Thursday, May 23, 2024

MDJ, Fitzgerald Battle for AOY by Kyle Wood

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The Southeast Division of the Rayovac FLW Series will wrap up this week on Lake Seminole after what has been an action-packed season complete with record fields and 30-pound stringers. On top of battling for the $40,000 top prize for winning the event, anglers will also be competing to claim the Strike King Angler of the Year award and its $2,000 prize package, which includes deposits into the 2016 FLW Series.

The AOY finale is likely to be a two-man race between Mark Daniels Jr. and Trevor Fitzgerald, but several other pros are within range of stealing away the title.

Here’s how it breaks down.

 

The resulting fish is a keeper, but not the type Daniels needs to go for the win.

MDJ on Fire

Daniels, or MDJ, as he’s come to be known, has torched the first two Southeast Division tournaments. He took fourth on Lake Okeechobee and eighth on Guntersville – both places that he’s still learning since moving east to fish professionally. Seminole presents the same challenge of having to decipher a new place, however, it is a strong grass fishery, and MDJ excels at fishing grass.

He currently holds a mere two-point lead over Fitzgerald heading into this final event. That’s scary for Daniels due to the wealth of knowledge that Fitzgerald has about this pond. Luckily, Daniels isn’t one to get spun out and takes each day as it comes. He knows how to get the job done.

 

A skilled net job by co-angler Donald Jason as Trevor Fitzgerald's giant bass jumps near the boat.

Fitzgerald Hanging Tight

Like Daniels, Fitzgerald also nabbed back-to-back top 10s at the first two events. He finished fifth and ninth at the Big O and G-Ville, respectively. The thing Fitzgerald has going for him is that he lives just four hours down the road from Seminole in Belleview, Fla., and is pretty familiar with the lake, even though Fitzgerald says that he pretty much only fishes Seminole during major tournaments.

He won the B.A.S.S. Open on Seminole in 2010, but his last visit was actually back in 2013 when the FLW Series stopped at Seminole in April. He placed 21st in that event.

While his track record on Seminole is no certain forecast for how this tournament will play out, Fitzgerald still gets the betting man’s odds of claiming his first AOY title.

 

Tennessee pro Hensley Powell has quietly fished his way into contention with a two-day total of 35 pounds, 11 ounces. He's in fifth.

Down, but Not Out

Sitting in third right now is Hensley Powell with 471 points – 19 points behind Daniels. Powell also netted a top 10 on Okeechobee and demonstrated his grass-fishing abilities in doing so. He hails from Tennessee, so this tournament isn’t exactly in his backyard. Yet, with the season he has had and momentum coming in, Powell could easily find his way into the top 10 for a shot at the AOY title.

Joe Holland holds down the fourth spot, 21 points back with 469 total. Holland is from Maine and has quite a bit of experience on the Potomac River and Champlain. Both happen to be bodies of water well-suited for shallow grass techniques that might factor in at Seminole. He also spends a lot of time in Florida each year and is a proven grass fisherman. He fished the 2013 FLW Series event on Seminole where he finished 65th. That might not be the best indicator of how he will fare this week, but at least he has seen the water before, which is always a plus.

In fifth stands Brian Holder of Gastonia, N.C. He has been to Seminole several times over the last few years when the Rayovac FLW Series has rolled through. Conditions have been changing over the last week on Seminole (see below), and the fishing has been up and down, which means that having seen the lake at different times of the year can key an angler into something that others with less experience might have overlooked. Despite being 24 points back, Holder has a shot if the leaders falter.

The Long Shots

A few other names to note that could rise to contention if Daniels or Fitzgerald slip are some studs like Chris McCall (446 points), Jared McMillan (440), Todd Auten (429), George Kapiton (426), Clent Davis (426), Chad Prough (424) and Brandon Medlock (423).

The lake has been in a state of flux lately. Heavy rains had the lake high and dirty just a few weeks ago, but now it has begun to clear up some and sits 2 to 3 feet below normal pool. Warm weather in the South has sent the water surface temperature skyrocketing up and scattered some of the fish. Regardless, it is still Seminole, and the potential to see some giant stingers of fish is very real.

Anything is possible on a fishery like Seminole, and there’s no doubt it is the perfect stage to decide who is the best angler in the Southeast Division.

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