By MLF Communications Staff

CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. – Reigning MLF Bass Pro Tour Angler of the Year (AOY) Matt Becker of Ten Mile, Tennessee, boated 12 scorable bass Tuesday totaling 45 pounds, 8 ounces to jump out to the early lead in the Group A Qualifying Round at Santee Cooper Lakes.

Just 4-3 behind Becker in second place on the ScoreTracker leaderboard is Hot Springs, Arkansas pro Dylan Hayes, who caught 10 bass totaling 29-11. Alton Jones, Jr. of Waco, Texas sits in third place, less than 6 pounds back of Becker with 10 bass weighing 39-10.

The 40 anglers in Group A will now have an off day from competition Wednesday, while the 40 anglers competing in Group B will begin their first day of competition. Group A will resume competition on Thursday.

Entering the first day of competition, Becker wasn’t feeling optimistic. He said he had a “horrible practice” amid the muddy, prespawn conditions that greeted the field. He picked his starting spot because he got a single bite there during the three-day practice period.

Within the first 35 minutes of Tuesday morning, Becker had turned that one bite into six scorable bass weighing a combined 23-6. That flurry gave him an early lead over the rest of Group A, and he never relinquished the top spot.

“I went to an area where I had one bite — that’s where I decided to start," Becker said. “And before I knew it, I had six fish in the boat, and I didn’t even know what was happening. So yeah, it was fast and furious this morning. I did not expect that at all.”

It wasn’t just Becker who found the fishing better than expected on Santee Cooper. While bass didn’t hit the scales in the same numbers as as in the season opener at Toledo Bend, plenty of big ones showed up. Thirteen bass weighing 6 pounds or more were caught Tuesday, including one over 8 pounds. Fifteen pros topped the 20-pound mark on the day.

“Honestly, everybody caught ‘em – myself included – better than I expected,” Becker said. “I did not see this coming. I expected it to be a lot tougher on everybody. But I’m super happy with how it turned out.”

Becker burst onto the national tournament scene in a big way last year, beating out the likes of Jacob Wheeler, Ott DeFoe and Jones Jr. to claim both the win and Angler of the Year trophies at the season finale on Saginaw Bay.

Clearly, the offseason did nothing to stem his momentum.

Becker started the 2024 campaign with a Championship Round appearance on Toledo Bend. He then finished 16th in the MLF Invitationals season-opener on Sam Rayburn. Now, even on a fishery that, at least on paper, doesn’t suit his strengths, Becker looks like he’s figured out the Santee Cooper bass.

“Definitely it’s a confidence thing,” he said. “I feel very confident in myself right now, and it just seems like every decision I make turns into the right one. Like today, for instance, I literally had one bite in that area that I started, but my gut was telling me to go start there, and it turned into the lead.

“I don’t ever want it to end. I want to keep this train rolling as long as we can.”

His fast start Tuesday only fueled his confidence. Becker said it made him believe in his area, removing the temptation to fire up his Suzuki outboard and make a time-consuming run across the treacherous fishery. He spent the rest of the day exploring in the same vicinity as his starting spot.

“It kind of slowed me down and allowed me to expand and fish new water,” he explained. “I had that one spot where I got a bite in practice, and then I kind of just expanded around the area the rest of the day. But having that confidence of getting a couple bites early really let me expand and keep fishing new water.”

After a bit of a lull, Becker continued to pad his total throughout the afternoon. Midway through Period 2, he boated a 6-10 kicker. On a fishery that lacks numbers of bass, triggering big bites looks like it’ll be key to contending. Seven of the top eight anglers caught at least one bass over 6 pounds.

“There’s a lot of big fish, and it seems like it’s only a matter of time — if you set the hook enough times, it’s going to be a 6- to 8-pounder,” Becker said. “So, it’s going to take a couple of big fish every day to do well in this tournament.”

Becker didn’t want to divulge too many details about his pattern, but he said he’s not relying on forward-facing sonar to target fish. Instead, he’s power-fishing around “classic prespawn stuff.” He’s not slowing down, covering water with his trolling motor and fishing whatever cover he encounters — in his words, “pretty much just junk-fishing around in one section of the lake.”

While Becker noted that he only saw one other competitor all day, which excites him, he’s not sure whether he’ll be able to ride his starting spot, or even the general area, to another Top 10. He plans to spend the second day of the Qualifying Round exploring more of the massive, habitat-rich playing field.

“I feel like I might have burnt up that area today, but you just never know,” Becker said. “It’s springtime, more fish could be coming with a warming trend. The sun was out this afternoon and it was warming up. So maybe some more fish are coming. But I’m going to keep an open mind going into the rest of the tournament and try to expand on Day 2, try to fish some new water and maybe find something else as well.”

Britt Myers won Tuesday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award with an 8-3 largemouth that he caught on a deep-diving crankbait with just 10 minutes remaining in the day late in Period 3. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and another $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament.

After each two-day Qualifying Round is complete, the anglers who finish first through 10th 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 Sunday’s Championship Round, where weights will again be zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

Anglers launch at 7:30 a.m. ET each day from the John C. Land III Landing, located at 4404 Greenall Road in Summerton. Each day’s takeout is held at the park, beginning at 4 p.m.

The MLFNOW! broadcast team of Chad McKee and J.T. Kenney will break down the extended action live on the final four days of competition from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET. MLFNOW! will be livestreamed on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

The tournament features the MLF catch, weigh, immediate-release format, in which anglers catch as much weight as they can each day, while also feeling the pressure and intensity of the ScoreTracker leaderboard. Anglers are competing with a 1 1/2-pound minimum weight requirement for a bass to be deemed scorable. The MLF Fisheries Management Division determines minimum weights for each body of water that the Bass Pro Tour visits, based on the productivity, bass population and anticipated average size of fish in each fishery.