Salzman Leads MLF REDCREST 2024 Tournament on Lay Lake

March 15, 2024
Major League Fishing (MLF)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (March 15, 2024) – Since the start of practice, the buzzword at the REDCREST 2024 tournament has been “change.” That remained the case on the second day of qualifying, with Thursday’s sunny skies giving way to morning thunderstorms and subsequent overcast conditions.

The ever-evolving spring bite on Lay Lake shifted as a result, and so did the name atop SCORETRACKER®. Huntsville, Alabama pro Ryan Salzman climbed to the top spot with a two-day total of 65 pounds, 14 ounces. Fishing at the upper end of the playing field below Logan Martin Dam, Salzman boated 10 scorable bass Friday for the second day in a row, adding 30-3 to his tab for a 65-14 Qualifying Round total.

Salzman leads a tightly bunched and dangerous group of anglers at the top of the standings. Coosa River local and 2021 REDCREST champion Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama, finished the round in second place with 63-4. Within four pounds of him are former Bass Pro Tour winners Michael Neal of Dayton, Tennessee, and Jesse Wiggins of Addison, Alabama, as well as local favorite Dalton Head of Moody, Alabama, the Abu Garcia College Fishing representative from the University of Montevallo who happens to call Lay his home lake.

Considering the logjam at the top of the leaderboard and the fact that weights will zero when the Top 20 anglers take the water for Saturday's Knockout Round, the race for the championship trophy and $300,000 first-place paycheck remains wide open. Just about every technique still has a chance to account for the win, too, as the suspended spotted bass pattern that dominated Day 1 appeared to cool and shallow power fishing in pockets, bedding bass and heavy current all produced big days.

Salzman first branched out from pond fishing as a college student at North Alabama on the shores of Pickwick Lake. The only vessel he had access to was a jon boat with no electronics and a 25-horsepower outboard, so he quickly found that the easiest way to catch bass on the Tennessee River impoundment was by braving its turbulent tailraces.

He’s has been enamored with fishing heavy, manmade current ever since. Now a guide on the Tennessee River, Salzman focuses many of his outings on various tailraces. While Salzman said the area he’s patrolling on Lay is smaller and shallower than most of the tailraces he fishes at home, that knowledge has served him well so far at REDCREST.

“The main difference is this one is shallower,” he explained. “Our (Tennessee River) dams are so massive, there’s sections that set up just like this. So, we just have more options. This dam is just a lot smaller.”

While the current tends to position fish predictably, Salzman said the front that rolled through the area Friday morning impacted his bite. He caught just three bass in his first four hours on the water. He closed strong, though, catching more than half his weight (17-9 on five fish) in the final period.

Salzman kept coy about the nuances of his approach, but he said the key to his strong afternoon was getting into the perfect spot. He shared the area with two other anglers during most of the Qualifying Round, and one beat him to his primary location Friday morning. That’s why he wasn’t afraid to keep catching fish long after he’d locked up a place in the Knockout Round – by qualifying in the top spot, he’ll be the first boat to launch Saturday.

“Yesterday, we had someone who had zero run up there in the middle of the day, and he kind of got on one of my main places and sacked it pretty good,” Salzman said. “Then he was on it all morning, and then he finally got off of it, and I was able to get on it at the end of the day, and I caught some of my bigger fish. That was really the big goal was to win the round so that I could have a good boat number.”

Fishing his first REDCREST, Salzman said he’s not nervous entering the weekend – for good reason. He has a strong track record when championships are on the line. In both his two previous appearances in championship events, the 2019 Forrest Wood Cup and 2021 Tackle Warehouse TITLE, Salzman finished among the Top 10. He thinks being able to take risks and not worry about points suits his style.

“I feel like I feel no pressure, because you don’t have to worry about just going and getting a few bites,” Salzman said. “You can just go all-in on whatever you’re doing.”

Salzman isn’t quite all-in on fishing the tailrace. He recognizes that a change in generation at Logan Martin dam could occur at any time and make the area far less productive, if not unfishable, so he has a few backup patterns in mind. But he’d much rather stick to his comfort zone in the current.

“Pending a drastic change, I will be up there,” he said. “But I did figure out some patterns down the lake that I felt good about. I didn’t know that I could catch the weight that I caught up there, but I feel like I can catch fish other places. I’d like to be up there, but you just never know. With the current, every day is different up there, and you’ve just got to keep an open mind.”

The top 20 pros that made the cut and will advance in competition on Lay Lake are:

1st:        Ryan Salzman, Huntsville, Ala., 20 bass, 65-14
2nd:       Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 25 bass, 63-4
3rd:       Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 25 bass, 61-13
4th:        Dalton Head, Moody, Ala., 23 bass, 61-11
5th:        Jesse Wiggins, Addison, Ala., 25 bass, 59-10
6th:        Cole Floyd, Leesburg, Ohio, 23 bass, 58-14
7th:        Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 23 bass, 56-12
8th:        Nick Hatfield, Greeneville, Tenn., 20 bass, 54-1
9th:        Anthony Gagliardi, Prosperity, S.C., 20 bass, 52-11
10th:     Cliff Pace, Petal, Miss., 16 bass, 50-12
11th:     Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Mich., 18 bass, 48-2
12th:     Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala., 15 bass, 46-12
13th:     Emil Wagner, Marietta, Ga., 17 bass, 46-11
14th:     Takahiro Omori, Tokyo, Japan, 18 bass, 45-13
15th:     John Cox, DeBary, Fla., 17 bass, 44-12
16th:     Greg Vinson, Wetumpka, Ala., 15 bass, 41-13
17th:     Jonathon VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., 15 bass, 41-8
18th:     Gerald Spohrer, Gonzales, La., 15 bass, 40-7
19th:     Alton Jones, Jr., Waco, Texas, 16 bass, 40-1
20th:     Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., 14 bass, 39-1

Finishing in 21st through 50th place are:

21st:      Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., 14 bass, 38-13
22nd:    Dakota Ebare, Brookeland, Texas, 14 bass, 37-9
23rd:     Spencer Shuffield, Hot Springs, Ark., 13 bass, 37-5
24th:     Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., 14 bass, 37-1
25th:     Todd Faircloth, Jasper, Texas, 13 bass, 36-13
26th:     Matthew Stefan, Junction City, Wis., 13 bass, 34-13
27th:     Chris Lane, Guntersville, Ala., 11 bass, 34-7
28th:     David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., 12 bass, 32-4
29th:     Ott DeFoe, Blaine, Tenn., 12 bass, 31-15
30th:     Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., 11 bass, 31-9
31st:      Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., 13 bass, 31-9
32nd:    Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., 13 bass, 30-5
33rd:     Alton Jones, Lorena, Texas, 11 bass, 26-4
34th:     Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., nine bass, 24-6
35th:     Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., eight bass, 22-12
36th:     Joshua Weaver, Macon, Ga., seven bass, 21-11
37th:     Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., eight bass, 21-3
38th:     Mark Rose, Wynne, Ark., nine bass, 21-2
39th:     John Hunter, Shelbyville, Ky., eight bass, 20-14
40th:     Cody Meyer, Star, Idaho, seven bass, 20-2
41st:      Jeff Sprague, Wills Point, Texas, six bass, 19-11
42nd:    Mark Daniels, Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., seven bass, 19-8
43rd:     Dylan Hays, Hot Springs, Ark., six bass, 16-8
44th:     Josh Butler, Hayden, Ala., five bass, 14-4
45th:     Kelly Jordon, Flint, Texas, six bass, 13-14
46th:     Jordan Lee, Cullman, Ala., four bass, 13-13
47th:     Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., four bass, 11-5
48th:     Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., four bass, 9-2
49th:     Chad Mrazek, Montgomery, Texas, three bass, 7-12
50th:     Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, S.C., one bass, 3-2

Overall, there were 284 scorable bass weighing 773 pounds, 5 ounces caught by the 50 pros Friday.

Lane earned the $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award on Friday with a 7-pound, 1-ounce spotted bass that he caught on a soft plastic jig-head minnow in Period 1. 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. Lane’s 7-pound, 1-ouncer is the biggest bass weighed in the competition thus far.