WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – Darrel Robertson of Jay, Okla., who claimed the richest prize in bass fishing history last November at Cypress Gardens when he won the Ranger M1 Millennium, will lead the top 10 pros into Friday’s semifinal round at the EverStart Series Challenge on the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes.
Robertson caught the majority of his bass on Lake Lulu within 100 yards of where he won the Millennium and $600,000 cash. As might be expected with a field of 150 boats fishing the relatively small chain of lakes, he was not alone.
“I ran my batteries down just trying to get away from guys so that I could cast,” Robertson said after weighing in five bass that tipped the scales to 15 pounds, 5 ounces Thursday. The limit boosted his two-day total to 10 bass weighing 27 pounds, 15 ounces.
In contrast, Taylor Hutchings of Phoenix caught five bass weighing 17 pounds, 10 ounces Thursday from a spot that he says he had all to himself. Hutchings’ impressive catch secured him the number-two spot going into Friday’s action with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 26 pounds, 2 ounces.
Both Robertson and Hutchings are keying on offshore structure in deep water. Hutchings is using a Carolina rig, while Robertson and company are casting crankbaits.
“There is nothing for fish to hold on in the lake,” said Hutchings, who placed a call to his sponsors asking them to send more baits to replenish his dwindling supply. “There is some grass along the shoreline, but that is about it. I think the bass are using deep water as cover.”
In the Co-Angler Division, George Anders Jr. of Pineville, La., leads the field with a two-day total of six bass weighing 13-14.
Big Bass for the day in the Pro Division went to Eddie Hall from Porum, Okla., for a 9-pound, 12-ounce largemouth that earned him $750. Big bass honors in the Co-Angler Division and $600 went to Russ Lauffer of Littleton, Mass., for a 7-pound, 15-ounce largemouth. Several bass over 6 pounds were weighed Thursday.
Rounding out the top five spots in the Pro Division were Chip Harrison of Bremen, Ind., in third with 25-15; Greg Hackney of Oak Ridge, La., in fourth with 22-7; and Hugh Crumpler III, in fifth with 21-2.
Finishing the tightly contested opening round in second through fifth place in the Co-Angler Division were Lonnie Fuller Jr. of Hemphill, Texas, with 13-2; Wesley Burnett of Hot Springs, Ark., with 13-0; Clay West of Griffin, Ga., with 12-15; and Scott Sanders of Cataula, Ga., with 12-15.
On Friday, anglers will start over and fish for one day to determine the top five pros who will compete in Saturday’s final round. The winner of the 150-angler Pro Division will take home $25,000 cash and an Evinrude-powered Ranger Comanche fishing machine. The winner of the Co-Angler Division, which also featured 150 competitors, will collect $10,000 cash and an Evinrude- or Johnson-powered Ranger boat. Co-angler competition ends Friday.
Lake Summit at Cypress Gardens is the site of Friday’s 8 a.m. takeoff. Friday’s weigh-in begins at 4 p.m. at Cypress Gardens. Saturday’s final takeoff starts at 7 a.m., and the final weigh-in at Cypress Gardens begins at 2 p.m.
The three-year-old, nine-event EverStart Series is comprised of two divisions, Eastern and Central, with four multi-day events per division. Over the course of the season, the series awards anglers up to $1.7 million in cash and prizes. It also provides a pathway to the prestigious Wal-Mart FLW Tour, the richest tournament series in history.