Wal-Mart FLW Series National Guard Western Division
Columbia River, Tri-Cities, Wash.
Opening-round cut day, Friday
A bright future … Justin Lucas is one of the most presentable and likable young guns on the Western circuit, and as a member of the National Guard team, it was fitting when he accepted the Co-angler Division trophy with representatives from the Washington National Guard onstage with him Friday afternoon. More than that, though, he’s a serious stick from the back of the boat. Just 21 years old, the Columbia River FLW Series is already the second FLW Outdoors win of his very short career. He also won last year’s Stren Series stop at Lake Shasta in his rookie season and has already cleared more than $67,000 in winnings in just two years. “It’s just amazing,” Lucas said about his win Friday. “This doesn’t come around very often, so I’m going to savor it a while.” But that’s where he’s wrong. If he keeps fishing like he has been, it won’t be long until he savors his next trophy. And then another one. And then finally moves up to the pro side to take on the big boys. And that time can’t come soon enough for some of his fellow co-anglers. “I hope you win it, man. You’re the best fisherman out of the back of the boat there is, and you deserve it,” second-place co-angler Brian Stafford told Lucas Friday afternoon. “You should move up to the front of the boat, though.”
Now that’s just cruel … Tournament director Chris Jones had some fun with Lucas at Friday’s weigh-in. The young co-angler weighed in and established his big lead early, and he had to sit around and watch as the rest of his fellow contending co-anglers weighed out sporadically throughout the three-hour weigh-in. None came close to Lucas’ weight – that is, none until the very last one. Wade Headrick, who caught good limits both of the first two days, was the very last co-angler to come to the scale, and he brought a hefty-looking black bag with him. Jones assembled the National Guard team members and representatives onstage and made Lucas watch as he weighed in Headrick, who needed 14-7 to overtake the young co-angler for the win. Then Jones made Lucas read Headrick’s weight. The scale read “15-13,” Headrick celebrated, and Lucas looked like someone had just punched him in the gut. Then Jones reached into the bag and pulled out a pop bottle filled with birdshot, and Headrick’s real weight settled on 6-12. It was a great TV moment, but it was baptism by fire into the big time for the young Lucas. “That was really messed up. I thought I lost,” said an exasperated, but elated, Lucas. “Was that the first time you’ve done that?” Jones’ smiling reply: “Nope.”
Nice change of pace … This has been an all-around great tournament from a variety of standpoints: fantastic facilities, decent weather, great scenery, lots of limits and big, enthusiastic crowds at weigh-in. What’s really fun about this particular tournament, though, is watching these Western anglers negotiate a fabulous smallmouth fishery in the Columbia River. Lots of these guys are used to fishing for lunker largemouths in places like the California Delta and Clear Lake or scratching out limits from desert impoundments down by Las Vegas and Phoenix. But this is a different kind of tournament venue for many of the West’s top pros – a true Northern-type fishery with big river smallies – and they’re loving it. “This is such a great fishery,” said Bobby Barrack, a big largemouth stick from the Delta. “I don’t know how to catch smallmouths at all, and I caught a big 5-4 smallmouth yesterday. It was the biggest smallmouth I’ve ever caught, and I had to come all the way to Washington to do it.” Not only that, this place gives some of the more northerly-based Western pros a shot to strut their stuff and take over the limelight from the Californians for a little bit. Guys like Charlie Weyer (who’s from Cali but loves his smallies), Jason Hickey, Ken Wick and Neil Russell are putting on a smallmouth clinic this week, and it’s just plain fun to watch. No offense to the regulars (Who doesn’t like watching Mike Folkestad and Jimmy Reese pull 10-pounders out of Clear Lake?), but it’s refreshing to see the Idaho and Washington guys share the spotlight for a while.
Sadly, dog days redux … What is it about this tournament and tough times for dogs? On Wednesday, Gary Dobyns revealed that he lost his 15-year-old hunting dog, Jake, right before the tournament, and he still hasn’t really recovered, understandably. Friday, Andre Moore made the cut, but he seemed a little out of it too. “I’m really tired,” he said. “I had to take my dog to the emergency vet at 2 o’clock in the morning, so I haven’t had a whole lot of sleep. I had a crazy day. I only fished for, like, two hours, and this is what I got.”
“I’ve never seen weathermen getting paid so much for being so wrong.”
– Veteran pro Don Iovino, who seemed to have trouble gauging weather conditions this week.
“If it works out, I’m going to be one stoked 21-year-old kid.”
– Lucas, after he weighed in but before the final results came in.
“I’m buying a house here.”
– Lucas, after winning, expressing his appreciation for the Tri-Cities area and the Columbia River.