WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – Almost one year ago to the day, Darrel Robertson claimed the richest prize in bass fishing history when he won $600,000 cash in the Ranger M1 Millennium at Cypress Gardens. On Wednesday, the Oklahoma rancher returned to Cypress Gardens and the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes in hopes of winning the EverStart Series Invitational Challenge.
By the close of opening day, only 27-year-old Greg Hackney, a relatively unknown angler from Oak Ridge, La., outpaced Robertson in the tournament presented by Coleman. Hackney caught five bass weighing 13 pounds, 7 ounces to gain a 9-ounce lead over Robertson, who caught five bass weighing 12-10.
This is Hackney’s first time fishing the Winter Haven Chain, but after five days of practice and an impressive showing on the first day of competition, he is optimistic about his chances for victory. His two largest bass tipped the scales at over 4 pounds. Robertson also caught a 4-pounder, and one that he says would have weighed over 6 pounds if he could have brought it to the scales.
“I had one bass early then two more by about noon,” Robertson said. “Later in the day, I caught three more, but lost one giant.”
Robertson actually had the big bass in his net before it came loose and jumped back in the lake. “The bait just got hooked in the net and the bass came loose and jumped out,” Robertson said.
The lucrative four-day, $300,000 Challenge features top bass anglers from the 2000 EverStart Series season. 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 features 150 competitors, will collect $10,000 cash and an Evinrude- or Johnson-powered Ranger boat.
David Curtis of Trinity, Texas, finished the day in third place with five bass weighing 11-6. Jason Quinn of Lake Wylie, S.C., finished in fourth with five bass weighing 10-6, and Mike Gough of Gainesville, Fla., claimed fifth with five bass weighing 9-15.
In the Co-Angler Division, Randy Fraser of High Ridge, Mo., leads with five bass weighing 8 pounds, 15 ounces followed by Scott Sanders of Cataula, Ga., with two bass weighing 7-6 and Mike Russell of Breese, Ill., with four bass weighing 7-2.
Big bass for the day in the Pro Division went to Jim Forshee of Lexington, Ky., for a 5-pound, 15-ounce largemouth. Big bass in the Co-Angler Division was a 6-pound, 8-ounce largemouth caught by Sanders. Forshee won $750 for his trophy bass and Sanders collected $600.
For a shot at victory, anglers in both divisions must secure one of 10 slots available in Friday’s semifinal round by catching the heaviest two-day total of bass in the opening round. During Friday’s semifinal round, anglers start over, competing for one day to determine the top five pros who will compete in Saturday’s finale. Co-angler competition ends after the semifinal round.
Lake Summit at Cypress Gardens is the site of each day’s takeoff. Thursday’s takeoffs begin at 7 a.m. followed by a 3 p.m. weigh-in at Cypress Gardens. Friday’s takeoff will be at 8 a.m. followed by a 4 p.m. weigh-in at Cypress Gardens. Saturday’s takeoff starts at 7 a.m., and the final weigh-in at Cypress Gardens will begin 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.
In 2001, the EverStart Batteries Series will offer anglers more opportunity to win than ever before. The series will feature three divisions with four qualifying events each and will award more than $2.5 million in cash and prizes.