RICHMOND, Va. – Half the field went home after Thursday’s conclusion of the opening round at the $1.5 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour World Championship of Bass Fishing presented by Castrol, but 24 Pro Division anglers came one step closer to claiming the unprecedented first-place cash prize of $500,000 by scoring the heaviest two-day weight in their respective bracket. Only two days remain at the event, held on Virginia’s historic James River, and Team Fujifilm pro Wesley Strader of Spring City, Tenn., caught the heaviest weight of bass after two days with 10 weighing 19 pounds, 14 ounces.
Strader, who entered the tournament as the No. 40 seed, conquered No. 9 seed and fellow Fujifilm pro Randy Blaukat of Lamar, Mo., by a 9-pound, 8-ounce margin. He will face Paul Elias of Pachuta, Miss., Friday. Elias, the No. 16 seed, defeated No. 33 seed Chip Harrison of Bremen, Ind.
“I keep getting to fish against these legends; what’s up with that,” said Strader, a six-year veteran of the FLW Tour. “At this place, you just have to slow down and fish slowly. I know when you’re fishing against Randy Blaukat, you can’t just skim by. I worked really hard to get what I got.”
Local angler John Crews of Jetersville, seeded in the No. 34 spot, pulled off one of the tournament’s biggest upsets thus far, overcoming tournament veteran and No. 15 seed Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo., with a two-day total of six bass weighing 9 pounds, 15 ounces. Crews overcame a tough opening day in which he only caught one bass to claim his semifinal-round spot.
“It was a little better today,” said Crews, a sophomore on the FLW Tour. “It was definitely a breath of fresh air when I knew I had more than he did. I fished areas a little differently today. I’m around the fish; I just have to get the right bites. The local weather conditions kind of threw me off.”
Also making a strong comeback was perennial contender Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., a Chevy pro. VanDam caught one bass weighing 1 pound, 1 ounce Wednesday but bounced back Thursday with five bass weighing 12 pounds, 13 ounces to score a two-day total of six bass weighing 13 pounds, 14 ounces. The weight was enough to eliminate No. 27 seed Terry Bolton of Paducah, Ky., who hauled in a two-day total of five bass weighing 9 pounds, 3 ounces. VanDam will face two-time Angler of the Year Clark Wendlandt of Cedar Park, Texas, during the semifinal round.
“It was a little better today,” said VanDam, who qualified as the No. 22 seed. “I got in the right flow of things, and I was really fortunate.”
Wendlandt, a Kellogg’s pro who won Angler of the Year honors in 1997 and 2000, entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed and defeated 1999 Angler of the Year David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn., the No. 46 seed, by 3 pounds, 8 ounces.
The No. 48 seed, Kellogg’s pro Alvin Shaw of State Road, N.C., outfished the No. 1 seed, Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year Dan Morehead of Paducah, Ky., to advance to the semifinal round.
“I practiced eight days, which is something I never, ever do, and I’ll never do it again,” Morehead said. “After eight days of practice I only had one good day, but I don’t have any excuse. I have no idea why they didn’t bite. I tried just swinging for the fences, but it didn’t work. I’m looking forward to next year.”
7 UP pro Shad Schenck of Waynetown, Ind., the No. 38 seed, caught one of Wednesday’s heaviest sacks but faced motor trouble Thursday that could have cost him a semifinal-round position. With some help from his friends, Schenck switched boats and caught his limit but not until after noon. His two-day total of 10 bass weighing 16 pounds was still enough, however, to best No. 11 seed Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala., by 1 pound, 2 ounces.
“I was very unfortunate today,” said Schenck, who is making his second championship appearance after four full seasons on tour. “Everything’s great when things are good, but when they’re bad you’ve got to keep your cool. I’m really fortunate to get back to where I was. On days like today you know you have really good friends. It was a stressful day at the office, I can tell you that.”
Day-one leader and No. 44 seed Rob Kilby completed the upset in his bracket, besting No. 5 seed Tim Carroll of Owasso, Okla., thanks to a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 19 pounds, 6 ounces.
“I’ve been covering a lot of water and using the last half of the day as practice,” said Kilby, who has fished the FLW Tour since 1997. “The fishing changes every day, and you just have to go find them. From my experience on this river, you can’t get locked in; you’ve got to keep changing. It’s no easy row to hoe no matter who you draw. It’ll definitely be worth waking up to in the morning.”
The tournament began Wednesday with the top 48 pros based on year-end points standings competing head-to-head for one of 24 slots in Friday’s semifinal round. Anglers competed in six regular-season events to earn crucial angler points, and the championship’s unique bracket-style format paired the No. 1 seed with the No. 48 seed, the No. 2 seed with the No. 47 seed, and so on. Anglers will continue head-to-head competition Friday to eliminate all but the top 12 based on Friday’s catch weight, and those 12 will compete Saturday for the history-making $500,000 top prize.
Craig Clayton of Rogers, Ark., leads the Co-angler Division into their final day of competition with a two-day catch of four bass weighing 10 pounds, 14 ounces. The top 48 co-anglers based on year-end points standings advanced to the championship, and the top 24 co-anglers after Thursday’s competition will continue Friday to win the top co-angler prize of $25,000. Weights are cleared for Friday’s competition, and co-anglers compete against their entire field.
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are David Brunaugh of Carbondale, Ill. (six bass, 9 pounds, 10 ounces); John Kitchens of Smyrna, Ga. (three bass, 9 pounds, 8 ounces); David Hudson of Jasper, Ala. (seven bass, 9 pounds, 5 ounces); and Terry Chapman of Cornelius, N.C. (six bass, 8 pounds).
Anglers take off each morning at 7 a.m. from Osborne Landing in Richmond. Weigh-ins begin at 5 p.m. each day at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, site of the world-class outdoor show and boat sale surrounding the event. The outdoor show, featuring more than 150,000 square feet of exhibits, is open from 1 to 9 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday at the convention center, and admission is free. Over a hundred exhibitors are featuring great buys on everything from crankbaits to bass boats. The event concludes Saturday with a free concert featuring country artist Andy Griggs following the final weigh-in.
Coverage of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour World Championship of Bass Fishing will be featured on the “FLW Outdoors” television show, which is broadcast to 55 million subscribers on the Outdoor Life Network. The program features fishing legends Hank Parker and Larry Nixon alongside hosts Charlie Evans, Carlton Wing and Taylor Carr. Parker’s preview of the championship will air Saturday at 6 p.m. and again Sunday at noon CST. Tournament highlights from the championship will air Sept. 20 and 21 followed by a tournament recap featuring Nixon Sept. 27 and 28.
Wal-Mart and many of America’s most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its six tournament trails. Wal-Mart has been the title sponsor of FLW Outdoors since 1997. For a complete list of FLW Outdoors sponsors and for more information about the premier products and services they offer, please explore FLWOutdoors.com.