Laufenberg of Onalaska (6th) and Mike Brueggen of La Crosse (7th) all finished inside the top 10.

Stefan won the event by running to a key stretch of eel grass in Pool No. 7 each day. He said that he found the stretch during practice but had no idea that it would turn into something special.

“I fished all three pools in practice – I spent a day in each, but I didn’t feel good about any of it,” Stefan said. “I found one stretch of eel grass in Pool 7 where I was able to get some bites when I slowed down and fished finesse. I caught two quality fish in practice, and shook off four or five more, so I decided I would go there the first day. It turned into something more than I thought it would be, and I spent all three days on the same stretch.”

Although Stefan was never confident that he had enough weight to win the tournament until after the final bass had been weighed, he and multiple other anglers almost didn’t make it back to weigh-in on Thursday. An unexpected barge was in the lock when Stefan and numerous other anglers were trying to pass through, and as MLF NOW! live coverage stopped rolling Thursday, the barge was still working its way through. After some sweating, and praying, the anglers made it back to weigh-in with just minutes to spare.

“I’ve had some close calls with the lock before, but nothing like this,” Stefan said. “Nothing where I knew I had a good bag, and whether I won or not I knew I was going to be getting a good check. The reality of it is that it’s part of the game when you play the river, and as anglers we know that. But, as careful as we try to be – we’ve all got apps for the barge traffic – none of us knew that barge was there. It was a surprise to all of us, and I don’t know that any of us thought we were going to get back.”

Of the 15 keepers that Stefan weighed in throughout the week, 13 came on a 5-inch wacky-rigged Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General in green-pumpkin or black-and-blue, and two came on a discontinued Reaction Innovations Vixen topwater bait.  

“There are so many wonderful things about winning a tournament and the season that I’ve had,” Stefan said. “It really has been a dream. I’ve been doing this for 13 years, and I wanted a win so bad. To do it here in La Crosse this week has just been so special. I’ve always dreamed of holding one of these trophies up on stage, and I did. Now I get to take this back home to the tackle room, and this trophy will be front and center.”

The top 50 pros at the Mercury Stop 6 at the Mississippi River in La Crosse finished:

1st:        Matthew Stefan, Junction City, Wis., 15 bass, 48-6, $81,000
2nd:       Steve Lopez, Oconomowoc, Wis., 15 bass, 47-12, $50,000
3rd:       Tom Monsoor, La Crosse, Wis., 15 bass, 45-14, $20,000
4th:        Nick Trim, Galesville, Wis., 15 bass, 44-15, $18,000
5th:        Jared Lintner, Covington, Ga., 15 bass, 44-7, $17,000
6th:        Cade Laufenberg, Onalaska, Wis., 15 bass, 44-7, $16,000
7th:        Mike Brueggen, La Crosse, Wis., 15 bass, 44-0, $15,000
8th:        Cody Meyer, Eagle, Idaho, 15 bass, 44-0, $14,000
9th:        Drew Gill, Mount Carmel, Ill., 15 bass, 42-6, $13,000
10th:     Tristan McCormick, Burns, Tenn., 15 bass, 42-5, $12,000
11th:     Scott Wiley, Bay Minette, Ala., 15 bass, 42-5, $11,000
12th:     Alex Davis, Albertville, Ala., 15 bass, 42-5, $10,000
13th:     Jeff Ritter, Prairie du Chien, Wis., 15 bass, 41-14, $10,000
14th:     Matt Reed, Madisonville, Texas, 15 bass, 41-12, $10,000
15th:     Flint Davis, Leesburg, Ga., 15 bass, 41-4, $10,000
16th:     Justin Cooper, Zwolle, La., 15 bass, 40-14, $10,000
17th:     Kevin Ruh, Onalaska, Wis., 15 bass, 40-11, $10,000
18th:     Jordan Hirt, Glenwood, Iowa, 15 bass, 40-4, $10,000
19th:     Nick Hatfield, Greeneville, Tenn., 15 bass, 40-2, $10,000
20th:     Mark Condron, Murfreesboro, Tenn., 14 bass, 40-1, $10,000
21st:      Hunter Litchfield, Macomb, Ill., 15 bass, 40-0, $10,000
22nd:    Mike McClelland, Blue Eye, Mo., 15 bass, 39-12, $10,000
23rd:     Grae Buck, Green Lane, Pa., 15 bass, 39-9, $10,300
24th:     Marshall Robinson, Landrum, S.C., 15 bass, 39-9, $10,000
25th:     Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 15 bass, 39-1, $10,000
26th:     Jacopo Gallelli, Florence, Italy, 15 bass, 39-0, $10,000
27th:     Brad Jelinek, Lincoln, Mo., 15 bass, 38-14, $10,000
28th:     Jason Grape, Attalla, Ala., 15 bass, 38-13, $10,000
29th:     Derik Hudson, Concord, Va., 15 bass, 38-12, $10,200
30th:     Jack Daniel Williams, Kingsport, Tenn., 15 bass, 38-9, $10,000
31st:      Colby Schrumpf, Highland, Ill., 15 bass, 38-6, $8,000
32nd:    Cole Breeden, Lebanon, Mo., 15 bass, 38-4, $8,000
33rd:     Blake Felix, Warsaw, Mo., 15 bass, 37-14, $8,000
34th:     Lane Olson, Forest Grove, Ore., 15 bass, 37-14, $8,000
35th:     Paul Elias, Laurel, Miss., 15 bass, 37-12, $8,000
36th:     Clayton Batts, Butler, Ga., 15 bass, 37-10, $8,000
37th:     Drew Kleine, Galesburg, Ill., 15 bass, 37-7, $8,000
38th:     Frank Kitchens, III, Oxford, Ga., 15 bass, 37-4, $8,000
39th:     Jason Vance, Battle Ground, Ind., 15 bass, 37-2, $8,000
40th:     Kyle Cortiana, Broken Arrow, Okla., 15 bass, 36-13, $8,000
41st:      Ethan Greene, Eufaula, Ala., 15 bass, 36-8, $8,000
42nd:    Jesse Millsaps, Jasper, Ga., 15 bass, 36-6, $8,000
43rd:     Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., 15 bass, 36-1, $8,000
44th:     Shaw Grigsby, Gainesville, Fla., 15 bass, 35-6, $8,000
45th:     Cal Lane, Guntersville, Ala., 15 bass, 35-3, $8,000
46th:     Todd Walters, Kernersville, N.C., 15 bass, 35-1, $8,000
47th:     Robby Lefere, Jackson, Mich, 13 bass, 32-15, $8,000
48th:     Bryan Partak, Marseilles, Ill., 12 bass, 32-0, $8,000
49th:     William Fletcher, Dallas, Ga., 11 bass, 30-12, $8,000
50th:     Robert Nakatomi, Sacramento, Calif., 11 bass, 27-4, $8,000

Overall, there were 236 bass weighing 607 pounds, 3 ounces caught by the final 50 pros Thursday. The catch included 45 five-bass limits.

Pro Ron Nelson of Berrien Springs, Michigan, clinched the 2023 Tackle Warehouse Invitational Angler of the Year title Thursday after accumulating 1,094 points in the six Invitational events. It was the second AOY of Nelson’s career, as he was also the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit AOY in 2020. Nelson’s extraordinary season was highlighted by three consecutive top-5 finishes and $75,000 in earnings through six events. Along with the AOY title, Nelson earned an automatic berth into REDCREST 2024 on Lay Lake in Birmingham, Alabama, March 13-17, 2024.

First-year pro Marshall Robinson of Landrum, South Carolina, earned the 2024 Tackle Warehouse Invitational Polaris Rookie of the Year award, which is awarded to the rookie pro angler who finishes the season with the highest point total from the six Invitational events. Robinson finished the season with 973 points and earned a new Polaris Ranger 1000 UTV for his accomplishment.

With all six Tackle Warehouse Invitational tournaments now complete, the top eight pros based on AOY rank now will receive an invitation to compete in the 2024 Bass Pro Tour. The eight pros that qualify are:

1st:        Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Mich.
2nd:       Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn. (Current Bass Pro Tour angler)
3rd:       Matthew Stefan, Junction City, Wis.
4th:        Keith Carson, DeBary, Fla.
5th:        Martin Villa, Charlottesville, Va.
6th:        Grae Buck, Green Lane, Pa.
7th:        Nick Hatfield, Greeneville, Tenn.
8th:        Marshall Robinson, Landrum, S.C.

The full field of 150 anglers competed in the two-day opening round on Tuesday and Wednesday in a five-fish, weigh-in format. Only the top 50 pros based on their two-day cumulative weight advanced to the final round on Championship Thursday, where they competed for the grand prize of up to $115,000, including the lucrative $35,000 Phoenix MLF Bonus for qualified anglers.

The Tackle Warehouse Invitational Mercury Stop 6 at the Mississippi River in La Crosse featured live on-the-water coverage and a two-hour action-packed television show that will premiere on the CBS Sports Network on Saturday, November 14.

Proud sponsors of the 2023 MLF Tackle Warehouse Invitationals include: 13 Fishing, Abu Garcia, B&W Trailer Hitches, Berkley, Black Rifle Coffee, E3, Epic Baits, Favorite Fishing, Fox Rent a Car, General Tire, Grundéns, Lew’s, Lowrance, Mercury, Mossy Oak, Mystik Lubricants, Onyx, Phoenix Boats, Polaris, Power-Pole, Strike King, Tackle Warehouse, T-H Marine, Wiley X and YETI.