SHREVEPORT, La. – Top contenders in the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship presented by Castrol on Cross Lake in Shreveport, La., dominated the opening round of fishing with six of the top-10 seeds advancing to the semifinals.
The high-stakes, head-to-head competition, unlike anything in the history of bass fishing, features an $800,000 cash purse with $260,000 cash going to the winning pro. No. 10 seed Greg Hackney of Oak Ridge, La., took a step closer to becoming the No. 1 seed in Saturday’s finals by besting No. 39 seed Kim Stricker of Howell, Mich.
After catching a division-leading 15 pounds, 13 ounces of bass Wednesday, Hackney caught three bass weighing 6 pounds, 1 ounce Thursday for a two-day total of eight bass weighing 21 pounds, 14 ounces. His dominating opening-round performance gave Hackney the Pro Division lead in total weight by more than 3 pounds over No. 12 seed Pat Fisher of Stone Mountain, Ga. It also soundly defeated Stricker, who caught two bass Thursday for a two-day weight of three bass weighing 3 pounds, 10 ounces.
“We don’t want to think about the money right now; we just want to think about getting to the finals,” said Hackney, who is fishing in his first Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship. Last season, his first on the tour, Hackney missed qualifying for the championship by one place.
No. 1 seed and reigning Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year Jay Yelas of Tyler, Texas, also advanced to the final round after catching slightly less than 2 pounds more than his competition, No. 48 seed Harmon Davis of Marlow, Okla. Yelas’ two-day total of four bass weighing 6 pounds, 11 ounces propelled him into the semifinals, where he will face No. 24 seed John Sappington of Wyandotte, Okla. Davis caught three bass Thursday weighing 2 pounds, 14 ounces after coming up empty on opening day.
While Yelas has enjoyed a stellar season, he said he is still not comfortable with the fishing on Cross Lake, catching only one bass weighing 1 pound, 1 ounce Thursday. “I don’t have a whole lot going,” Yelas said. Sappington, however, caught a five-bass limit weighing 8 pounds, 3 ounces Thursday and said, “I may have figured out a little something.”
The tight race between Chevy pro and No. 2 seed Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., and No. 47 seed Marty Stone of Linden, N.C., ended in VanDam’s favor. The two anglers were separated by merely 2 ounces heading into Thursday’s competition, but with a 10-pound, 7-ounce limit, VanDam bested Stone’s 6-pound, 11-ounce limit to advance to the semifinal round.
“I caught almost everything that bit,” VanDam said after catching 6 pounds more than he caught Wednesday. “It’s hard out there, but I expect you will see the weights go up since there will be less pressure.”
Two-time Angler of the Year and No. 4 seed Clark Wendlandt of Cedar Park, Texas, approached the weigh-in stage empty-handed Thursday, allowing fellow Kellogg’s pro and No. 45 seed Alvin Shaw of State Road, N.C., to advance. Wendlandt only needed 14 ounces to top Shaw, but Shaw prevailed with one 9-ounce bass.
No. 36 seed Craig Powers of Rockwood, Tenn., conceded defeat to No. 13 seed Alton Jones of Waco, Texas, after Jones brought in three bass weighing 4 pounds, 6 ounces Thursday for a two-day total of eight bass weighing 16 pounds, 9 ounces. Powers caught two bass weighing 3 pounds, 9 ounces Thursday for a two-day total of seven bass weighing 15 pounds.
During Friday’s semifinal round, the remaining 24 pros will continue bracket-style competition to eliminate 12 more anglers. Pros surviving the semifinal round will be reseeded according to their combined weight for the first three days of competition.
Co-angler Danny Strand of Champaign, Ill., led the field again Thursday with a 6-pound, 2-ounce catch that gave him a two-day total of seven bass weighing 13 pounds, 5 ounces. Alex Ormand of Bessemer City, N.C., caught two bass Thursday to finish second with a two-day total of five bass weighing 10 pounds, 5 ounces, followed by Frank Divis Sr. of Fayetteville, Ark., who caught one bass Thursday weighing 7 pounds, 4 ounces for a two-day total of two bass weighing 8 pounds, 7 ounces.
Co-angler competition ends Friday with the winner determined by the day’s heaviest catch. The winner will take home $25,000 cash.
Competition continues at 7 a.m. Friday at the American Legion Boat Ramp in Shreveport. Friday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store on Pines Road in Shreveport beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday’s weigh-in will be at 2 p.m. at Wal-Mart.
Sponsors of the 2002 Wal-Mart FLW Tour are Wal-Mart, ALPO Pet Foods, BFGoodrich Tires, Castrol, Chevy Trucks, Conseco, Eagle Electronics, Energizer, EverStart Batteries, Evinrude, Faded Glory, Frito-Lay, Fujifilm, Kellogg’s, Land O’Lakes, Maxwell House, Minn Kota, Newell Rubbermaid, Pepsi, Poulan, Ranger Boats, Shop-Vac, Snickers, Stanley Works, U.S. Bank, Weed Eater and Yamaha Outboards.