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By Joel Shangle - May 9, 2018

COLUMBIA, South Carolina – For a man who had humble expectations on the first day of the 2018 MLF Challenge Select in Lake Murray Country, South Carolina, things turned out pretty well for Keith Poche.

The Alabama native clawed his way through his Elimination Round, catching a 2-pound, 3-ounce “Hail Mary” fish in the last 30 minutes of competition on Lake Murray to advance to the next round by 6 ounces. He followed that up by escaping the Sudden Death Round courtesy of two fish that he caught in the final 40 minutes of the day on Monticello Reservoir.

But the Mercury pro left nothing to chance in the Championship Round on the Little Saluda River/Big Creek Arm of Murray, ringing up SCORETRACKER to the tune of nine fish for 21-9 and finishing the day with a 9-plus-pound cushion over second-place finisher Scott Suggs.

“Man, it’s funny how these things can turn out,” Poche admitted. “I mean, I barely made it past the first round, and then I barely made it out of Sudden Death. If you had to bet early in the week who would win this event, you probably wouldn’t have bet on me.”

One thing has become imminently clear in Poche’s MLF career: betting against him in the MLF format is a bad idea.

Poche also won the 2015 Summit Select in Muskogee, Ala., and the 2017 Challenge Select in Alpena, Mich., and has finished on top of SCORETRACKER in eight competition rounds in the 10 Select and Cup events he’s fished. He ends the 2018 Select schedule with 85 cumulative points over the 2017 and 2018 seasons, which automatically qualifies him to become a full-time Cup angler in 2019.

“I guess I just kinda like this format: you just show up in the morning and fish,” Poche said. “I like getting in the truck with no idea where we’re going, seeing the lake for the first time, and spending the day just hustling to figure it out.”

It didn’t take Poche long to get going in the championship round. Ott Defoe was first out of the gate with 5-6 in the first hour of competition, but Poche took control of the day during a 37-minute stretch in the middle of Round 1 in which he logged six fish for 15-14, all on a Spro Bronzeye Poppin’ Frog.

“I went way back up this little creek and just landed on ‘em,” Poche says. “I caught every fish that day on that poppin’ frog, throwing it around isolated clumps of grass, grass lines and stumps. I just found the right area.”

Poche’s winning gear
Poche caught all nine of his scorable bass on a Spro Bronzeye Poppin’ Frog 60 in Nasty Shad, which he threw on a 7-5 heavy iRod flippin’ stick and an 8.0:1 reel spooled with 60-pound Sunline FX2 braid.

The rest of the field
Suggs finished second in the final round with 12-4, followed by Zack Birge (8-7), Ott Defoe (6-12), James Watson (5-13) and Brandon Palaniuk (4-13).