Weights were again stacked atop the leaderboard, but 11-time Championship Qualifier Spencer Shuffield of Hot Springs, Arkansas, brought a five-bass limit weighing 22 pounds, 12 ounces across the stage Sunday to win the first major event of his professional career, earning $200,000 and the TITLE belt at the third-annual Major League Fishing (MLF) Tackle Warehouse TITLE Presented by Mercury – the Pro Circuit Championship – on the St. Lawrence River in Massena, New York. Shuffield earned the win by a 12-ounce margin over pro Dakota Ebare of Brookeland, Texas, who weighed a limit of 22 pounds even, good for second place and $50,000. Alabama pro Jacob Wall of New Hope, rounded out the top three, weighing a five-bass limit of 21 pounds even to take home $30,000.
Sunday’s final day of competition marked the finale of the six-day Tackle Warehouse TITLE, which featured the top 48 pros in the 2022 Pro Circuit standings, along with last year’s reigning TITLE champion and reigning Angler of the Year (AOY) – all competing for a purse of more than $800,000. The event was hosted by the Town of Massena.
Shuffield had been near a win several times on the Pro Circuit, including the infamous 2020 TITLE Championship on Sturgeon Bay, where bad weather prevented him from getting to his primary area on Championship Day, resulting in a heart-breaking 6th place finish.
“I had 18 pounds pretty quick this morning, and then the storm hit, and the wind kicked in and I thought ‘not again’,” Shuffield said. “But thankfully the wind never got out of control, and I was still able to manage it and fish my areas effectively enough to catch the fish.
“I had about a 25-minute lull where I wasn’t able to fish as hard or cover as much ground as I had been, due to the wind and the current. I was seeing the big ones and trying to pitch that perfect cast in front of them, but it was nearly impossible during the storm.”
Finally, the wind died down just enough that Shuffield was able to make more precise pitches in front of the stingy smallmouth and get them to bite.
“I caught most of my fish today on a 7-foot, 4-inch medium Phenix M1 rod with 6-pound test Yo-Zuri T-7 Premium Fluorocarbon leader, throwing a ½-ounce Ark Tungsten Drop-Shot Weight and a No. 2 Gamakatsu Drop Shot Hook with a green-pumpkin party or brown-back-colored Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm,” Shuffield said. “The rest came on a 7-foot, 2-inch Phenix M1 rod, with an 8-pound test Yo-Zuri leader, a 3/8-ounce WOO! Tungsten Ned Head Jig and a Goby Bryant-colored Z-Man Finesse TRD.”
Shuffield said he’d always dreamed of being on the big stage and winning tournaments. Although he never realized just how hard he’d have to work to get to this point, he was always determined that this was going to be his path in life.
“To get my first win right here, and for my first major win to be a championship event is huge,” Shuffield said in his post-game interview. “God has blessed me. This last year has been a trying year, and I definitely don’t feel like I deserve it. But I’m thankful He does.
That achievement is even more meaningful to Shuffield, who said he lost his fishing career six years ago, and went into one of the deepest, darkest places of depression he’d ever experienced.
“I didn’t know if I’d ever get this opportunity back, but I fought hard, knowing I would eventually get back here, even if it was the death of me,” Shuffield said. “I was able to make it back to fishing as a pro strictly off of local tournaments. I earned seven boats in four years back home winning local championships, which, combined with my families’ support and the good Lord above, enabled me to be here today.
“I wouldn’t have cared if a regular-season Tour win had been my first win – I’m not stingy, I just wanted to get that first one under my belt. For it to be in a championship event against the best of the best, I just can’t believe it,” said an emotional Shuffield. “Tournament wins are necessary to sustain a career, but championship wins are worth so much more. I’ve been dreaming about this moment since I was three years old.”
Shuffield recounted taking a Walmart sack out to the backyard when he was a kid, gathering up the five biggest pinecones he could find and pretending to pull them out of the bag one at a time, practicing for the day he would be winning on stage and in this moment.
“To be living that out and doing it in real-life now is just unreal. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into being a pro angler, that a lot of people don’t ever see, so to finally make it happen – it’s by the grace of God, no doubt. I’m most thankful to Him, for giving me the opportunity to be standing here today,” added a tearful Shuffield. “I give it 110% out here every day and some days it’s not good enough, but the days that it is, it really counts and puts things into perspective and is a reminder how far hard work truly goes. The appreciation of just being able to see your hard work come to fruition is really special.”
The top 10 pros at the MLF Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit TITLE on the St. Lawrence River are:
1st: Spencer Shuffield, Hot Springs, Ark., five bass, 22-12, $200,000
2nd: Dakota Ebare, Brookeland, Texas, five bass, 22-0, $50,000
3rd: Jacob Wall, New Hope, Ala., five bass, 21-0, $30,000
4th: Kurt Mitchell, Milford, Del., five bass, 20-10, $25,000
5th: Martin Villa, Charlottesville, Va., five bass, 20-6, $19,000
6th: Josh Bragg, Fayetteville, Ga., five bass, 20-1, $18,000
7th: Nick Hatfield, Greeneville, Tenn., five bass, 18-5, $17,000
8th: Bobby Lane, Lakeland, Fla., five bass, 17-3, $16,000
9th: Matt Becker, Finleyville, Pa., five bass, 17-1, $15,000
10th: Kyle Cortiana, Broken Arrow, Okla., five bass, 16-1, $14,000