WAGONER, Okla. – Taylor Hutchings, 42, of Phoenix, who earlier this year gave up his job as a subcontractor to pursue a professional fishing career, jumped to an early lead in the final $164,000 Central Division EverStart Batteries Series tournament being contested on Fort Gibson Lake this week with an opening day total of five bass weighing 23 pounds, 8 ounces.
Although he is a rookie by pro standards, Hutchings has qualified for the Red Man All-American Bass Championship for the past three years, and last year he won the Red Man Tournament Trail’s Western Regional.
“Today was frustrating and very tough,” said Hutchings, despite outdistancing his closest competitor by nearly 8 pounds in this, his EverStart debut. “I broke off 12 snags and only caught six fish. On the way in, I was wondering if I’ll be able to catch another fish in this tournament.”
Hutchings’ worries, however, may be unfounded as he also landed the biggest bass of the day in the Pro Division and collected $500 for a 6-pound, 6-ounce largemouth.
Jim Carnell of Muskogee, Okla., finished the day in second place with five bass weighing 15-13 followed by Chris McCall of Jasper, Texas, with five bass weighing 15-6; Jeff Reynolds of Platter, Okla., with four bass weighing 14-9; and Shane Allman of Sam Rayburn, Texas, with five bass weighing 13-15.
In the Co-Angler Division, EverStart rookie Rob Renshaw, 30, of Coweta, Okla., leads with four bass weighing 13 pounds, 3 ounces followed by Charles Carlile of Tulsa, Okla., with four bass weighing 11-15 and John Bond of Tulsa, Okla., with five bass weighing 11-14.
“I knew I would do pretty good, but I never dreamt I’d be leading,” Renshaw said. “There are some high-powered guys out here.”
Big bass in the Co-Angler Division was a 5-pound, 7-ounce bass worth $300 caught by Murvell McMurray of Kansas City, Mo.
All told, the lucrative bass competition attracted 308 of North America’s top bass anglers – 154 pros and 154 co-anglers – to Wagoner in hopes of winning $10,000 cash and an Evinrude- or Johnson-powered Ranger bass boat in the Pro Division and $6,000 in the Co-Angler Division.
For a shot at victory, anglers in both divisions must secure one of 30 slots available in Friday’s second round by catching the heaviest two-day total of bass in round one. During the second round, anglers start over, competing for one day to determine the top 10 pros and co-anglers who will compete in Saturday’s finale.
Competition begins at 6 a.m. each morning at Taylors Ferry North marina. Weigh-ins Thursday and Friday begin at 3 p.m. at Taylors Ferry. Saturday’s final weigh-in will be held at the Wagoner Wal-Mart Supercenter located at 410 South Dewey at 4 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. The top 75 pros and co-anglers from each division will advance to the year-end EverStart Invitational Challenge at Cypress Gardens, Fla., which features a purse of $360,000.
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. Winning anglers in the Pro and Co-Angler Divisions of each EverStart tournament, as well as the overall top 10 anglers, based on a system of points and pounds, receive priority entry in the 2001 FLW Tour.