ROGERS, Ark. – Rick Gasaway of Kennesaw, Ga., inched his way from 14th place into the lead Thursday after two days of extraordinarily close competition in the $1 million Wal-Mart Open on Beaver Lake. His catch of five bass weighing 13 pounds, 9 ounces boosted his two-day total to 10 bass weighing 24 pounds, 9 ounces.
While the catch earned him the No. 1 qualifying spot in Friday’s semifinal round of 10 pro anglers, Gasaway will have to come up big again to advance to the final round Saturday for a shot at $200,000. Weights are cleared for the semifinal round, and only the top five pros will advance to the final day of competition.
“I’ve finished in the top 10 a couple of times, but this is my first top 10 in a big tournament,” said Gasaway, who caught three largemouths and two spotted bass while sight fishing with an Arkie jig and pork trailer. “There are still a lot of fish moving up, so the fishing should be real good.”
Less than 3 pounds separated first from 10th place in the Pro Division for the second day in a row as 124 of 175 anglers competing in the division registered five-bass limits. Like opening day, sight fishing for largemouth and spotted bass in clear shallow water was the technique of choice for anglers atop the tightly knit leaderboard. The margin of success was so close that five anglers finished within a pound of qualifying for the semifinal round.
Former Wal-Mart Open champion Gerald Swindle of Warrior, Ala. (10 bass, 24-7); Cody Bird of Granbury, Texas (10 bass, 23-5); opening day leader Mark Pack of Mineola, Texas (10 bass, 22-13); and former Wal-Mart Open champion Clark Wendlandt of Cedar Park, Texas (10 bass, 22-11) rounded out the top five anglers in the Pro Division.
Big bass honors and $1,250 in the Pro Division went to Keith Williams of Conway, Ark., who landed a 4-pound, 13-ounce bass that also earned him $1,000 from Pepsi as the biggest bass of the opening round.
David Hudson of Jasper, Ala., held on to his lead in the 175-person Co-Angler Division with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 15 pounds, 5 ounces followed by Fred Hill of Roxboro, N.C. (nine bass, 14-8), and Wendell Bennett of Searcy, Ark. (10 bass, 13-3).
Fred Person of Memphis, Tenn., claimed the co-angler big bass title and $750 with a 3-pound, 3-ounce bass.
The top 10 co-anglers will start from zero Friday and fish for one day to determine the winner of $40,000.
Overall, 1,147 bass were caught Thursday including 157 limits. More than 98 percent of the bass were returned to Beaver Lake alive. If Operation Bass maintains at least a 98 percent live release rate throughout the 2001 season, Energizer will donate $25,000 to the Children’s Miracle Network.
The tournament presented by Wal-Mart continues at 8 a.m. Friday at Prairie Creek Park in Rogers followed by a 5 p.m. weigh-in at the Rogers Wal-Mart located at 2110 West Walnut. Immediately following the weigh-in country sensation Kenny Chesney will perform a free concert live from the Wal-Mart parking lot. The concert will be broadcast nationwide over the Wal-Mart Television network starting at 7:30 EST. Saturday’s final takeoff from Prairie Creek Park starts at 6:30 a.m. followed by a 3:30 p.m. weigh-in at Wal-Mart.
A Family Fun Zone featuring fishing seminars, free product samples, interactive displays and children’s games will open in the Wal-Mart parking lot starting at 3 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday.