ROGERS, Ark. – Despite a brutally cold start to the Wal-Mart FLW Tour’s most lucrative regular-season tournament, the $1.26 million Wal-Mart Open, anglers from 34 states, Canada and Japan turned in healthy limits of bass Wednesday. Topping the list of Beaver Lake contenders is Evinrude pro Russ Moran of Murfreesboro, Tenn., with five bass weighing 17 pounds, 8 ounces.
If Moran can keep up his pace through Saturday’s final weigh-in, he will pocket $200,000 cash – one of the largest awards in bass-fishing history.
“I’ve had plenty of luck this season, but it has all been bad,” said Moran, a tour newcomer who had never seen Beaver Lake until Saturday and has yet to earn a check in FLW Tour competition. “Maybe this is the one. I’ve been fine tuning a pattern that seems to be working pretty well.”
Moran’s pattern, which produced a pair of largemouths that weighed more than 5 pounds apiece, includes a small crankbait worked on light line near points in 6 to 8 feet of water. Overall, crankbaits and Texas-rigged finesse worms were the top producing lures on a cloudy opening day that saw temperatures top out in the high 40s. A gradual warm up forecast throughout the week could improve catch weights for the remainder of the tournament, which means that Saturday’s final weigh-in at the Roger’s Wal-Mart could be a real shootout.
Joel Baker of Talala, Okla., trails Moran by 3 pounds, 1 ounce to occupy second place heading into Thursday’s competition with five bass weighing 14 pounds, 7 ounces.
Kelly Greer of Green Forest, Ark., leads the Co-angler Division with four bass weighing 11 pounds, 9 ounces that he caught while fishing with pro Mike Surman of Boca Raton, Fla. He is followed closely in his quest to win a top co-angler award of $40,000 cash by second-place co-angler Greg Gulledge of Monticello, Ark., who caught five bass weighing 10 pounds, 3 ounces while fishing with pro Greg Pugh of Cullman, Ala.
Peter Wenners of Galena, Mo., earned the Pro Division Snickers Big-Bass Award and $1,250 with a 5-pound, 12-ounce bass. Greer earned co-angler big-bass honors and $750 with a 4-pound, 4-ounce bass. If Wenners’ catch holds up as the biggest bass of the two-day opening round, he will earn an additional $1,000 from Snickers.
Rounding out the top five pros are Team Stanley angler Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla. (five bass, 13 pounds, 12 ounces); Team Kellogg’s angler Jim Tutt of Longview, Texas (five bass, 13 pounds, 8 ounces); and Eric Holt of Galena, Mo. (five bass, 13 pounds, 4 ounces).
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are the winner of last month’s FLW Tour stop on Lake Murray in Columbia, S.C., Lonnie Fuller Jr. of Hemphill, Texas (five bass, 9 pounds, 12 ounces); Jim Blake of Lincoln, Neb. (four bass, 9 pounds, 11 ounces); and Brian Kingsley of Lawrence, Kan. (five bass, 9 pounds, 10 ounces).
A total of 746 bass weighing 2,192 pounds, 10 ounces were caught by 260 anglers and 100 percent were released alive.
The Wal-Mart Open is the fourth of six qualifying events in the $5.76 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour and one of three million-dollar events on the tour. The $1 million Forrest Wood Open takes place on Wheeler Lake in Florence, Ala., June 18-21, and the historic $1.5 million Jacobs Cup world championship of bass fishing and outdoor show runs Sept. 10-13 on the James River in Richmond, Va. The winner of the Jacobs Cup earns an unprecedented $500,000 cash, the largest guaranteed award in the history of competitive bass fishing, so every point is critical to anglers looking for a shot at the record books. Points toward qualifying for the Jacobs Cup are awarded at each tour stop and only the top 48 pros and 48 co-anglers advance.
Evinrude pro Dan Morehead of Paducah, Ky., currently sits atop the standings with 569 points thanks to three top-25 finishes, including two top-10s. A solid performance on Beaver Lake would make him the favorite to win the Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year title, which annually goes to the tour’s top overall competitor. Currently he is in 29th place with five bass weighing 10 pounds, 8 ounces.
Anglers take off each day at 6:30 a.m. from Prairie Creek Marina in Rogers, expect for Friday when takeoff starts at 8 a.m. Thursday’s weigh-in will be held at the marina starting at 3 p.m., and Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 2110 W. Walnut in Rogers at 5 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively.
The community is encouraged to attend the Family Fun Zone Friday and Saturday outside the weigh-in tent in the Wal-Mart parking lot. The Family Fun Zone features interactive displays, product samples and games for the entire family to enjoy. The Fun Zone will open Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m. Immediately following Friday’s weighing, multi-platinum recording artist Tracy Byrd will perform a free concert in the Family Fun Zone.
Coverage of the Wal-Mart Open will be featured on the “FLW Outdoors” television show, which is broadcast to 55 million Outdoor Life Network subscribers. The program features fishing legends Hank Parker and Larry Nixon alongside hosts Charlie Evans, Carlton Wing and Taylor Carr. Parker’s preview of the event airs Saturday at 7 p.m. and again Sunday at 1 p.m. EST. Tournament highlights air April 19 and 20 followed by a tournament recap featuring Nixon April 26 and 27. “FLW Outdoors” airs every Saturday at 7 p.m. and every Sunday at 1 p.m. EST on OLN through July 5. Special Jacobs Cup episodes will air in September.
The FLW Tour features a pro/co-angler format in which the pro supplies the boat, fishes from the front deck against other pros and controls boat movement. Co-anglers fish from the back deck against other co-anglers. One hundred and seventy-five pros and 175 co-anglers comprise a full field. After two days the field is cut to the top 10 pros and 10 co-anglers who advance to day one of the final round Friday based on their two-day accumulated weight. Weights are cleared for Friday’s competition, and co-anglers compete for one day to determine the winner. Pros continue competition Saturday, with final positions determined by Friday and Saturday’s combined weight.
Wal-Mart and many of America’s most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its six tournament trails. Wal-Mart has been the title sponsor of FLW Outdoors since 1997. For a complete list of FLW Outdoors sponsors and for more information about the premier products and services they offer, please visit FLWOutdoors.com.
FLW Outdoors is named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood.