By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Randy Howell made what proved to be a lousy decision late in the final period of the Group A Elimination Round at the Table Rock MLF Bass Pro Tour (Version II). He ended up getting away with it barely.

Howell caught several bigger-than-average fish from a creek arm to move well inside the top-20 cut line as sunset approached and the clock ticked away. Then he opted to run farther up the creek to cast in some fresh water.

That moved was fruitless and the former Bassmaster Classic champion was surpassed by five anglers before getting back to the productive place he'd departed from. He added one small keeper to move into a tie for 20th with Keith Poche, but he'd have lost the tiebreaker because Poche had caught more scorable fish.

He boated a 1:03 specimen with less than 8 minutes left to move into the top 20 for good. Jason Lambert, seeking to make his first Elimination Round of the season, made a bid to bump him out with a final-minute fish, but came up 3 ounces short.

"It was such a good feeling to find out I'd made it because that last minute was so stressful," said Howell, whose primary offering was a Livingston finesse crankbait called the Vapor. "That 1-03 got me over the hump, but two or three other guys were right there with 4 minutes left.

"For a while there, it seemed like I couldn't even take a breath."

Jacob Wheeler, who'd set a single-round season high with 129 pounds during the Shotgun Round, stayed atop the standings with a 20-fish, 30-03 haul that pushed his two-day total to 160-01 on 108 fish. He compiled the vast majority of his second-day weight earlier in the day, then spent the rest of his time on the water practicing for the Knockout Round.

"I fished the full first period, then I fished on and off a little bit in the second and I basically did no fishing in the third," he said. "I feel like I found some new stuff, but I never made a cast on it so I don't know for sure. There might be only crappies there, or white bass.

"I've got a few places that I'm confident have some good ones, but I don't know how many or how easy they'll be to catch. We're going to have 20 other guys (from Group B) out there with us and you don't know whether they've been all over that stuff. I had that happen to me one other time."

Shin Fukae ended up 2nd with 143-01 (85 fish), followed by Cliff Pace with 123-11 (86), Adrian Avena with 122-15 (78) and Fred Roumbanis with 119-10 (70). Roumbanis' 60-01 tally in the Elimination Round was tops for the day.



Major League Fishing/Phoenix Moore
Photo: Major League Fishing/Phoenix Moore

Jason Lambert came up just short in his quest to advance to his first Knockout Round.

Angler of the Year points leader Jeff Sprague (8th with 116-02) has now advanced to the Knockout Round in all seven events.

The thunderstorms that were forecast failed to materialize, resulting in the third straight day of calm-weather fishing. The prediction for Monday has been revised to cloudy, but Tuesday and Wednesday could see some precipitation.

In addition to Howell, other anglers who staged rallies to advance included Wesley Strader, who started the day in 29th place and ended it in 14th; Luke Clausen, who was in 27th at one point in the last period and had to overcome a boat switch early in the day caused by a faulty trolling motor; and Chris Lane, who caught several sizable largemouths in the third period to jump from 26th to 15th.

Lane's final-hour catches included a 3-14 and a 2-10 within 5 minutes of each other, then a 2-15 in the last 20 minutes.

"I was stressed all day," he said. "When I look back from Kissimmee (the season opener) to now, I've literally been around the 19-to-21 mark every single event except here last time I was 20th after the first day in that one and then just didn't put it together on the second day. I guess it's just something I've learned to live with.

"I put the hammer down today and was able to pull away at the end. I haven't been able to do that all year long."

He caught his third-period fish on a prototype Luck-E-Strike worm employed on a dropshot rig.

"The largemouth start to bite late for me, anyway. I figured out how to catch them late on the last day of practice. You've got that one hour and then that's it. You could do the same exact stuff in the same places during the day and you might catch one if you're lucky."

Weather Forecast

> Mon., June 3 Cloudy - 82/66
- Wind: From the ESE at 8 mph

> Tue., June 4 Scattered Thunderstorms - 87/70
- Wind: From the SSW at 8 mph

> Wed., June 5 Scattered Thunderstorms - 78/68
- Wind: From the SW at 7 mph

Day 3 Standings (Group A Elimination Round)

1. Jacob Wheeler -- 88, 129-14 -- 20, 30-03 -- 108, 160-01

2. Shin Fukae -- 66, 112-04 -- 19, 30-13 -- 85, 143-01

3. Cliff Pace -- 59, 85-07 -- 27, 38-04 -- 86, 123-11

4. Adrian Avena -- 53, 79-06 -- 25, 43-09 -- 78, 122-15

5. Fred Roumbanis -- 34, 59-09 -- 36, 60-01 -- 70, 119-10

6. Cody Meyer -- 41, 68-10 -- 33, 50-05 -- 74, 118-15

7. Jordan Lee -- 34, 58-13 -- 33, 57-08 -- 67, 116-05

8. Jeff Sprague -- 39, 64-06 -- 31, 51-12 -- 70, 116-02

9. Aaron Martens -- 33, 54-00 -- 37, 59-06 -- 70, 113-06

10. Justin Lucas -- 50, 73-08 -- 24, 34-02 -- 74, 107-10

11. Jared Lintner -- 30, 48-00 -- 41, 57-09 -- 71, 105-09

12. Takahiro Omori -- 39, 61-02 -- 24, 43-13 -- 63, 104-15

13. Russ Lane -- 43, 65-09 -- 21, 32-06 -- 64, 97-15

14. Wesley Strader -- 26, 41-01 -- 33, 54-03 -- 59, 95-04

15. Chris Lane -- 28, 44-14 -- 27, 47-06 -- 55, 92-04

16. Jacob Powroznik -- 27, 45-07 -- 25, 42-14 -- 52, 88-05

17. Stephen Browning -- 25, 40-06 -- 32, 47-04 -- 57, 87-10

18. Luke Clausen -- 30, 47-14 -- 24, 39-07 -- 54, 87-05

19. Jonathon VanDam -- 30, 49-08 -- 22, 37-11 -- 52, 87-03

20. Randy Howell -- 28, 41-04 -- 24, 44-08 -- 52, 85-12

The following anglers did not make the cut and will not advance to the elimination round.

21. Jason Lambert -- 26, 44-01 -- 24, 41-08 -- 50, 85-09

22. Keith Poche -- 31, 46-10 -- 28, 37-15 -- 59, 84-09

23. Bobby Lane -- 27, 42-05 -- 28, 41-09 -- 55, 83-14

24. Jason Christie -- 29, 49-06 -- 19, 33-08 -- 48, 82-14

25. Andy Morgan -- 27, 47-07 -- 23, 35-06 -- 50, 82-13

26. Ish Monroe -- 29, 44-05 -- 20, 36-03 -- 49, 80-08

27. Marty Robinson -- 33, 50-07 -- 18, 25-06 -- 51, 75-13

28. Mark Rose -- 15, 27-03 -- 29, 47-09 -- 44, 74-12

29. Fletcher Shryock -- 26, 42-15 -- 20, 29-15 -- 46, 72-14

30. Dean Rojas -- 29, 46-09 -- 16, 24-10 -- 45, 71-03

31. Shaw Grigsby -- 26, 41-05 -- 17, 29-08 -- 43, 70-13

32. Zack Birge -- 26, 40-11 -- 17, 29-01 -- 43, 69-12

33. James Elam -- 26, 37-09 -- 21, 31-14 -- 47, 69-07

34. Mike McClelland -- 22, 33-00 -- 24, 35-11 -- 46, 68-11

35. Britt Myers -- 21, 34-05 -- 21, 34-05 -- 42, 68-10

36. Terry Scroggins -- 22, 35-08 -- 19, 31-07 -- 41, 66-15

37. Randall Tharp -- 25, 40-14 -- 14, 23-04 -- 39, 64-02

38. David Walker -- 21, 39-11 -- 13, 19-02 -- 34, 58-13

39. Timmy Horton -- 25, 34-12 -- 16, 22-14 -- 41, 57-10

40. Tommy Biffle -- 12, 22-07 -- 9, 13-13 -- 21, 36-04