Oklahoma’s Kelly wins Co-Angler Division, nets $50,000
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – After two days of competition on Lake Hamilton, Rodney Hardwick of Connersville, Ind., claimed the No. 1 spot among the nation’s top weekend anglers going into the final round of the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League All-American and co-angler Randy Kelly of Inola, Okla., pocketed $50,000 for his win.
Hardwick, who is competing in his first All-American, caught a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 22 pounds to lead the final-five anglers in the Boater Division while Kelly won the Co-Angler Division with a total of eight bass weighing 20 pounds, 4 ounces.
Hardwick caught five bass weighing 10 pounds, 7 ounces Thursday to place fourth then landed five bass weighing 11 pounds, 9 ounces Friday to claim the top qualifying spot in the three-day championship. On Saturday, however, he will have to repeat his early success as the finalist start from zero to determine the winner of $100,000 cash.
“When I started out (Friday) I lost a good fish then I moved to my second spot and lost a 4-pounder,” Hardwick said. “At that point I thought it just wasn’t meant to be, but I ended up with a limit. Now I’ve got to keep my mind in the game.”
Roger Fitzpatrick of Eldon, Mo. (10 bass, 19-9); Paul Redwine of Crab Orchard, Tenn. (10 bass, 18-5); defending All-American champion Jeff Coble of Henderson, N.C. (10 bass, 18-5); and David Truax of Beaumont, Texas, (10 bass, 18-5) rounded out the tightly knit group of finalists in the Boater Division.
No angler has ever successfully defended his All-American title.
“I feel great, real great,” a visibly moved Kelly told the crowd at the Hot Springs Convention Center after winning the Co-Angler Division. “I woke up this morning at 2:30, went out and sat on the curb and watched the sky to clear my mind. This is something special.”
Aaron Wehmeyer of Carterville, Ill. (10 bass, 14-5, $10,000); Ken Murphy of Meridian, Miss. (10 bass, 13-12, $5,000); Fred Hill of Roxboro, N.C. (10 bass, 13-10, $4,000); and Kirk Beardsley of Orange, Calif., (nine bass, 13-6, $3,500) rounded out the top five co-anglers.
The 100 All-American qualifiers competing in Hot Springs represent the best of thousands of participants in 22 Wal-Mart BFL divisions nationwide. Each angler earned a berth in the All-American by finishing 30th or better in his division after four one-day qualifying tournaments and a two-day super tournament in 2000. Each angler then finished eighth or better at one of five three-day regional championships. A sixth (Western) regional advanced four anglers to the All-American, and six anglers who failed to qualify for a regional championship advanced through the Chevy Trucks Wild Card Regional. This process produced 50 boaters and 50 co-anglers as All-American contenders.
Redwine, who remains in contention for $100,000, won $10,000 and the CITGO National Points Championship on Friday as the highest finishing divisional points leader in the Boater Division. In the Co-Angler Division Kelly won the CITGO title and received a $5,000 bonus.
Ranger Boats will award a Ranger 518VX Comanche bass boat to the highest placing participant in the Ranger Cup incentive program Saturday. Ranger Cup participants are also eligible to win a $500 to $1,000 bonus at each regular season Wal-Mart BFL tournament.
During the post weigh-in ceremony Friday, the late Frank Thorpe of Fayetteville, Ark., was honored with the CITGO All-American Leadership Award for his contributions to the world of outdoor sports. Thorpe was a columnist and outdoor editor for the Morning News of Northwest Arkansas and had coverall all but one All-American since 1984.
Competition resumes at 7 a.m. Saturday at Dare Devil Boat Launch on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs. The weigh-in will commence at 3:30 p.m. at the Hot Springs Convention Center. Starting at noon the Convention Center will feature an antique tackle show, climbing wall and trout pond. Special guest appearances by Gov. Mike Huckabee, Miss Arkansas Sara Harris and two Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders begin at 1 p.m.
At last year’s All-American in Hot Springs Wal-Mart announced its title sponsorship of the popular Red Man Tournament Trail series that has acted as a proving ground for bass fishing’s brightest stars since 1983. The new program, which was renamed the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, will award up to $5.7 million based on full fields at each of a 119 tournaments in 2001.