Female co-angler makes fourth top-10 appearance
EUFAULA, Ala. – Roger Crafton, 44, of Boca Grande, Fla., claimed the No. 1 qualifying spot Friday going into the final round of the $185,000 EverStart Series tournament on Lake Eufaula with five bass weighing 20 pounds, 1 ounce. But co-angler Judy Israel of Clewiston, Fla., showed that she could hold her own against the men by advancing to the final showdown in eighth place.
Israel’s semifinal-round catch of five bass weighing 11 pounds, 6 ounces secured second place for her in terms of career top-10 finishes. She has finished 10th or better in four EverStart tournaments, including a second place finish on Lake Eufaula in 1999. Only Fred Hill of Roxboro, N.C., who now competes as a pro, has made more top-10 appearances as a co-angler. He finished in the top 10 five times.
While Israel is battling for a $6,000 win in the Co-Angler Division Saturday, Crafton will be fishing against nine other finalists in the Pro Division for a top award of $15,000 cash and a new Ranger boat ($35,000 value). Finalists in both divisions start on equal footing as weights from previous rounds are erased. The winner will be determined by the weight of Saturday’s catch alone. The original field of 165 pros and 165 co-anglers was whittled to the top 30 in each division Thursday and cut again to the top 10 in each division Friday.
“Everything has to fall into place to win one of these tournaments,” said Crafton, who caught a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 31 pounds to make the semifinal round cut Thursday in 20th place. “With a little luck, it will happen for me tomorrow.”
Most of Crafton’s bass during the first three days of competition were caught in 1 to 3 feet of water on spinnerbaits or plastic worms and lizards. “The fishing couldn’t be better,” he said. “When the fish are aggressive, I’ll use a spinnerbait. When they aren’t, I’ll use a worm.”
Rounding out the top five pros were Jeffery Thomas of Broadway, N.C., with five bass weighing 19 pounds, 10 ounces; Frank Poirier of Hopewell, Va., with five bass weighing 18 pounds, 13 ounces; Mark Shepard of Labelle, Fla., with five bass weighing 18 pounds, 10 ounces; and Koby Kreiger of Osceola, Ind., with five bass weighing 17 pounds, 11 ounces.
Joseph Webster, 26, of Hamilton, Ala., claimed the top qualifying spot in the Co-Angler Division with five bass weighing 15 pounds, 7 ounces. He survived the semifinal round cut of his first EverStart Series tournament in 13th place with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 25 pounds, 3 ounces.
“I had two fish by about 9:30 this morning,” said Webster, who caught his bass on a spinnerbait in less than 1 foot of water. “Then, around lunch time, the big ones moved in, and we really caught them. I probably culled two limits today.”
Co-Angler Bruce Bowersock of Lake Worth, Fla., qualified in second place with five bass weighing 14 pounds, 13 ounces followed by Tee Watkins of East Point, Ky., with five bass weighing 14 pounds, 9 ounces.
A total of 261 bass weighing 664 pounds, 9 ounces were caught Friday including 40 five-bass limits. More than 98 percent of the bass were released alive.
Saturday’s action begins at 7 a.m. at Lake Point State Park located at 104 Lake Point Drive in Eufaula. The final weigh-in begins at 4 p.m. at the Wal-Mart Supercenter located at 1218 South Eufaula Ave. in Eufaula.
The 4-year-old EverStart Series now includes three divisions – Eastern, Central and Northern – with four events each plus a year-end championship. Tournament winners and the top 50 pros and top 50 co-anglers from each division will earn a spot in the championship, which will be held Nov. 7-10 on Pickwick Lake in Florence, Ala. There, the winning pro will receive a Ranger boat and $25,000 cash. The winning co-angler will receive a Ranger boat and $10,000 cash. More than $2.5 million will be awarded to bass fishing enthusiasts during the 2001 EverStart Series season. The series also provides a pathway to the $4.4 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour – bass fishing’s most lucrative tournament series.