GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. – Pro Tony Couch of Buckhead, Ga., caught a five-bass limit Wednesday that weighed 21 pounds, 5 ounces to take an early lead in the four-day, $256,825 EverStart Series Eastern Division event presented by Evinrude on Guntersville Lake. The tournament began Wednesday with 200 pros in the hunt for a top award worth as much as $61,900 that will be awarded following Saturday’s final round. Two hundred co-anglers are also competing for a top co-angler award worth as much as $35,000.
After spending their practice days in the rain, Guntersville anglers enjoyed a reprieve from the wet weather, although the downpours were replaced with sticky Southern heat. Couch felt like the weather played to his advantage, even if he’s not entirely sure why.
“This weather must have helped, because my fishing was a lot better today than it has been the last few days,” said Couch, a tournament veteran currently ranked second in Eastern Division points standings. “I’m catching them on a Zoom Ole Monster worm, and I caught one on a buzzbait this morning.” His colors of choice were green pumpkin and June bug.
Couch said his shallow-water pattern is likely a one-day deal. “I’m catching mostly scattered fish,” he said. “(My pattern) will fizzle. About one more day is all it’s good for because my fish are going to be gone; I’m going to have to change. It’s the same thing that happened to me last year – I finished 10th because I ran out of fish. If I don’t want a repeat I’m going to have to change. It’s going to be hard to catch them one more day but I think I can catch enough to make the cut.”
Rounding out the top four pros are George Alexander of Jacksonville, Fla. (five bass, 20 pounds, 10 ounces); Edward Gettys of Stevenson (five bass, 20 pounds, 4 ounces); and Snickers pro Pat Fisher of Dacula, Ga. (five bass, 20 pounds, 3 ounces). Currently tied for fifth are Joe Jones of Albertville (five bass) and Phillip Nunnelley of Cullman (four bass). Both anglers caught 19 pounds, 14 ounces on day one.
Michi Oba of Tokyo leads the Co-angler Division after day one thanks to a five-bass catch that weighed 18 pounds, 9 ounces. He caught his tournament-leading bass on a swimbait and a jig in both deep and shallow water.
“I think I had eight keepers today, and I lost my biggest one, about a 6-pounder, right in front of the boat,” said Oba, who is currently ranked 19th on the co-angler side of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour. “It just came off; I don’t know why. I didn’t have practice here; I just wanted to stop by and have fun. My partner (Gettys) helped a lot.”
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Stephen Semelsberger Jr. of Mount Airy, Md. (five bass, 17 pounds, 5 ounces); Roger Phillips of Delta (five bass, 17 pounds, 3 ounces); Jeff Taylor of Vernon (five bass, 15 pounds, 8 ounces); and Darin Mitchell of Rutledge, Ga. (five bass, 15 pounds, 4 ounces).
Jason Bailey of Robbins, N.C., earned $750 as the Pro Division big-bass award winner Wednesday with a 7-pound, 11-ounce bass. Semelsberger caught a 6-pound, 8-ounce bass to earn co-angler big-bass honors and $250.
Guntersville State Park Pier, located at 1155 Lodge Drive in Guntersville, hosts daily takeoffs at 6 each morning. Thursday’s weigh-in will also be held there beginning at 3 p.m., and Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 11697 Highway 431 S. in Guntersville beginning at 4 p.m. The community is encouraged to attend daily takeoffs and weigh-ins.
The winning pro is guaranteed $10,000 cash plus an Evinrude- or Yamaha-powered Ranger 519 VS equipped with Garmin electronics, a Minn Kota trolling motor and EverStart Batteries. If the winner is the original owner of a Ranger boat, he will receive a $10,000 bonus from Ranger for a top pro award worth $61,900. If he is a qualifying participant in the Ranger Cup incentive program, Ranger will award another $3,000 cash (or $1,500 to the highest-finishing Ranger Cup participant if not the winner), and Yamaha will match 50 percent of Ranger Cup winnings if the angler’s boat is powered by a Yamaha outboard. Garmin will award the winning pro $1,000 if he uses only Garmin electronics and at least one unit is a qualifying unit.
The winning co-angler is guaranteed $5,000 cash, and if he is a Ranger boat owner, Ranger will award him a new Ranger 519 VS for a total prize package worth $35,000. Co-anglers who make the final round of each regular-season EverStart Series event and wear an EverStart/Evinrude shirt and cap on stage are awarded points toward the EverStart Batteries and Evinrude Outboard Engines Co-angler Award. The co-angler receiving the most points by the end of the season receives a 2004 Evinrude 225HO Direct Injection outboard engine rigged on a Ranger boat equipped with a Minn Kota trolling motor and EverStart batteries.
The full field of anglers will compete again Thursday to determine the 20 pros who will advance to Friday’s competition based on their two-day accumulated weight. Weights are cleared for Friday’s semifinal round, and the 20 pros and 20 co-anglers who advanced to the semifinal round will compete for one day to determine the top 10 pros and 10 co-anglers who will advance to Saturday’s final-round. The 10 final-round competitors will continue competition, with the winner determined by the heaviest two-day weight.
The EverStart Series features a pro/co-angler format with pros supplying the boats, fishing from the front deck against other pros and controlling boat movement. Co-anglers fish from the back deck and compete against other co-anglers. Every angler who receives weight credit in a tournament earns points that determine angler standings. Two hundred points are awarded to the winner, 199 points for second, 198 points for third, and so on.
Designed as a pathway to the $6.8 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour, the world’s most lucrative bass-tournament series, the EverStart Series features four divisions – Eastern, Central, Northern and Western – with four regular-season events each. The season culminates with the $335,975 EverStart Series Championship, which will be held Nov. 3-6 on Lake Cumberland near Somerset, Ky. The event will be broadcast to 65 million subscribers of the Outdoor Life Network on the “FLW Outdoors” television series. Eastern Division anglers who finish in the top 40 in the final points standings are eligible to compete in the championship.
Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, FLW Outdoors is the world’s leading marketer of competitive fishing. FLW Outdoors-sanctioned tournament trails are the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, EverStart Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail, Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Tour and Wal-Mart RCL Walleye League. EverStart Batteries, the best-selling batteries in the world, are marketed exclusively by Wal-Mart stores.
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.