HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Boater Shayne Berlo of Vienna, Va., caught a five-bass limit weighing 12 pounds, 1 ounce to grab the opening-day lead in the 2004 Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League All-American – one of the longest running and most respected championships in competitive bass fishing. Eighty-six of the nation’s best weekend anglers are competing in the event, which awards $100,000 to the winning boater and $50,000 to the winning co-angler.
Fishing conditions were tough Thursday. The lake dropped several inches overnight, and bass are moving into shallower water to spawn. Only seven boaters and one co-angler caught weights heavier than 10 pounds.
Berlo, however, discovered a pattern that produced well and appeared confident heading into the second day of competition. “I felt good,” Berlo said. “I got the bites that I was looking for, and I was able to save some spots for tomorrow. I was just pitching and flipping. All the fish were caught in water about 3- to 6-feet deep.”
No stranger to tournament fishing, Berlo has fished BFL tournament for many years and qualified through the Shenandoah Division, where he finished fifth in the points standings. Berlo’s weight gives him a thin 3-ounce lead over Mark Schafer of Williamstown, N.J., who caught a limit weighing 11 pounds, 14 ounces.
Rounding out the top five boaters are Kellogg’s pro Dave Lefebre of Erie, Penn. (five bass, 11 pounds, 2 ounces); David Wright of Lexington, N.C. (five bass, 10 pounds, 10 ounces); and Donald Hinson of Lugoff, S.C. (five bass, 10 pounds, 9 ounces).
Only the top 10 boaters following Friday’s weigh-in will advance to Saturday’s final round where competitors maintain their two-day total weight and fish for the heaviest three-day weight to determine the winner.
Co-angler Scott Boatright of Sheridan, the points leader in Arkie Division in 2003, leads his division by more than a pound with a limit weighing 10 pounds, 6 ounces. Boatright and his partner, Schafer, caught approximately 25 keepers Thursday.
“I caught my first fish right off the bat this morning,” Boatright said. “While I was putting that fish in the livewell, my rod almost shot out from under me. So I grabbed it and set the hook and caught another keeper.
“I caught a limit by 9 a.m. and culled the rest of the day. I’m nervous and probably won’t sleep tonight.”
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Aaron McManaway of Altamont, Ill. (five bass, 8 pounds, 15 ounces); Bill Schroeder of Jonesville, Mich. (five bass, 6 pounds, 13 ounces); Bo Price of Seneca, S.C. (four bass, 5 pounds, 3 ounces); and Brent Sain of Manchester, Tenn. (four bass, 5 pounds).
The co-angler champion will be determined at Friday’s weigh-in based on two-day total weight.
Hinson caught the day’s largest bass, a 3-pound, 9-ounce largemouth. If it holds up through Friday as the largest fish of the tournament, he will receive a $1,000 bonus from Snickers.
Other contingencies include the $500 Energizer Keeps on Going Award, which goes to the boater who comes from the farthest behind on opening day to advance to Saturday’s final round; the Shop-Vac High Performance Award, consisting of four Shop-Vac products, which goes to the boater with the heaviest total catch during the first two days of competition; the $1,000 Castrol Co-angler Award, which goes to the winning co-angler if he is wearing a Castrol shirt or hat; and the Garmin Grand award, which presents the winning boater with $1,000 for using Garmin electronics.
Takeoffs start at 7 a.m. from the Fish Hatchery Ramp in Hot Springs, and anglers will weigh-in each day at 3 p.m. at Summit Arena located at 134 Convention Blvd. in Hot Springs. Surrounding the weigh-in is the Family Fun Zone, which opens at noon on Friday and Saturday and features games and product displays for fishing fans of all ages to enjoy.
There is no admission fee, and the public is invited to attend. Participants in the US 97-FM Great Ranger Bass Boat Giveaway must be present to win at 3 p.m. Saturday.
This year’s championship marks the 20th anniversary of the first $100,000 award in competitive bass fishing. That historic award was presented to 1984 All-American champion Shaw Grigsby of Gainesville, Fla., for his victory on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in Florida. All-American qualifiers represent the best of more than 30,000 BFL participants nationwide.
Because BFL competitors are weekend anglers and not pros, the All-American and its lucrative cash awards present a unique opportunity for qualifiers looking to launch a professional bass-fishing career. Former All-American contenders who have become fishing superstars on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour include Kellogg’s pro Clark Wendlandt, Chevy pro Tommy Biffle and four-time FLW Tour champion David Fritts.
As the nation’s leading provider of affordable, close-to-home weekend tournaments, the BFL is widely credited with opening competitive bass fishing to the masses. Wal-Mart and many of America’s most respected companies support the BFL and five other FLW Outdoors 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 visit FLWOutdoors.com’s sponsor page.
FLW Outdoors and the Wal-Mart FLW Tour are named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood.