By Todd Ceisner
Just as Greg Vinson’s game plan was playing out as he’d hoped today, Stephen Browning’s was coming apart at the seams. As a result, Vinson earned one more day on the Mississippi River while Browning is headed home wondering what more he could’ve done.
Vinson, who was steady through the first two days of competition at the Bass Pro Tour Redcrest, finished atop the first 10-man Knockout Round on Pool 8 of the Mississippi River with 63-10 (40 bass), leading a group of five anglers advancing to the Championship Round, which is slated for Sunday.
“I can’t describe it,” he said. “You don’t get many opportunities in your lifetime to be the first to do something, especially something this big. I’ve known who [winner of the first Bassmaster Classic) Bobby Murray is for a long time. I’m not comparing the two, but it’s a big deal.”
Vinson was consistent all day, eclipsing the 20-pound mark in all three periods. He edged Michael Neal by more than three pounds as Neal finished with 60-04 behind a day-high 42 bass. Jacob Powroznik, who led after the first two periods, settled for third with 53-13 (32 bass).
Mike Iaconelli (35, 51-07) and points champion Edwin Evers (30, 46-10) rounded out the top 5 with Evers latching onto the final Championship Round berth from this group with a strong push in the third period.
Evers caught 12 fish for 16-15 over the final 2 1/2 hours to bump Browning out of the top 5, where he’d been for most of the day. Browning entered the third period in third place, nine pounds clear of Evers, who was sixth at the time. Browning caught just three fish in the final period and endured a nearly two-hour drought between scoreable fish.
“I’m so excited,” Evers said. “I feel horrible for Stephen, but I’m glad to be moving on.”
Mark Daniels Jr., Jeff Sprague, Andy Morgan and Jacob Wheeler also saw their seasons come to an end today. The second Knockout Round will take place on Pool 8 Saturday with the top 5 in that group clinching the remaining spots in the Championship Round, which will transpire on Pool 7.
Browning said he caught two fish in the third period that fell just shy of the 1-pound weight minimum and those ultimately doomed his chances to advance.
“It sucks,” he said. “To have a chance to fish Sunday in an event that is going to make history and to come up so short, it hurts. It just hurts. Give me one more ounce and I get to fish for $300,000.”
He had no regrets about how he fished and didn’t second-guess any of his decisions. He approached the event with a “typical river fishing” mindset, relying on a vibrating jig and flipping a soft stickbait to get the job done. It worked up until early in the second period when he left his productive starting area to explore other spots he hadn’t fished since practice. As his dry spell started to wear on and Evers had closed the gap, he opted to head back to where he started.
“I felt like I could go back in that area and get two or three bites. I got three but two were just shy,” he said.
He caught a 2-10 in the final two minutes to pull within nine ounces of Evers, who was landing a 1-10 at roughly the same time to negate Browning’s late push.
Edwin Evers used a strong third period to sew up a spot in the Championship Round.
"In my mind, I almost knew when I was weighing it I had to have one more,” Browning said. “I just knew it. This format is one of those deals you just know. There are times when you know you’re that close, but you need more. I could hear it in my official’s voice when he read off the standings. When he got to fifth place, I heard the ‘E’ syllable. I just knew.
“I did what I knew to do after two days of practice. Edwin just beat me. I don’t mind getting beat if I gave it my all. It was very clean. My problem was I was catching better quality, just not quantity. That’s what got me beat. If you put me back out there tomorrow in the same scenario, there’s not one thing I’d change. I can walk away and know I got beat.”
For Evers, his third-period surge keeps alive his hope to add the first Redcrest title next to the first BPT points championship.
“I thought I was on really good fish and I was ready to go after day 1 of practice, but they went downhill,” he said. “It was a struggle all week just to stay afloat. I was glad to get it done.”
Evers relied on a shaky-head and a topwater today after riding a crankbait bite through the first two rounds.
As the season has worn on, anglers have adapted their styles to the every-fish-counts format. They’ve learned how to strategize more to do just enough to survive the first couple rounds while having enough productive spots left for when it really matters. Vinson played the strategy game to near perfection over the Shotgun and Elimination rounds and it allowed him to really lean on areas today. He primarily targeted schooling fish chasing bait to the surface. A walking topwater bait and a jerkbait produced nearly all of his fish.
“I knew with this format, you have to start and build on a pattern that can produce what you need to move on,” he said. “There’s a lot of strategy involved and these guys are so good that it pushes you to catch more than you need to sometimes.”
Vinson said his game plan came together after the first day of practice. Over the first two days of competition, he was careful to pick and prod at certain areas for only so long.
“I felt I had enough that I wouldn’t be seen in one place doing one thing,” he said. “One thing about this group is they’re all so good that if they pick up on a location or baits or both, and if you expose too much, there will be boats there most times the next day. I made some good decisions over the first two rounds to set it up for today.”
Case in point, he spent nearly an entire period yesterday basically protecting an area where bass were schooling in an effort to save it for today.
"I just guarded them,” he said. “It’s hard to do, but they were showing themselves and if I had left someone else would’ve found them. I needed it all today. I’m proud I won today.”
He said a subtle change in the wind direction shifted how some of the fish were setting up, but it didn’t take long to get back on the same page as the fish.
“I’m sure for the other guys it didn’t affect them, but for what I was doing, the bite was off this morning,” he said. “I knew there was enough there, but I had to connect with them.”
Michael Neal caught the most fish out of the 10 anglers who competed today.
Like Vinson, Neal stuck to the plan he laid out earlier this week and despite slipping out of the top 5 briefly during the middle portion of the day, he never panicked.
“I had four areas that had fish and that’s all I fished,” he said.
The pivotal sequence for him was a 30-minute stretch in the third during which he caught nine fish to catapult him back into the top 5.
“I went back to where I’d started the day and that was the key to salvaging my day,” he said.
He’s relied on a three-prong arensal so far, consisting of a white swim jig, a tube and dropshot.
“The swim jig is usually a grass bait, but I’ve caught fish on it off bare banks, rocks and current this week,” he said. “The tube is a good crawfish imitator and the dropshot is good anywhere.”
He’s excited to have one of the 10 tickets to the first Redcrest Championship Round.
“It’s anybody’s game,” he said. “Nobody has had an opportunity to go up there and get bites. We all get the same amount of time to look around. You have to draw a little bit on what we did on Pool 8, but I think it will be different at the same time.”
Knockout Round Results
1. Greg Vinson -- 40, 63-10
2. Michael Neal -- 42, 60-04
3. Jacob Powroznik -- 32, 53-13
4. Mike Iaconelli -- 35, 51-07
5. Edwin Evers -- 30, 46-10
The following anglers missed the cut and will not advance to the Championship Round.
6. Stephen Browning -- 24, 45-00 -- $12,000
7. Mark Daniels Jr. -- 29, 43-09 -- $12,000
8. Jeff Sprague -- 17, 34-00 -- $12,000
9. Andy Morgan -- 16, 30-11 -- $12,000
10. Jacob Wheeler -- 17, 30-08 -- $12,000