Hays Wins MLF Qualifying Round at Santee Cooper Lakes

February 22, 2024
Major League Fishing (MLF)

CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. (Feb. 22, 2024) – Hot Springs, Arkansas, pro Dylan Hays caught seven scorable bass Thursday weighing 30 pounds, 8 ounces, to earn the Group A Qualifying Round win at the Major League Fishing (MLF) Stage Two tournament at Santee Cooper Lakes in Clarendon County, South Carolina.

Hays’ two-day Qualifying Round catch of 17 bass totaling 71 pounds, 13 ounces, earned him the win by a narrow 2-pound, 11-ounce margin over Day 1 leader and reigning Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) Matt Becker of Ten Mile, Tennessee, who caught a two-day total of 19 bass weighing 69-2 to finish the round in second place. General Tire pro Alton Jones, Jr., of Waco, Texas, caught a two-day total of 18 bass weighing 66-9 to finish the round in third, while pro Gerald Spohrer of Gonzales, Louisiana, ended the round in fourth place with a two-day total of 23 bass for 64-15. Rounding out the top five is Stage One winner Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama, who caught 17 bass for 63-14 to advance in fifth place.

The top 10 anglers advancing from Group A will now have an off day from competition Friday, while the 40 anglers competing in Group B will complete their two-day Qualifying Round. The top 10 anglers from each group advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round. In the Knockout Round, weights are zeroed, and the remaining 20 anglers compete to finish in the top 10 to advance to the Championship Round. In Sunday’s final day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

All week, anglers have stressed the importance of triggering bites from the bigger-than-average bass that roam Santee Cooper. At least in Group A, no one has done so better than Hays.

The Arkansas pro anchored his Day 2 bag with a 7-3 kicker. He also caught a 6-7 and a 5-4. During each of his first two days on the water, he’s landed three bass over 5 pounds, and his biggest five fish weighed more than 26 both days.

Hays believes he’s figured out a key to enticing those bigger bass. Fishing in Lake Marion, he’s not shying away from the dirty water in much of the lake. He also thinks his bait selection has played a part. All his fish Thursday ate a 1/2-ounce bladed jig with either a Zoom Z Craw Jr. or Shimmer Shad as the trailer.

“Key No. 1 was dirty water,” Hays said. “Key No. 2 was throwing a ChatterBait instead of flipping. ... And then just making a lot of casts, working really hard.”

Hays admitted that he’s “kind of making it up as [he goes],” especially as he explored new terrain, but he’s optimistic his key areas are reloading with new staging fish each day. Early in the morning, he watched another angler catch a 5-pounder off the same tree that produced a 6-pounder for him on Day 1.

Still, even if his cypress bite sputters, Hays now has a backup plan in place. The thing that had him most excited about his second day on the water was the fact that he caught several fish not around Santee Cooper’s ubiquitous wood, but grass.

“The first day I caught the majority of them off trees – specific trees, but off trees – but in practice I caught a couple good ones off of some grass,” Hays said. “I couldn’t ever really make it work very long. Today, I actually caught the 7 and 5 off the same kind of stuff, and a couple males, so that kind of got me excited. That might start developing as well.”

Hays’ Group A win marked the first time in his three Bass Pro Tour seasons that he’s won a round. He’ll hope it leads to his first tournament win as a pro on Sunday.

The fact that he’s put himself in that position power fishing around shallow cover – the way he grew up fishing – has made his first two days on Santee Cooper even more fun.

“Dude, if they’re biting a Hula Popper, I’ll throw a Hula Popper,” Hays said. “If I gotta throw a drop-shot in 40 foot, I’ll do that. I do not care, and that’s God’s honest truth. It does not matter; I like it all. But it is fun. I mean, it’s been a while since we were able to do this, and I grew up fishing a place very similar to this, a lot of cypress trees, and I’m very comfortable.”

The top 10 pros in Group A that now advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round on Santee Cooper Lakes are:

1st:        Dylan Hays, Hot Springs, Ark., 17 bass, 71-13
2nd:       Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., 19 bass, 69-2
3rd:       Alton Jones, Jr., Waco, Texas, 18 bass, 66-9
4th:        Gerald Spohrer, Gonzales, La., 23 bass, 64-15
5th:        Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 17 bass, 63-14
6th:        James Watson, Lampe, Mo., 15 bass, 55-12
7th:        Jesse Wiggins, Cullman, Ala., 17 bass, 51-11
8th:        Dave Lefebre, Erie, Pa., 14 bass, 50-12
9th:        Cole Floyd, Leesburg, Ohio, 16 bass, 50-8
10th:     Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Mich., 16 bass, 47-15

Eliminated from competition are:

11nd:    Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 14 bass, 45-11
12th:     Randy Howell, Guntersville, Ala., 15 bass, 40-10
13th:     Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., 10 bass, 40-7
14th:     Terry Scroggins, San Mateo, Fla., 14 bass, 38-9
15th:     Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., 15 bass, 38-6
16th:     Greg Vinson, Wetumpka, Ala., 16 bass, 38-0
17th:     Mark Rose, Wynne, Ark., 11 bass, 36-7
18th:     Matthew Stefan, Junction City, Wis., 11 bass, 36-1
19th:     Jeff Sprague, Wills Point, Texas, nine bass, 34-11
20th:     Jacob Wall, New Hope, Ala., nine bass, 34-11
21st:      Mark Daniels, Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., 14 bass, 33-3
22nd:    Chris Lane, Guntersville, Ala., 12 bass, 32-14
23rd:     David Walker, Huntingdon, Tenn., nine bass, 32-4
24th:     Jacopo Gallelli, Florence, Italy, seven bass, 31-3
25th:     Takahiro Omori, Tokyo, Japan, 10 bass, 30-5
26th:     Brent Chapman, Lake Quivira, Kan., nine bass, 29-14
27th:     Matt Lee, Cullman, Ala., nine bass, 28-7
28th:     John Murray, Spring City, Tenn., seven bass, 26-8
29th:     Marty Robinson, Lyman, S.C., nine bass, 25-6
30th:     Anthony Gagliardi, Prosperity, S.C., eight bass, 24-15
31st:      Nick Hatfield, Greeneville, Tenn., nine bass, 24-11
32nd:    Shinichi Fukae, Osaka, Japan, seven bass, 24-9
33rd:     Britt Myers, Lake Wylie, S.C., four bass, 21-13
34th:     Josh Bertrand, Queen Creek, Ariz., six bass, 21-2
35th:     Brandon Coulter, Knoxville, Tenn., six bass, 19-7
36th:     Jared Lintner, Covington, Ga., five bass, 17-13
37th:     Colby Schrumpf, Highland, Ill., six bass, 15-8
38th:     Skeet Reese, Auburn, Calif., five bass, 11-14
39th:     Jason Vance, Battle Ground, Ind., five bass, 11-2
40th:     Grae Buck, Green Lane, Pa., three bass, 10-14

A complete list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

Pro David Walker of Huntingdon, Tennessee, earned Thursday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award with an 8-pound, 8-ounce largemouth that he caught on a bladed swimjig during Period 3. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and a $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament.