$250,000 on the line
SHREVEPORT, La. – World-class bass anglers from 22 states and Japan set out in search of green on the Red River Wednesday during opening day of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship, and Paul Elias of Pachuta, Miss., returned with five bass weighing 18 pounds, 4 ounces.
Elias’ catch led the 50-angler Pro Division and all but insured him a spot in the event’s second round, which starts Friday morning. Should he go on to win the championship, he will pocket $250,000 cash – the largest prize in competitive fishing.
To win, however, Elias will have to fend off Bernie Schultz of Gainesville, Fla., who landed five bass that tipped the scales at 15 pounds, 14 ounces to finish second for the day. He’ll also have to overcome Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo., who won two of the tour’s last three events and piled up $441,800 in winnings this season. A win here would boost Clunn’s FLW Tour season earnings to $691,800 – more money than any bass angler has ever won in a single season. Clunn is currently in third place with five bass weighing 15 pounds, 9 ounces.
“I wasn’t going to be happy unless I caught at least 14 pounds,” said Elias, who caught the majority of his bass early in just two locations. “I just hope I didn’t overdo it. I’ve missed the top-five cut by 1 ounce before, and I wasn’t going to do that again.”
Despite low water conditions that made many productive oxbows inaccessible, all 50 pros caught fish. Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., and Marty Stone of Linden, N.C., each landed five bass weighing 14-11 to finish tied for fourth. Rick Gasaway of Kennesaw, Ga., claimed sixth place with five bass weighing 14-0.
Takahiro Omori, a native of Japan who competes in the FLW Tour from Emory, Texas, finished the day in a tie for 29th place with four bass weighing 8 pounds, 15 ounces.
In the Co-Angler Division, Tom Hunley of Stamping Ground, Ky., leads the 50-angler field with five bass weighing 13-12. Marc Levesque of Waterbury, Conn., is in second with three bass weighing 11-8. And Curtis Thompson of Baytown, Texas, is in third with five bass weighing 9-3. The co-angler champion will receive $25,000 cash.
On Thursday, the anglers will set out again to add to their first day’s catch in hopes of securing one of 10 slots available in Friday’s semifinal round. During the semifinal round, anglers start over and compete for one day to determine the top five pros who will advance to Saturday’s final round. Co-angler competition ends Friday.
Competition resumes at 6:30 a.m. Thursday at Stoner Boat Launch in Shreveport followed by a 3:30 p.m. weigh-in at the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Westport Avenue off Pines Road in Shreveport. Friday’s takeoff starts at 8 a.m., and the weigh-in begins at 5 p.m. at the Wal-Mart Supercenter. Saturday’s final weigh-in at Wal-Mart begins at 3:30 p.m. The final weigh-in will be broadcast live to more than 2,400 Wal-Mart stores nationwide and on ESPN Extra. It also will air at 4 p.m. EST Oct. 22 as part of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour series on ESPN.
The championship field comprises winning pros and co-anglers from six qualifying events plus the top 44 pros and co-anglers based on a system of points and pounds awarded during the first two days of competition at qualifying tournaments. Seven pros competing in the championship hail from North Carolina and six contenders are from Georgia. Arkansas and Georgia each sent eight co-anglers followed by Alabama with five co-anglers.