Redcrest anglers adjust to knockout

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two of the top five anglers in the first knockout round of the Redcrest Bass Fishing Championship barely made the cut at Lake Norman, demonstrating the importance of strategy in the qualifying rounds.

Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C., leads the Redcrest Bass Fishing Championship after qualifying in 19th place. He registered five bass Friday that weighed 17 pounds, 12 ounces. Jacob Wheeler (5/15-4) finished second after qualifying 17th place. Alton Jones Jr. (5/14-9) ended the day in third place after qualifying in 14th place. Adrian Avena (5/14-4) finished the first knockout round in fifth place after qualifying in sixth place. Jonathon VanDam (5/14-2) finished the day in fifth place after qualifying in 13th place.

The top 15 anglers from the first knockout round qualified for the second knockout round today. The 10 anglers with the heaviest combined two-day weight will qualify for the championship round Sunday. The angler with the heaviest cumulative three-day weight will win $300,000.

Avena said that part of the strategy for fishing in a qualifying event is to determine the minimum weight to make the cut. It makes no sense to catch more than that since weights zero in the first knockout round. There is no reward for catching significantly more weight than necessary.

"We knew yesterday it was going to take about 12 pounds per day to make the cut," Avena said. "I got that, and I caught about 14 pounds the second day and started laying off."

Wheeler said he made the same determination, but he said it was a little harder because the fishing was harder the second day.

"It was really close at the cut line," Wheeler said. "I made an educated decision and started laying up a little more. We have two more days of fishing. If you burn everything you have, you're not going to have a good chance of being successful."

Jones said it also became clear on the first day that it would take about 12 pounds per day to make the cut. Fish management is important in any tournament, he said, but it has a different dimension when half of the field is eliminated before the actual tournament starts. Anglers burn through water during a two-day qualifying event, but then the pressure decreases.

VanDam said he also laid up on the second day of the qualifier. He said laying up and fishing hard are part of the gamesmanship that occurs among anglers to try to gain a psychological advantage.

On Friday, Thrift said he applied some pressure and connected on some bigger fish to gain a 1-pound, 8-ounce advantage over Wheeler. He said you can't afford to play mind games on a lake that gets as much fishing pressure as Lake Norman. It hosts multiple local tournaments every week, so its fish don't get a break. You have to fish to win every day, he said.

Also, the weather changed both days during the qualifying event, and also during the first knockout round. Wheeler and Thrift said anglers are challenged to adjust, so they can't worry about what other anglers are doing.

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