Top 10 countdown: No. 1 Jay Yelas - Major League Fishing

Top 10 countdown: No. 1 Jay Yelas

2007’s best: How will they fare in 2008?
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Yelas used the swimbait at Beaver Lake to finish second again. Photo by Rob Newell. Angler: Jay Yelas.
February 26, 2008 • Jeff Schroeder • Archives

Obviously, last year’s top 10 pros from the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, by definition, had good seasons. And it’s not a stupid move to look at some of those names atop the standings leaderboard when making picks.

But how does one good FLW Tour season translate into the next, really? Well, that depends. Some anglers are perennial standings contenders, but others seem to have “off” years and “on” years. Still other young hotshots finally make their mark by contending for Angler of the Year after a couple years’ apprenticeship.

What determines whether an angler competes at a high level from one year to the next relies on a number of factors. Things such as a pro’s experience, the tournament venues and, of course, the pro’s natural talent all bear on his or her annual ranking.

That in mind, every working day until the start of the first tournament, we’ll take a quick look at each of the top 10 pros from last year’s Wal-Mart FLW Tour standings, with an eye toward how they might fare heading into Lake Toho.

The only time Yelas works at finding bass these days is when he is on the water at a tournament.No. 1 JAY YELAS – 2007 Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year

2007 recap:

The best of the best last year, Yelas bookended his season with two middling performances, opening at Texas’ Lake Travis with a 78th-place finish and closing at the Lake Ouachita FW Cup in Arkansas with a 76th. But the five tournaments in between were all gravy for the two-time AOY.

In March at Tennessee’s Fort Loudoun-Tellico lakes, Yelas began his AOY run by sight-fishing for smallies and swimbaiting largies into his first top-10 finish, placing sixth, while his buddy and roommate Mark Davis took the title. In April at North Carolina’s Lake Norman, he mounted a comeback on day four – again with a swimbait – with the heaviest limit of the tournament and slid into a runner-up finish. In May at Arkansas’ Beaver Lake, Yelas led days two and three by catching early-morning schooling fish on swimbaits but slipped again into a second-place finish on the last day when his fish dried up.

That was also when he took over the standings lead and never looked back.

In June at the Potomac River, Yelas missed the cut, but he caught a decent limit of postspawn bass in the grassy tidal waters both days of the opening round and finished a very respectable 19th. The same thing happened in July when Yelas caught two good limits of smallies on the bronzeback Mecca of Lake Erie and he finished 25th in a heavy-limit tournament.

That finish, his sixth top-25 showing of the year, clinched the points title for Yelas and he became only the second pro to win AOY twice in his career. (He also won it in 2002. Clark Wendlandt is the other two-time AOY.)

Quality bass can be found swimming spoons and jigs that others have overlooked with conventional spinnerbaits. FLW pro Jay Yelas presents proof.Analysis and 2008 outlook

Throw out his finish at the Cup – which, as a late-summer, smaller-field championship event, is a wildcard kind of tournament – plus his opening result at Lake Travis – which, at 78th place, still put him in the top half of the field – and Yelas finished in the top 12 percent of the field at each event last season, including three top-five finishes.

Meaning? Short answer: If he’s fishing, pick Yelas.

The pro out of Corvallis, Ore., is one of the wiliest veterans on tour. His numbers speak for themselves. In his career, the only year he hasn’t won the points title when he’s fished a full season on the FLW Tour is 2006 – and that year he still came in 35th in points. To do that, you’ve got to be one versatile angler. Just looking at last season, Yelas soared when he fished the early Southern tournaments shallow with his action baits, but when the tour moved north for the summer he still succeeded even after switching up to deeper and slower presentations. That kind of versatility is rare in an angler, and Yelas is one who’s proven to have it time and time again.

You’ll see a few blips on his resume, but don’t be fooled. Yelas has waffled a couple times in his career on whether he wanted to fish FLW our BASS, so his numbers aren’t a complete record for either tour. Either way, though, wherever he fishes he is a factor. Any lake. Anytime.

And that’s true for Lake Toho, especially. He can fish shallow – which, at an average depth of 5 feet, defines Toho – and grass-flipping obviously presents no problem for him.


Shinichi FukaeNo. 2 SHINICHI FUKAE

2007 recap

The fishing sensation from Mineola, Texas, by way of Tokyo had another fantastic season in 2007. Fukae, a one-time Angler of the Year, made his second push for the points title by posting top-40 finishes for the entire regular season.

Fukae began the season at Texas Lake Travis with a 35th-place showing by catching relatively good limits the first two days.

From there he went to Tennesee’s Fort Loudoun-Tellico lakes and wowed with a big rebound on day two. On day one, he caught a limit, but it weighed a mere 8 pounds, 13 ounces. On day two, he mounted a huge comeback with a limit weighing 18 pounds, the third heaviest of the day. From there he made his only cut of the season and finished the tournament in fifth place by catching a few good bass on a topwater bait.

At the next two events, Shin posted decent 38th- and 37th-place finishes, respectively, at North Carolina’s Lake Norman and Arkansas’ Beaver Lake – a venue where he’s won before, in 2006. Then he went on to the river tournaments, the Potomac and the Detroit, and squeezed into the top 20 both times, respectively in 18th and 19th place.

It was in Detroit where Fukae could have secured his second AOY title in the standings, but Jay Yelas simply had too much breathing room with a 26th-place finish at the last tournament, and he simply outlasted Fukae in the points race. Thus, Shin finished second in the standings.

Shinichi Fukae holds up his tournament winning lures: a Yamamoto 5-inch Cut-Tail worm and a 4-inch Yamamoto shad-shaped worm, both fished on a 3/32 ounce jighead with 8-pound test line.Analysis and 2008 outlook

Fukae is legendary for his exhaustive practice regimen and ability to catch fish even when others are not. When he stormed the FLW Tour and won the Angler of the Year title in his rookie season of 2004, people wondered where he came from and how he did it.

They’re not anymore.

Since then, Fukae has shown that he’s no one-year wonder, particularly with last year’s strong performance. He’s won two tournaments – Lake Okeechobee and Beaver Lake – and has no fewer than eight top-10s in just four seasons on the FLW Tour. Perhaps even more telling, Fukae has finished in the bottom half of the field only five times in his FLW Tour career. Twenty-one tournaments he’s finished in 100th place or better. Way better.

That means he’s a great angler. Fukae, a former Japanese national champion, is a true student of bass fishing. There are few pros who research and practice the lakes as diligently as Fukae does, so he comes into just about every tournament better prepared than the average angler. And that preparation has obviously shown up in his record – and even better, in his paychecks.

Fukae is a whiz with light-line, wormy, finesse techniques and loves to fish grass. That comes in handy on the FLW Tour, which holds a lot of events near major metropolitan areas and visits lakes that receive a significant amount of fishing pressure. Patience is key on those lakes, and Fukae deadly shaky-head worm is often the winning ticket.

One thing that could hurt Fukae, maybe more than most, is the new off-limits period for practice on the FLW Tour. Before this season, anglers could practice as much as they wanted leading into the event, but the new four-day-only practice period could put a damper on Fukae’s pre-fishing efforts. We’ll see how that pans out for him this season, but keep in mind that anglers can pre-fish a tournament lake more than 12 days before the official practice starts. Basically, it’s a 12-day off-limits period. Fukae doesn’t fish many tournaments other than the FLW Tour and Series, so he could very well have plenty of time to do his research way before tournament time. How valuable that research will be remains to be seen.

As for Lake Toho, remember that Fukae has already won in Florida at Lake Okeechobee. So he can handle the shallow grass as well as the offshore stuff. In 2005, however, he had one of his worst career finishes at Toho, 136th place. Keep in mind, though, that 2005 was his worst season on tour, for whatever reason, and that tournament might have been anomalous.

The bottom line is that you can never count out Fukae. He merits a fantasy pick until he proves otherwise, especially if others are saying the fishing’s going to be tough.



2007 recap

Davis had a fantastic year in 2007 with two top-10 finishes, including a win at Tennessee’s Fort Loudoun-Tellico lakes. However, as of now, Davis is not fishing the 2008 FLW Tour.

Analysis and 2008 outlook

Do not pick Davis at Lake Toho. He’s not on the roster.


Pro David Dudley, 33-3, ninth place. This limit weighed in at 20-7, the third-heaviest of the day.No. 4 David Dudley

2007 recap

Dudley is always a force in any given season, and 2007 was no different for one of the richest pros in bass fishing.

He began at Texas’ Lake Travis poorly, by his standards. He missed a limit on day one and finished in 99th place, his worst showing of the year.

After that, though, things picked up for big Dave when he rattled four straight top-25 finishes. At Tennessee’s Fort Loudoun-Tellico lakes he finished 11th, which is a great finish but a bitter pill to swallow when a pro misses the cut by just one spot. To make matters worse, Dudley missed that cut by a single ounce.

At North Carolina’s Lake Norman, he caught steady limits and finished 24th. Then he followed that up with a 16th place at Arkansas’ Beaver Lake.

At the Potomac River, his home stomping grounds, Dudley really turned up the heat on the tidal-river bass and pushed for the win. However, he was stymied by Chris Baumgardner in the final round and finished second. While his best tournament of a good season, Dudley characteristically wasn’t satisfied.

“I still hate to lose,” he said. “I don’t know what else to say. If I don’t win, in my opinion, I’ve lost. I hate to lose. Big money, little money, it doesn’t matter. You want to challenge me at picking four-leaf clovers? No matter what, I just want to win.”

Dudley suffered a slight letdown after that at the limit-crazy Detroit River tournament when he failed to catch a limit on day two and finished 51st. Still, it a was a money finish.

At the Forrest Wood Cup at Arkansas’ Lake Ouachita, Dudley fought through the tough bite and managed to get into his second cut of the year by catching limits both days of the opening round. He tapered off in the finals, however, and finished eighth.

David Dudley - the 2003 champion of the FLW TourAnalysis and 2008 outlook

Dudley is ranked fourth all-time in career earnings in professional bass fishing, and at age 32 he’s much younger than everyone above him. That says two things: 1) He’s a great fisherman, and 2) He’s competing in the right era of pro fishing and has the tools to win all the right tournaments.

In fact, prior to Scott Suggs winning a million dollars at Lake Ouachita last year, Dudley set the bar for winning the two richest payouts in fishing tournament at the time he won them: $700,000 at the 2002 Ranger M1 tournament and $500,000 at the 2003 Forrest Wood Cup.

Still that accounts for just $1.2 million of Dudley’s FLW outdoors haul. He’s earned more than $2.1 million total, meaning that he’s cleared almost a million dollars more at events with less money at stake.

And that means he’s very good fisherman. Since 1997 he has never finished an FLW Tour season ranked worse than 54th (2005) and, besides that aberration, has always finished in the top 30. In fact, Dudley has finished ranked in the top 10 five times on the FLW Tour, including 2003 when he was runner-up for Angler of the Year.

With Dudley, fishing is more about winning than about the actual fishing. It doesn’t seem to matter where or when the tournament is or what the conditions are, he will be a factor at almost every given competitive fishing event he’s in. So it doesn’t matter if he’s on the Gulf Coast or in Kalamazoo, Dudley does everything he can to find ways to win.

And he’s usually worth a pick no matter what.

Lake Toho is no different. He’s very comfortable with sight-fishing and flipping grass, so no worries about any technical limitations. His last FLW finish there was 55th place, and he caught limits both days. If he’s feeling competitive, Dudley will show up in Florida.



Tylenol Rapid Release pro Gabe Bolivar gets a leg up on Pickwick Lake.2007 recap

Bolivar started the 2007 FLW Tour season slowly, but after the second tournament he turned the corner and fished himself into the standings top five. In fact, he never finished outside the top 30 from Lake Norman through the Forrest Wood Cup.

He began at Texas’ Lake Travis with a good finish, 40th place, but Bolivar would be the first to tell you that he wasn’t happy with his day-two performance. After hanging a limit the first day, he caught just three bass the second. He repeated that pattern at Tennessee’s Fort Loudoun Tellico lakes, catching a limit the first day and snagging just two bass the second. There, he finished 100th, out of the money for his first and only time in 2007.

After that, things picked up for Bolivar. The third event at North Carolina’s Lake Norman was his best finish of the year. At that limit-fest, he caught the big bass on day two, snagged limits into the final round and finished in ninth place.

From there, Bolivar went on a run of three consecutive top-30 finishes, plus one at the Forrest Wood Cup, which vaulted him into the fifth position in the standings at the end of the year. At Arkansas’ Beaver Lake, the Potomac River and the Detroit River, he didn’t make a cut, but he also didn’t miss by much. He caught limits each day he fished at those events and finished 27th, 13th and 23rd, respectively.

Under steamy conditions at the Cup on Arkansas’ Lake Ouachita, Bolivar muscled up four bass the first day and three the second, both for relatively good weights, and finished 23rd.

Tylenol Rapid Release pro Gabe Bolivar of Ramona, Calif., nets a nice bass in tall grass; 2006 marks his first year competing on the FLW Tour.Analysis and 2008 outlook

Bolivar has gone on record saying that he gets frustrated by his own inconsistency. Indeed, his fishing career includes a few tournaments where he’ll pop a huge bag one day and then lay an egg the next. However, you don’t finish among the top five for the year if you’re really inconsistent.

In fact, Bolivar has been one of the more consistent pros on tour – at least, in terms of finishes – since he joined the FLW Tour in 2006. That year, he stayed in the top third of the field almost the entire season and won Rookie of the Year ranked seventh.

Bolivar is a young Californian poised for great things if he stays on track. He made his name in the Western Strens and has had success, like so many Western pros, translating his California fishing approach to the big game out East, which he demonstrated when he first popped onto the radar with a runner-up finish at the 2005 Stren Series Championship on Alabama’s Pickwick Lake.

He’s one of those pros who’s hard to pin down in terms of his fishing prowess, though. And that’s actually a compliment for a pro angler. He has relatively few FLW Outdoors top-10 finishes to his name – just four. But one look at where they happened and they’re all over the map: Lake Norman, Lake Mead, Pickwick Lake, Lake Martinez. You really get no sense about what he’s good at. Shallow? Deep? Dirty? Clear? River? Lake? None of it seems to make a difference to Bolivar; he just puts up solid finishes no matter where he fishes.

However, he is prone to that on day-off day syndrome, catching a top limit one day and falling off the map the next, which helps explain why he has trouble making the cut. A leading limit on any given day of a tournament will guarantee you a money finish, but you’ve got to follow it up the next day with another good limit if you want to make the top 10 and contend for the title. To the end, Bolivar might be the best big-bag-catching, versatile angler with no victories to his name.

As for Lake Toho, Bolivar has no track record there. He’s from Cali, though, so he’s knows how to handle big Florida-strain largemouths. And again, it doesn’t seem to matter where he’s fishing, Bolivar tends to compete. Even if he catches little one day, he just as likely could pop a 30-pound stringer the other day. And that would place him comfortably right back in the top 40 or so – par for the course and solid points for a pick.

Keep in mind, though, that Bolivar is due. He’s only been fishing FLW Outdoors events seriously for about three years. Just because his top-10 count looks low now doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way. Expect big things from this guy in the next few years. He has all the tools.


Suave pro Mark Rose gives the thumbs up sign as he heads to the scales with his leading catch at the FLW Series BP Eastern event on Lake Pickwick.No. 6 MARK ROSE

2007 recap

Rose didn’t have a spectacular year on the 2007 FLW Tour in terms of top-10 finishes, but at the same time he was never bad, either. In fact, of all the FLW days he fished last year, he only missed filling out the maximum number of limits by two fish, including at the tough-fishing Forrest Wood Cup. And that’s the kind of fishing that earns top finishes in the standings.

The pro out of Marion, Ark., began the season at Texas’ Lake Travis by catching a decent pair of limits and finishing in a stout 22nd place, his best FLW Tour finish of the year. He moved onto Tennessee’s Fort Loudoun-Tellico lakes and caught two more good limits for a 46th-place showing.

At North Carolina’s Lake Norman, Rose posted his worst FLW Tour finish of the season, 70th place, but it was still plenty good enough to stay in the money. Plus, he maintained his hundred-percent limit catch rate both days at Norman.

The limits fell off at Arkansas’ Beaver Lake, however, where he only caught four fish each day of the opening round, the only two days he missed five fish the entire season. It was an unusual performance for Rose, who tends to put up reliable numbers at the regular tour stop in his home state. In 2006, in fact, he finished second at Beaver. Still, Beaver was stingy last year, and Rose’s weight with just eight bass was still good enough for a top-50 finish, 49th place.

Even though he never made a cut, Rose proceeded to limit out the rest of the season. Fishing the tides of the Potomac River, he finished 26th. Fishing deepwater smallies at the Detroit River, he stayed steady with another 26th-place performance.

At the Cup back home in Arkansas, at Lake Ouachita, Rose was one of the few pros to muster up limits both days in the summer tournament. However, they were relatively smaller limits, and he only climbed into 31st place. Still, he maintained on pace for finishing the entire season in the top half of the field.

Mark Rose of Marion, Ark., earned a big-bass award this 6-pound largemouth.Analysis and 2008 outlook

Rose is a versatile, consummate pro, a fisherman’s fisherman. And while his FLW Tour stats from last season might not exactly show it, he could be one of the hottest anglers on tour at the moment.

Rose has fished pretty much every FLW outdoors tournament he could get his hands on for about 10 years, and his track record is laced with solid finishes on all the circuits. He started making noise on the FLW Tour around 2002, but then he quieted down for a couple years. However, after that runner-up finish at Beaver Lake in 2006, he’s been hotter than Hot Springs in August.

Last year, Rose picked up a couple top-five finishes in the Stren Series Central Division, including a runner-up finish, again, near home at Bull Shoals, Ark. Then he collected his long-overdue first major-league big check when he won the FLW Series event at Pickwick Lake.

And he hasn’t slowed down with the onset of 2008. At the first tournament of the year in January, he pushed for a fifth-place finish in FLW Series Eastern competition at Florida’s Lake Okeechobee. Then he went over to the Lake Amistad East-West Fish-Off earlier this month and caught a huge bag of fish the first day and another limit on the second, only to be stopped in his tracks by the immovable force that was his matchup opponent, Clayton Meyer, who won the event with even bigger limits. There, Rose finished sixth overall.

His track record at Lake Toho is a mixed bag. At the FLW Tour stop there in 2005, he finished 100th, but he does have two BASS top-30s under his belt there, including a 20th place, back when Toho was fishing big – really big – in 2001. If Florida stays warm for this month’s FLW tournament, like it was back in the good ol’ days, and Rose can go after some of those big Toho bass with a topwater, look out. He has as much experience in Florida as anybody, and he might be carrying the most momentum of all.


Andy MorganNo. 7 ANDY MORGAN

2007 recap

Last year was a banner season for Morgan punctuated by a pair of tournaments at midseason where he seemingly could do no wrong, resulting in his second-best finish in the FLW Tour standings, seventh place.

He began the season in steady fashion, placing 34th at Lake Amistad in Texas and 43rd at Fort Loudoun-Tellico lakes in his home state of Tennessee, missing his maximum fish count of 20 over that stretch by just one bass on day two at Loudoun-Tellico.

At North Carolina’s Lake Norman, Morgan put together a really solid pair of limits in the opening round and finished 12th, just missing the cut.

After that he rolled into Arkansas’ Beaver Lake and took home the first victory of his long and storied FLW career. Morgan, who has amassed more top-10 finishes across all circuits than anyone else in FLW Outdoors history, had never won a pro-level event. At Beaver Lake, he finally clinched a win by putting down the big action baits and fishing a shaky-head worm with a spinning rod, rocketing up the standings list in the process.

The last two events weren’t spectacular, by Morgan’s standards, but he stayed in the money with a 67th-place finish at the Potomac River and 82nd-place showing at the Detroit River.

It was enough to keep him entrenched in the standings top 10 and move him onto the Forrest Wood Cup at a tough Lake Ouachita, where he valiantly mustered up a few fish each day for a 43rd-place finish.

Andy Morgan lays into one.Analysis and 2008 outlook

Morgan is an FLW lifer. He’s fished the tour as a pro since its inception in 1996 and has accumulated no fewer than 38 top-10 finishes in his FLW Outdoors career across all circuits – FLW Tour, FLW Series, Stren Series and BFL – not to mention six tournament wins. In other words, there are few, if any, anglers more familiar with FLW tournaments and its venues than Morgan.

That’s why his win last year at Beaver Lake was so poetic. For all the FLW Tour mileage he had under his belt, Morgan had never won a big one – although does have two Stren and three BFL victories to his name. To do it at the most familiar lake of all on tour – Beaver Lake is the annual host of the Wal-Mart Open – was very fitting. Not only that, Morgan has historically struggled at Beaver, so even he admits the immense satisfaction he gained from that one.

More than that, though, Morgan’s Beaver win is telling, in terms of his fishing ability. Last year, he finally figured out that, to win on a clear, light-limit lake like Beaver, you have to put down the power-fishing baitcasters and fish with a little more patience. And that’s exactly what he did: The power fisherman out of Tennessee won his first tournament with a spinning rod and a little worm.

Morgan has toyed with greatness on the FLW Tour, having amassed 10 top-10 finishes over his career, including his win. Last year was just his second really consistent season end-to-end, however. He usually finishes the season ranked between 20th and 50th and in good form to make the Cup, but usually a ranking like that means an angler has had a bad tournament or two along the way, which pulls him or her out of top-10 status. His only other top-10 ranking came in 2003 when he finished sixth in the standings.

Still, Morgan’s consistency last season was a good sign for him – that, and winning a tournament with a spinning rod. If you’re an East Tennessee power angler who’s learned to finesse-fish, you can do just about anything. That, combined with Morgan’s matchless knowledge of the tour and its lakes, makes him a great pick at so many tournaments. His only glitch is that he’s prone to the odd bomb here and there, which often indicates that an angler has a tendency to “swing for the fences,” as they say when pros fish power baits for big catches only.

That won’t be a problem at Lake Toho, however. The place is filled with big fish, which is perfect for Morgan if he can get into them. And that’s a big if. His only other tournament finish there was a 143rd-place effort during the 2005 FLW Tour. Not good. But that doesn’t mean he’s out of consideration. Again, Toho has big fish, and big fish plus Andy Morgan usually makes a pretty good combination. He knows Florida, and he can flip with the best of them when needed. And if it stays warm, that power fishing will come in really handy for Morgan.


Co-angler Katsutoshi Furusawa of Toyko, Japan, shares a laugh onstage after winning a new pair of shades for his victory on Old Hickory Lake.No. 8 KATSUTOSHI FURUSAWA

2007 recap

Furusawa, or “Katsu,” as he’s known on tour, quietly had a breakout year in 2007. He achieved nothing as spectacular as a win, but he asserted himself for the first time as a pro with the type of consistent, top finishes that tend to earn anglers lots of points, not to mention paychecks.

Katsu began at Texas’ Lake Travis with a solid 50th-place finish, missing a limit by just one bass on the second day. He then slipped a little bit at Tennessee’s Fort Loudoun-Tellico lakes by catching just four fish both days and finishing 93rd. While it was his worst showing of the year, he still earned a check.

From there, Furusawa went on a run of four straight top-40 finishes. A 39th at North Carolina’s Lake Norman, 15th at Arkansas’ Beaver Lake, 22nd at the Potomac River and 29th at the Detroit River earned him five-figure checks at each event and pushed him far up the standings into the top 10. He didn’t make any cuts during that run, but he caught limits every day he fished at all four of those events, which are each very different fisheries.

Katsu faltered some at the Forrest Wood Cup at Arkansas’ Lake Ouachita, but that wasn’t unusual for anybody at the tough-fishing event. He caught just three fish on opening day, posted his only zero of the year on day two and finished 69th.

Katsutoshi Furusawa landed in ninth place in the Pro Division on opening day of the FLW Tour Wheeler Lake tournament by catching a limit of bass like this one.Analysis and 2008 outlook

Known for his success while fishing from the back of the boat as a co-angler – Furusawa logged three top-10 finishes as a co-angler on the FLW Tour between 2002 and 2004 – he moved to the front of the boat three years ago and has improved every season since as a pro.

He began his FLW Tour pro career rather inauspiciously in 2005, finishing the season ranked 119th. However, he showed a glimmer of promise that year with a top-20 finish at Alabama’s Wheeler Lake. Ever since, Furusawa has steadily gained on the field, improving his place in the standings to 56th at the end of 2006, which included his first pro top-10, at South Carolina’s Lake Murray.

While he had no top-10 finishes last year, Katsu’s rise into the top 10 in rankings served to prove that he’s not just a good angler, he’s a fast learner. While his English-language skills are admittedly a little lacking sometimes, he comes from the Japanese school of fishing. And they speak “bass” very well. Pros like Furusawa and the renowned Shinichi Fukae bring a diligent, knowledgeable and highly focused approach to tournament fishing, oftentimes outcatching opponents by sheer force of will and patience. Whether Katsu will break through this season by winning one and pushing Fukae for the title of best Japanese angler remains to be seen, but it would be foolish to bet against him.

As for Lake Toho, he has fished only one major tournament there before, the 2005 FLW Tour. That was just his second tournament competing as a pro, and he finished 188th. But don’t automatically discount Katsu; since that event he has demonstrated the versatility he needs to compete over the long haul on this circuit and its wide variety of bass fisheries. No doubt he’s learned a thing or two about Toho since then, and he certainly won’t be afraid to use any new tricks he’s got up his sleeve. If anything, he could warrant a momentum pick at Toho.

The venue you really need to watch out for Katsu is Lake Murray at the Forrest Wood Cup. Remember, his first top-10 from the front of the boat came there, so he’s shown that he can find fish at that hog factory. If he makes the championship, look out.


National Guard pro Brent Ehrler is going to the Forrest Wood Cup. He finished fourth place overall with a three-day total of 59-8.No. 9 BRENT EHRLER

2007 recap

Truly one of the rising stars on the pro tour, Ehrler posted the best season of his relatively young, three-year FLW Tour career last year with a ninth-place finish in the standings. While he never made a top-10 cut, 2007 was a steady, workmanlike year for Ehrler, who cashed checks at every FLW Tour event he fished.

He began at Texas’ Lake Travis with a 56th-place finish and improved over the next two tournaments by finishing 32nd at Tennessee’s Fort Loudoun-Tellico lakes and 13th, his best showing, at North Carolina’s Lake Norman.

From there, he maintained a steady drumbeat by catching limits almost every day he fished the FLW Tour and consistently finished in the top third of the field for the entire season. At Arkansas’ Beaver Lake, he ended up 50th, the Potomac River, 60th, the Detroit River, 40th, and the Forrest Wood Cup at Arkansas’ Lake Ouachita, 44th.

In fact, while he never fished into the weekend cut, Ehrler caught a limit each day of his 2007 FLW Tour season except two, and only once did he miss a limit in the regular season. The first miss, on day one at Fort Loudoun-Tellico, was still a four-bass effort in a low-weight tournament. The second was day two at the Lake Ouachita Cup, which was also tough on everybody – many people zeroed a day in the opening round – and at least he still managed to catch a single keeper that day.

Brent Ehrler catches a keeper at Logan Martin Lake en route to championship victory.Analysis and 2008 outlook

Ehrler is one of the smartest pros on tour, and those wits translate into versatility. No matter the lake or the season, the Redlands, Calif., native seems to be able to contend for a top spot at any given tournament. He not only contends, but he can push for victory, too, as he showed when he won the 2006 Forrest Wood Cup at a lake far from his stomping grounds on the West Coast, Alabama’s Logan Martin Lake.

Not only that, his FLW Tour stats only tell half the story of his 2007 season. Ehrler had a great year overall, particularly on the FLW Series. He almost won the points title in the inaugural season of the Series’ Western Division, finishing second, after clinching two top-10s and two top-30s in those West Coast events.

That type of performance – on both of those tours – simply highlights his versatility. A Left Coaster, Ehrler’s no stranger to the handy drop-shot, not to mention the swimbait. That he can adjust and translate those techniques into money finishes at pretty much any lake around the country, not just on the West Coast, is a testament to his fishing acumen.

Ehrler prides himself on his ability to adjust to the conditions and fish for bass the way they want to be caught. That’s why when it comes to Lake Toho, he’ll definitely be worth a look in your picks. Even though he’s a Western guy, Ehrler won’t be afraid to pick up a flipping stick and a jig or a worm to go after some of those big Florida bass in the grass. And if he can snag a few kickers on his swimbait, too, look out.

As for his history at Lake Toho, well, it’s par for the course. He’s only fished one major tournament there, the FLW Tour in 2005, and he finished right dead steady among the top third in 50th place. And that was his rookie season. Now that he’s a little more seasoned, has some background on the lake and is coming off his best year yet at the pro level, Ehrler can definitely be called a potential force at this one. At the very least, he won’t hurt you.



2007 recap

Sappington had his best overall season on the FLW Tour last year. A nine-year tour veteran out of Willard, Mo., he finally rebounded in 2007 after a scary boat accident several years ago that nearly paralyzed him. While practicing for a tournament early in 2004, Sappington hit a hidden ferry cable on the run at top speed, which caught him in the helmet and severely injured his neck. He was out almost that entire season, and he didn’t really get back to form until last season when he began to post a few top-20 finishes again, including his first top-10 in three years.

Sapp began 2007 without much fanfare, finishing out of the money in 114th place at Texas’ Lake Travis. But he followed that up with an eighth-place showing at Tennessee’s Fort Loudoun-Tellico lakes, his best finish of the year, and never finished out of the money the rest of the season.

He continued his solid season by posting top-20s at the next two spawning tournaments, North Carolina’s Lake Norman (16th place) and Arkansas’ Beaver Lake (12th). He slipped a bit but still stayed in contention when the tour moved north for the big-limit events at the Potomac River and Lake Erie, respectively finishing in 39th and 69th place, both times in the money.

At the Forrest Wood Cup at Arkansas’ Lake Ouachita – a tough-bite, summer tournament – Sappington pounced on a good limit the first day and wrapped up his season with a decent 18th-place finish.

Pro John SappingtonAnalysis and 2008 outlook

Sappington will tell you that he loves sight-fishing best – that is, visually fishing for spawning bass in shallow water – but don’t let that fool you. Sure, he’s a great sight-fisherman, but Sapp obviously loves to run his crankbait through dirty water and flooded timber, too. Some of the biggest catches of his career have come out of places where seeing the fish just wasn’t an option.

For instance, he won the 2002 Forrest Wood Cup at Louisiana’s Cross Lake – the only win of his solid career, to date – and posted his second-best FLW Outdoors finish in a Stren Series event on the Red River, which is also near Shreveport, La. And it’s no secret that the water doesn’t get much murkier than in Louisiana. Sappington is simply good at plucking big kickers off of shallow timber, maybe one of the best.

He’s versatile, though. When the water clears up at places like Beaver Lake and Lake Murray, he’ll pull out the light gear and go after those big fish on the beds to much success.

His one weakness might be the deepwater smallmouth events up north. Sappington’s highest finish above the Mason-Dixon Line was a 17th place at Michigan’s Lake St. Clair in 2001. That could bode well for him on this year’s tour, however, since the sixth event is at the Detroit River, with access to Lake St. Clair. (On the other hand, to win that event, the anglers will likely have to brave the big waters of Lake Erie to find the winning fish out on the deep humps – evidently not Sappington’s strong suit.)

As for Lake Toho, Sappington’s best FLW Outdoors finish there was 86th place in FLW Tour competition in 2005. Not good, not bad. But he did finish eighth at a BASS Top 150 event there in 2001. He’s also finished as low as 150th at Toho. Again: some good, some bad.

One thing that could tip the scales in terms of picking Sappington for Toho is if the fishing remains tough. As of right now, they’re saying it’s a little slow, by Toho standards. We already know that Sappington loves shallow, dirty water – which is Toho to a tee – but he also tends to show up big in tough-bite events. If Toho’s stingy with the limits, which it sometimes can be, look out for Sapp.