All-American pursuit - Major League Fishing
All-American pursuit
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All-American pursuit

The arena is set, and the athletes are primed for the tournament of their lives. Welcome to a bass angler’s All-American dream.
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Allen Hayes of Moody, Ala., claimed the $100,000 check, handed to him by Ranger Boats founder Forrest L. Wood, for winning by a mere 2 ounces. Photo by Rob Newell. Angler: Allen Hayes.
June 6, 2005 • Matt Williams • Phoenix Bass Fishing League

With seven qualifying regional championships complete, 42 pros and 42 co-anglers representing 24 Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League divisions and more than 30,000 anglers nationwide are now gunning for one of the most prestigious championship titles in competitive bass fishing – the BFL All-American.

The 2005 All-American June 8-11 on the Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee rivers in Paducah, Ky., will award a whopping $345,000 purse to the field, including the customary top payout of $100,000 for the winning pro and $50,000 for the winning co-angler.

Factor in national television coverage on FSN and a series of contingency bonuses like the $10,000 Yamaha Be the Best Award, the $1,000 Snickers Big Bass Award and the $500 Castrol High Performance Co-angler Award, and it is plain to see why many anglers and bass-fishing fans alike perceive the All-American as much more than just a bass tournament. For the winner, it can be a life-altering event.

Launching a career

The All-American, which first started 22 years ago, was the first bass tournament to offer a $100,000 first-place award. Generally regarded as the toughest tournament in the world to win, the event has launched successful professional bass-fishing careers for many anglers.

In 1984, the first year of the $100,000 award, an angler from Florida named Shaw Grigsby won the event. Needless to say, the exposure from that win helped launch a successful pro-fishing and outdoor-television career.

The following year, an already well-known bass pro won the event, but the win secured his place as one of the top bass anglers in history. His name: Rick Clunn.

Oklahoma resident O.T. Fears won in 1987 to jumpstart his career, which included the Wal-Mart FLW Tour and the Bassmaster Tour.

Another all-time great, David Fritts of North Carolina, made his fifth consecutive All-American appearance in 1990 before going on to set the FLW Tour single-season win record of three in 1997.

A young Texan by the name of Clark Wendlandt won the 1992 All-American. With two Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year titles, three wins and nearly $1 million in FLW Outdoors earnings, Wendlandt has gone on to be one of the most successful FLW Tour pros in history.

Anglers do not need to win, however, to launch a successful career. Simply qualifying for the All-American is an excellent indication of fishing ability and dedication that can take an angler to the next level. Countless tour pros have competed in the All-American throughout its storied history. They include Tommy Biffle, Ron Shuffield, Peter Thliveros and Jay Yelas to name a few. In just the past 10 years, many familiar names and well-known rising stars have competed, including Terry Bolton, Greg Hackney, Steve Kennedy, Jeff Kriet, Bobby Lane, Dave Lefebre, John Murray, Skeet Reese, Scott Rook, Ray Scheide, Marty Stone, David Walker and others.

All-American reflections

Boater Kim Carver knows all too well what an All-American victory can mean, both financially and mentally. Carver finished second in 1997 and won the coveted title in 1998.

“There is no doubt that winning an event like this gives you a serious boost,” said Carver, a 50-year-old pawn-shop owner from Milledgeville, Ga. “Winning $100,000 in cash is very nice. But it also does wonders for your confidence. And having confidence means a lot in this sport.”

If experience breeds confidence, then Carver should be among the big guns to watch.

The Georgia angler is making his sixth trip to the BFL’s big show following a third-place finish in the Chevy Wild Card Regional at Lewis Smith Lake near Jasper, Ala. But, like other qualifiers, he is admittedly a tad worried, despite his impressive postseason credentials.

Among his primary concerns are the finicky nature of riverine smallmouths and the looming potential for serious flooding.

“We could be fishing along the banks of the Ohio River, or we could be fishing in the corn fields,” Carver said. “Everything could change overnight. The river situation is probably going to make this the most interesting All-American ever.”

A local competitor to keep an eye on is Ryan Deal, a promising young angler from Haubstadt, Ind.

Deal, 27, has nailed down seven top-10 finishes and two Hoosier Division points titles since 2001. But he has yet to taste victory.

“I’ve been close several times, but I have never been able to put it all together,” Deal said. “This would be a good time to break that curse. A win in the All-American would help give me the financial backing to attempt to do something I have wanted to do for a long time – fish the FLW Tour full time.”

Ryan Deal of Haubstadt, Ind., took over the top spot in the Co-angler Division after landing a total catch weighing 10 pounds, 7 ounces.Deal has several advantages heading into the year-end championship, but perhaps the most important is his intimate knowledge of the water. He lives only 90 minutes up the road and has been fishing the Paducah area since he was 12 years old.

“That could really play into my favor, especially if the Ohio River gets high,” Deal said. “And there is a 50-50 chance that will happen. You have got to know where to go to find the clear water in that kind of situation.”

The contenders

Qualifiers for the 2005 All-American come from around the country. Some have fished the event before, many have not. Every regional winner has proven himself under pressure and has to be considered a favorite to win. While most have never fished the Ohio River, they are certainly proficient anglers in river systems. As with most good anglers, their perspective of the fishing conditions is generally the same.

Boater Dennis Berhorst of Holts Summit, Mo., leads the list of six anglers who earned a ticket to the 2005 All-American at this weekend's Wal-Mart BFL Toledo Bend Regional.Dennis Berhorst

Holts Summit, Mo.

Dennis Berhorst of Holts Summit, Mo., has qualified for the All-American four times, and he is on a roll after winning the Toledo Bend Regional last October. Berhorst’s best All-American showing came last year, when he finished sixth and left Lake Hamilton hungry.

“I had a shot last year, and I just didn’t execute,” Berhorst said. “I want a big piece of the action pretty bad right now, and I would like nothing better than to see the place flooded out when we get there. High water would play right into my specialty – flipping. I was raised fishing the Osage River. So I know how to adapt to flood situations.”

Boater Grant Goldbeck of Gaithersburg, Md., leads the list of six anglers who earned a ticket to the 2005 All-American at the Oct. 21-23  Wal-Mart BFL Wheeler Lake Regional.Grant Goldbeck

Gaithersburg, Md.

Goldbeck – Winner of the Wheeler Lake Regional – has never fished the Ohio River, but he thinks June is the perfect time to be on the river.

“Whoever wins will have to consistently catch fish in the 2- to 3-pound range,” Goldbeck said. He said boaters will have to cover a lot of water and find a productive pattern, rather than milk one area, to be effective. He thinks there is a good chance that smallmouths staging in current breaks could win the tournament.

Boater Edward Gettys of Stevenson, Ala., leads the list of six anglers who earned a ticket to the 2005 All-American at this weekend's Wal-Mart BFL Lake Seminole Regional.Edward Gettys

Stevenson, Ala.

Gettys, who is arguably the best stick on Lake Guntersville, won the Seminole Regional and is fishing in his second All-American after a stellar 2004 season that saw two BFL wins and an EverStart Series victory. He agrees with the general consensus that fishing could be tough, and a limit of 12 pounds will be considered big.

Boater David Lowery of Columbus, Ga., earned a chance to win $100,000 at the 2005 Wal-Mart BFL All-American by taking victory at the Oct. 29-30 Chevy Trucks Wild Card on Lewis Smith Lake near Jasper, Ala.David Lowery

Columbus, Ga.

Lowery is a wild card, literally. Lowery won the Chevy Wild Card on Smith Lake to qualify for his second All-American. Lowery did not finish higher than 85th in the Bulldog Division’s five events in 2004. Then, like a streaky baseball player, went on a tear and finished in the top 10 at a Bama Division event, won the Wild Card and now has two finishes of 22nd and 31st in the Dixie Division this year.

Boater Gary Thacker of Athens, Ala., leads the list of six anglers who earned a ticket to the 2005 All-American at this weekend's Wal-Mart BFL Kentucky Lake Regional presented by Yamaha.Gary Thacker

Athens, Ala.

Thaker won the Kentucky Lake Regional held on both Kentucky and Barkley lakes – impoundments that create the smallmouth fisheries below the dams the All-American contestants will be fishing. But he is perfectly honest.

“I’m a little worried about the event,” he said. “River fishing doesn’t really fit my style. I’ll probably target largemouths because they are easier to catch on a new lake or river, but if I run into a few smallies in practice, I will not hesitate going after them.”

Boater Adam Wagner of Cookeville, Tenn., leads the list of six anglers who earned a ticket to the 2005 All-American at the Oct. 21-23 BFL Columbus Pool Regional.Adam Wagner

Cookeville, Tenn.

Wagner, the winner of the Columbus Pool Regional is familiar with the tough conditions river systems deal out. Sometimes you have to pray for your favorite conditions, and his desired conditions match those of Berhorst. “I’m hoping for a flipping pattern and high water,” said Wagner, who will be fishing his second All-American.

Boater Robert Walser of Lexington, N.C., leads the list of six anglers who earned a ticket to the 2005 All-American at this weekend's Wal-Mart BFL Kerr Lake Regional.Robert Walser

Lexington, N.C.

A veteran BFL angler, Walser won the Kerr Lake Regional. According to Walser, who will be fishing his fourth All-American, the fishing conditions will all depend on the water level and clarity. But no matter what the conditions are, expect Walser to excel. He had five BFL top-10 finishes just last year, including two wins. Over the past 10 years, Walser has an impressive 22 BFL top-10 finishes.

All-American boaters

Anglers competing in the 2005 All-American qualified during the 2004 season, and they are among the very best bass anglers in the nation. To qualify, they had to finish five regular season events ranked in the top 30 in their division. After that, they had to compete against top anglers from four divisions in a regional championship and finish in the top six. Only then did they earn the right to call themselves All-Americans. Here’s a look at the qualifiers in order of their regional finishes:

Columbus Pool

1. Adam Wagner, Cookeville, Tenn. – Music City Division

2. Jeff Woolridge, Lafayette, La. – Cowboy Division

3. Eric White, Anderson, Ala. – Music City Division

4. Rick Byrnes, Tamaroa, Ill. – Illini Division

5. Ryan Worthington, Middleburg, Fla. – Seminole Division

6. Mark Richards, Houston, Texas – Cowboy Division

Kentucky Lake

1. Gary Thacker, Athens, Ala. – Choo Choo Division

2. Dick Shaffer, Rockford, Ohio – Buckeye Division

3. Brent Crow, Hartselle, Ala. – Choo Choo Division

4. Michael Bryson, La Fayette, Ga. – Choo Choo Division

5. Ryan Deal, Haubstadt, Ind. – Hoosier Division

6. Mark Stewart, Springville, Ala. – Choo Choo Division

Kerr Lake

1. Robert Walser, Lexington, N.C. – South Carolina Division

2. Nelson Walker, Manning, S.C. – South Carolina Division

3. Larry Pearson, Cramerton, N.C. – South Carolina Division

4. Patrick Tierney, Denver, N.C. – South Carolina Division

5. Wayne Clifton, Moncks Corner, S.C. – South Carolina Division

6. Greg Atkinson, Columbia, S.C. – South Carolina Division

Lake Seminole

1. Edward Gettys, Stevenson, Ala. – Bama Division

2. Arnie Lane, Lakeland, Fla. – Gator Division

3. Robert Beatty, Clermont, Fla. – Gator Division

4. Phillip Daniel, Roanoke, Ala. – Bama Division

5. Mike McDonald, Randleman, N.C. – Piedmont Division

6. Ed Williams, Jackson, Miss. – Mississippi Division

Toledo Bend

1. Dennis Berhorst, Holts Summit, Mo. – Ozark Division

2. Glen Freeman, Converse, La. – Louisiana Division

3. Rick Lisek, Springfield, Mo. – Ozark Division

4. Wade Ramsey, Midwest City, Okla. – Okie Division

5. Wayne Hudgins, Hot Springs, Ark. – Arkie Division

6. Roger Hudnall, Denham Springs, La. – Louisiana Division

Wheeler Lake

1. Grant Goldbeck, Gaithersburg, Md. – Shenandoah Division

2. Rob Langford, Somerset, Ky. – Mountain Division

3. Brad Burkhart, Speedwell, Tenn. – Mountain Division

4. John Pearson, Perry, Ga. – Bulldog Division

5. Brian Hickey, Cadiz, Ky. – LBL Division

6. Britt Cone, Benton, Ky. – LBL Division

Wild Card: Lewis Smith Lake

1. David Lowery, Columbus, Ga. – Bulldog Division

2. Jarrod Hembree, Berea, Ky. – Mountain Division

3. Kim Carver, Milledgeville, Ga. – Bulldog Division

4. David Young, Mayfield, Ky. – LBL Division

5. Mark Cawthon, Commerce, Ga. – Savannah River Division

6. Blaine Shelton, Moulton, Ala. – Choo Choo Division

2005 Wal-Mart BFL All-AmericanWith seven qualifying regional championships complete, 42 pros and 42 co-anglers – representing 24 Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League divisions and more than 30,000 anglers nationwide – are now gunning for one of the most prestigious championship titles in competitive bass fishing: the BFL All-American.

The 2005 All-American June 8-11 on the Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee rivers in Paducah, Ky., will award a whopping $345,000 purse to the field, including the customary top payout of $100,000 for the winning pro and $50,000 for the winning co-angler.

Factor in national television coverage on FSN and a series of contingency bonuses like the $10,000 Yamaha Be the Best Award, the $1,000 Snickers Big Bass Award and the $500 Castrol High Performance Co-angler Award, and it is plain to see why many anglers and bass-fishing fans alike perceive the All-American as much more than just a bass tournament. For the winner, it can be a life-altering event.

All-American co-anglers

Qualifying for the All-American from the back of the boat is no easy task. These co-anglers are the very best in the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League. Like their boater counterparts, they outpaced the competition throughout the regular season and regionals to earn the right to be called All-Americans. Here’s a look at the co-angler qualifiers in order of their regional finishes:

Columbus Pool

1. Tobe Prescott Jr., Crosby, Texas – Cowboy Division

2. Joe Parker, Trenton, Fla. – Seminole Division

3. Anton Silvester, Benld, Ill. – Illini Division

4. Danny Joiner, Irving, Texas – Cowboy Division

5. Aaron Mcmanaway, Altamont, Ill. – Illini Division

6. Mark Heimburger, Sidney, Ill. – Illini Division

Kentucky Lake

1. Davey Lance, Hartselle, Ala. – Choo Choo Division

2. James Richardson Sr., Harrison, Ohio – Michigan Division

3. Brent Nelson, Acworth, Ga. – Choo Choo Division

4. Dave Durbala, Ft. Madison, Iowa – Great Lakes Division

5. Matt Linton, Kingston, Tenn. – Hoosier Division

6. Michael Huffman, Ft. Madison, Iowa – Great Lakes Division

Kerr Lake

1. Don Kohli, Lincolnton, Ga. – Savannah River Division

2. Guy Hammaker, Ansonia, Ohio – Buckeye Division

3. Jeremiah Jensen , Columbia, S.C. – South Carolina Division

4. Warren Barrett, Belchertown, Mass. – Northeast Division

5. Bo Price, Seneca, S.C. – Savannah River Division

6. Rick Kistler, St. Marys, Ohio – Buckeye Division

Lake Seminole

1. Jay Trudel, Boca Raton, Fla. – Gator Division

2. Scott Burch, Angier, N.C. – Piedmont Division

3. Calvin Boyette, Wesley Chapel, Fla. – Gator Division

4. Phillip Eakes, Bahama, N.C. – Piedmont Division

5. Chuck Hyer, Clermont, Fla. – Gator Division

6. Sammy Mitchell, Russellville, Ala. – Mississippi Division

Toledo Bend

1. Brent Haggard, Gans, Okla. – Okie Division

2. Mark Taylor, Mansfield, Mo. – Ozark Division

3. Jimmy Ford, Purvis, Miss. – Louisiana Division

4. Steve Morgan, Grand Bay, Ala. – Louisiana Division

5. Jamie Floyd, Prairieville, La. – Louisiana Division

6. Bill Edwards, Nixa, Mo. – Ozark Division

Wheeler Lake

1. John Vest, Cloverdale, Va. – Shenandoah Division

2. Joseph Brockman, Clarksville, Tenn. – LBL Division

3. John Skipper, Dothan, Ala. – Bulldog Division

4. Steve Caudill, Morehead, Ky. – Mountain Division

5. David Lambert, Middletown, Ohio – LBL Division

6. Warren Palmer, Lexington, Ky. – LBL Division

Wild Card: Lewis Smith Lake

1. Melvin McNeal , Circleville, Ohio – Buckeye Division

2. Chris Stites , Smyrna, Tenn. – Music City Division

3. Billy Gwaltney, Bella Vista, Ark. – Arkie Division

4. Greg O’Neal, Winchester, Tenn. – Music City Division

5. Thomas Morris, Mableton, Ga. – Bulldog Division

6. Richard Hooter, Natchitoches, La. – Cowboy Division

Top tactics

Two primary tactics targeting two different species will likely dominate the Wal-Mart BFL All-American on the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers in Paducah June 8-11. Although spotted bass are found in the river system, largemouths and smallmouths will win or lose the championship.

In early June, the Ohio River is unpredictable. It can rise and fall several feet in one day. The river could very well be at flood stage, overflowing its banks into adjacent crop fields. Or the river could be at normal flow.

Either way, anglers targeting largemouths will likely flip and pitch wood structure. Even though an angler may catch a solid limit one day, quickly changing water levels can eliminate productive areas overnight, leaving competitors scratching their heads.

Anglers targeting smallmouths will likely focus their efforts on the clearer water of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Eddies and any structure can hold big smallies – big enough to produce limits weighing close to 20 pounds. Jigs and tubes are popular baits, but smallmouths aren’t called “ghost fish” for nothing. They are hard to predict.

While the dominate patterns may be as unpredictable as the waters of the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, there is one certainty: the All-American will be a true test of fishing skill.

Destination Paducah

When Wal-Mart BFL All-American anglers and their families arrive in Paducah, Ky., the first week of June to prepare for the championship, they will be arriving at the region’s cultural, dining and retail center.

With a population of less than 30,000, on a map, Paducah appears as a typical small town in the heartland of the nation. Visitors, however, are usually surprised at the physical size, bustling nature and variety of the city. For many residents of western Kentucky and southern Illinois, Paducah is the largest city within 75 miles or more.

Along with extensive shopping and dinning in and around the city’s mall, Paducah offers a historic, preserved downtown area on the riverfront with quaint shops, excellent dining and cultural attractions. The downtown area is dotted with unique restaurants offering everything from pizzas to seafood to Cajun to steaks.

The Yeiser Art Center presents changing exhibits featuring historic and contemporary visual arts and fine crafts from regional, national and international collections. The Museum of the American Quilters Society is actually one of the city’s most well-known attractions. Also showing on a regular basis are concerts – both contemporary and classical orchestra – and theatre productions.

Not too far away is the scenic Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. The 200,000-plus-acre park offers hiking and ATV riding trails, camping opportunities, the Woodlands Nature Station, the Elk and Bison Prairie, and the Golden Pond Planetarium and Observatory.

No matter what your interests are, Paducah is sure to offer an enjoyable visit.

Even bigger next year

Anglers competing in the 2005 Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League’s 28 divisions have one goal in mind – qualifying for the 2006 All-American, which will be one of the most lucrative bass tournaments in the world. The total purse for the event is an astounding $1 million.

The Boater Division winner of the 2006 All-American can earn as much as $140,000, and the co-angler winner can earn as much as $70,000, which, other than the first-place co-angler awards given at the two Ranger M1 tournaments, is the largest co-angler award in the history of tournament bass fishing.

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