Rojas Wins Qualifying Round at MFL Tournament at Santee Cooper

February 23, 2024
Major League Fishing (MLF)

CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. (Feb. 23, 2024) – For the first two hours of Group B’s second day on the water Friday at Suzuki Stage Two tournament on Santee Cooper, pro Dean Rojas of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, struggled to recapture his Day 1 success. Rojas had stacked 16 bass weighing 48 pounds, 14 ounces on SCORETRACKER® during his first day on the Santee Cooper lakes, but he went more than two hours Friday morning without boating a scorable fish.

Once Rojas relocated a population of fish, though, the action heated up in a hurry. He got on the board with a 5-pounder, then caught another 11 bass, bringing his two-day total to 76-1. He finished atop the leaderboard for Group B, a mere 10 ounces ahead of pro Brent Ehrler of Redlands, California.

Rojas’ day summed up the action across lakes Marion and Moultrie. A morning that started slow ended with two bass over 9 pounds, and 20 over 6 pounds hitting the scales. Despite many of the top anglers using the afternoon to scout new water, the field combined to catch 249 scorable bass for 824 pounds, 14 ounces – easily the biggest totals of any day so far.

The remaining 20 anglers – the top 10 from each group – now advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round, where weights are zeroed, and anglers compete to finish in the top 10 to advance to the Championship Round on Sunday. In Sunday’s final day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

Having put plenty of distance between himself and the cut line on Wednesday, Rojas, too, used his second day of competition to explore new water on the massive 170,000-acre playing field that is Santee Cooper. He never returned to the area where he caught his Day 1 bag, instead scouting a few other spots where he’d gotten bit during practice.

“The stuff I fished today was just secondary stuff that I had,” he explained. “It’s not my main stuff. I caught ‘em really good the first day, so there was no sense in working on those fish anymore.”

Rojas is doing something a bit different than the majority of anglers, not spending much time around the fishery’s many cypress trees. He didn’t want to reveal much about his tactics but said he’s focusing on areas where bass are moving up to stage. 

“There’s probably a few that are up there (spawning), and there’s some that are coming,” Rojas said. “It’s still the very first beginnings of it.”

While he found plenty of fish, Rojas didn’t catch the same quality on Friday, boating just one bass bigger than 3 pounds. As a result, he still plans to return to his Day 1 area during what figures to be an explosive Knockout Round. 

Still, he sees the day as a success, having eliminated some water and added more to his arsenal should he have to veer from Plan A.

“I have lots of options,” he said. “I feel very comfortable. The stuff that I fished today I can fish again tomorrow, and the stuff that I didn’t fish today, I can still go back again tomorrow.”

As for what it will take to make the Championship Round, Rojas speculated that the cut will fall around 45 pounds – although he admitted that could be way off. Santee Cooper has proven fickle this week, with lots of anglers putting together impressive bags but few doing so on consecutive days. The only safe bet seems to be that whoever does unlock the bite will have a chance to land some big ones.

“I have no idea,” Rojas said. “I’m going to try and catch every single bass I can tomorrow.”

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

1st:        Dean Rojas, Lake Havasu City, Ariz., 28 bass, 76-1
2nd:       Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., 21 bass, 75-7
3rd:       Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., 21 bass, 75-2
4th:        Casey Ashley, Donalds, S.C., 21 bass, 74-2
5th:        Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala, 18 bass, 65-1
6th:        Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 15 bass, 60-12
7th:        Marshall Robinson, Landrum, S.C., 17 bass, 58-9
8th:        Zack Birge, Blanchard, Okla., 13 bass, 55-11
9th:        David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., 18 bass, 53-13
10th:     Bobby Lane, Lakeland, Fla., 14 bass, 51-2

Eliminated from competition are:

11th:     Fred Roumbanis, Russellville, Ark., 10 bass, 49-2
12th:     Fletcher Shryock, Guntersville, Ala., 17 bass, 48-9
13th:     Luke Clausen, Spokane, Wash., 14 bass, 48-4
14th:     Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., 12 bass, 46-4
15th:     Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala., 19 bass, 45-5
16th:     Mark Davis, Mount Ida, Ark., 12 bass, 43-7
17th:     Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., 14 bass, 43-2
18th:     Ott DeFoe, Blaine, Tenn., 14 bass, 42-6
19th:     Wesley Strader, Spring City, Tenn., 14 bass, 38-10
20th:     Spencer Shuffield, Hot Springs, Ark., 11 bass, 36-13
21st:      Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., 12 bass, 36-4
22nd:    Todd Faircloth, Jasper, Texas, 10 bass, 36-3
23rd:     Drew Gill, Mount Carmel, Ill., 14 bass, 36-2
24th:     Justin Cooper, Zwolle, La., 10 bass, 34-15
25th:     Joshua Weaver, Macon, Ga., 10 bass, 32-9
26th:     Martin Villa, Charlottesville, Va., 13 bass, 32-2
27th:     Alton Jones, Lorena, Texas, nine bass, 30-4
28th:     Stephen Browning, Hot Springs, Ark., eight bass, 28-3
29th:     James Elam, Tulsa, Okla., six bass, 21-10
30th:     Keith Carson, DeBary, Fla., seven bass, 19-7
31st:      Jonathon VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., six bass, 19-4
32nd:    Boyd Duckett, Guntersville, Ala., seven bass, 18-11
33rd:     Scott Suggs, Alexander, Ark., six bass, 18-0
34th:     Ryan Salzman, Huntsville, Ala., six bass, 17-11
35th:     Gary Klein, Mingus, Texas, six bass, 15-5
36th:     Kelly Jordon, Flint, Texas, six bass, 14-9
37th:     Cliff Crochet, Pierre Part, La., five bass, 14-3
38th:     John Hunter, Shelbyville, Ky., four bass, 13-1
39th:     Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C, three bass, 12-13
40th:     Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, S.C., three bass, 7-13

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

Overall, there were 249 bass weighing 824 pounds, 14 ounces caught by 39 pros Friday. The catch included 14 6-pounders, three 7-pounders, one 8-pounder and two 9-pounders.