By Sean Ostruszka
Special to BassFan

“I’m going to go throw up and then get ready for tomorrow.”

That statement by John Cox pretty much summed up the Knockout Round at the FLW Pro Circuit TITLE Championship.

With 20 anglers vying for 10 spots and a shot at the first-ever TITLE and $200,000 winner’s prize, the pressure was on, especially once Mother Nature finally started to show her teeth with some rain and more wind. Some anglers handled it well, like Grae Buck catching fish on his first five casts, but more than a few (Cox among them) struggled to execute.

Fortunately, it didn’t matter how a guy got in, just that he did, as the weights zero out for the last day. Still, a number of pros used the day to showcase just how ready they are for the Championship Round. And no one did that better than Knockout Round winner Spencer Shuffield, who caught 25 scorable bass (2 pounds or heavier) for 86-10.

Behind him, Group B winner Joey Cifuentes (77-10), Buck (66-07), Bradford Beavers (64-11), Casey Scanlon (64-00) and Rusty Salewske (61-10) all banked over 60 pounds. Kyle Hall (59-11) and Group A winner Kurt Mitchell (58-08) also had little trouble advancing to the finals. But after that, it got stressful.

With an hour to go in Period 3, Evan Barnes, Cox and Dylan Hays were constantly bouncing one another from the Top 10, with Wade Strelic lurking close behind. With 38 minutes left in the day, Barnes caught a 2-11 to solidify his place with 48-10. Hays needed one just a little bigger than that to bounce Cox, and he pulled out all the stops, making several late moves in a quest just one more fish. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t meant to be as Cox hung on by 3-06 with 43-08.

“We’re in? We’re in!” exclaimed a chuckling Cox when he was told he had officially qualified for Saturday.

Shuffield was equally excited, but more so about what he’d found after basically practicing for the final round from midway through Period 2.

“We found some special stuff today,” said Shuffield. “I feel really good going into tomorrow because I think I found the winning schools.”

There is one issue for Shuffield, though, along with some other competitors – the forecast. The weather looks to be pleasant temperature-wise, but winds are predicted to be in the upper teens and even above 20 mph. That much wind should turn the bite on in the bay, but being able to fish effectively out there may be a problem.

However, with what Shuffield saw today – and after handling big waves at the recent Pro Circuit Super Tournament on Lake Erie – there’s no way he’s not going back out to those open-water schools.

“The wind is supposed to be brutal, which will make it tough to fish those schools I found,” said Shuffield. “With as many as I found, though, I’ll hopefully be able to drift through them, take my time and still catch enough to hopefully win us a tournament.”

Of course, that much wind could impact the fishing, as anglers saw in the Knockout Round. There were 120 bass caught in Period 1, but once the wind and rain arrived early in Period 2, the catches dropped to 73 bass in the middle period and 62 in Period 3 (though part of that was a number of top anglers laying off their fish in preparation for the finals). But when it comes to the Championship Round, wind direction could be huge, as it could really fire up the shipping channel where a number of anglers have scored big this week, especially Mitchell and Cox.

Cox spent his entire day today in the channel, but poor execution haunted him.

“I was just struggling,” said Cox, who lost five fish today. “I couldn’t get it together. I’d get them to the boat and they’d come off.”

Fortunately, it “all starts over tomorrow” for him, as it’s just him against nine other pros all starting from zero. And he’s definitely excited about what the channel could do if the wind blows the right direction, but also how bad it could hurt the guys out in the bay.

“You couldn’t pick better conditions for what I’m doing,” said Cox. “If those guys going out in the lake can get to their spots, they’re going to dominate. They were hammering them today and they will tomorrow. But if that wind gets right, I think those fish in the channel will get on one or two spots and you can sit there and catch them one after another.

“I’m just thrilled to have a chance.”

Weather Forecast

> Sat., August 29 – Mostly Sunny – 73°/56°
- Wind: From the NW at 15 to 25 mph

Knockout Round

(Figure at far right indicates weight of angler's heaviest fish for the round)

1. Spencer Shuffield -- 25, 86-13 -- 4-05

2. Joey Cifuentes -- 21, 77-10 -- 5-01

3. Grae Buck -- 17, 66-07 -- 5-02

4. Bradford Beavers -- 20, 64-11 -- 4-05

5. Casey Scanlon -- 23, 64-00 -- 3-10

6. Rusty Salewske -- 17, 61-10 -- 4-10

7. Kyle Hall -- 15, 59-11 -- 4-13

8. Kurt Mitchell -- 17, 58-08 -- 4-13

9. Evan Barnes -- 18, 48-10 -- 3-11

10. John Cox -- 12, 43-08 -- 5-01

The following anglers did not make the cut and did not advance to the Championship Round

11. Dylan Hays -- 11, 40-02 -- 4-13

12. Wade Strelic -- 10, 35-11 -- 4-08

13. Jon Canada -- 9, 31-04 -- 5-02

14. Joshua Weaver -- 9, 23-01 -- 2-13

15. Matt Stefan -- 7, 22-09 -- 3-11

16. Christopher Brasher -- 7, 21-07 -- 3-11

17. Greg Bohannan -- 6, 20-02 -- 4-03

18. Ron Nelson -- 5, 16-13 -- 4-12

19. Mitch Crane -- 4, 13-00 -- 4-05

20. Matt Becker -- 2, 7-04 -- 4-04