Twenty states represented
GILBERTSVILLE, Ky. – Ricky Craven may want to trade in his NASCAR Busch Series ride for a Ranger boat and head for the Red Man All-American next month instead of the Busch 200. Why? He could earn three times as much money, and he wouldn’t have to sprint 200 laps around a one-mile oval at speeds approaching 130 mph to do it.
When the nation’s best weekend anglers roll into Hot Springs, Ark., May 10-13 for the Red Man All-American, $250,000 cash will be on the line including $100,000 for first place. That’s $66,540 more than Craven can win at New Hampshire International Speedway that same weekend.
Like any national championship, the road to the All-American is a difficult one. The anglers who qualify represent the best of more than 26,000 participants in 22 divisions nationwide. Each angler earned a berth in the championship by finishing in one of the top 30 divisional spots after six one-day qualifying tournaments in 1999. Each angler then had to finish eighth or better at one of five two-day regional championships. A sixth (Western) regional advanced five All-American contenders, and six anglers who failed to qualify for a regional championship advanced through two Chevy Wild Card events.
“Qualifying for the Red Man All-American is no easy task,” says Charlie Evans, chief operating officer for Operation Bass. “Competitors must fish consistently well on different lakes and in a variety of weather conditions. The people who qualify are some of the best tournament bass anglers in the country.”
Gary Simpson of Gainesville, Fla., definitely fits that description. He will be fishing in his sixth All-American. Other notable contenders making repeat appearances include Ray Barga of Gilbertsville, Ky. (5); Billy Bowen of Ocala, Fla. (4); Mike Gough of Gainesville, Fla. (4); Billy Schroeder of Paducah, Ky. (4); and Jeff Coble of Henderson, N.C. (4).
The Red Man All-American features an elimination-style format, with the full field competing for two days and the top five advancing to the final day. Following one day of practice May 10 and two days of competition May 11-12, five finalists will compete May 13. The angler with the heaviest one-day catch on the final day of competition will be crowned the champion.
One contender, Robert Walser of Lexington, N.C., is already a winner even before the tournament begins. Walser, who dominated the Carolina Division with 214 points, is the only divisional points champion to qualify for the All-American. By virtue of this fact, he will receive $10,000 as the CITGO National Points Champion just for showing up.
The CITGO National Points crown goes to the highest finishing divisional points champion at the All-American.
Since the first All-American Championship in 1983, the Red Man Tournament Trail has been a proving ground for bass fishing’s brightest stars, many of who have advanced to the prestigious Wal-Mart FLW Tour – the most lucrative bass fishing series in history. Past All-American champions and FLW Tour contenders include Clark Wendlandt of Cedar Park, Texas; Stephen Browning of Hot Springs, Ark.; and Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo.
Last year’s champion, Mike Baldwin of Mohave Valley, Ariz., moved up to the professional ranks of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour where he has finished in the top 32 percent of the field at each tournament. Most recently, he placed 29th out of 175 pros at the Wal-Mart Open on Beaver Lake. The 2000 All-American champion, like Baldwin, will receive priority entry into the FLW Tour – the most lucrative bass fishing series in history.
Overall, more than $5.7 million could be awarded during the 2000 Red Man Tournament Trail season.