BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Wal-Mart FLW Tour rookie Luke Clausen of Spokane, Wash., continued his momentum Friday at the $1.5 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship presented by Castrol, hauling in a field-leading limit of 14 pounds, 3 ounces. In terms of heaviest weights, Clausen has led the tournament wire-to-wire and leads the 12 pros who will fish Saturday for $500,000 cash.
Anglers began competition Wednesday on Logan Martin Lake near Birmingham, fishing head-to-head in bracket-style competition for two days to determine the 24 pros who advanced to Friday’s semifinal round. Anglers continued to fish head-to-head Friday to eliminate 12 more anglers, and the final-round field will start at zero and compete against the entire field to determine who will take home the $500,000 first-place award – bass fishing’s largest guaranteed cash award.
Clausen, the No. 26 seed, defeated 7UP pro and No. 23 seed Shad Schenck of Waynetown, Ind., to advance to Friday’s semifinal round, where he knocked off Yamaha pro and No. 2 seed Greg Hackney by almost 5 pounds to earn a spot in Saturday’s finals. Hackney finished second in the points standings on both the FLW Tour and the Bassmaster Tour in 2004 and is widely considered one of the hottest pro anglers in the world.
“I was really scared I was going to be a victim of the Hack Attack today,” said Clausen, whose best finish on the FLW Tour was 20th at the Wal-Mart Open on Beaver Lake. “He’s one of my heroes.”
Clausen caught his bass throwing finesse worms around docks after throwing top-water baits in the morning. He’s fishing Logan Martin for the first time, but he’s fishing it like he owns it.
“I’ve been here for about a week or so,” he said. “I just went fishing, and things have worked out well for me.”
Logan Martin experienced yet another weather change Friday, switching from cloudy and rainy to bright sunshine with few clouds. The competition proved fierce for the final round, as many of the matchups came down to mere ounces. Eliminated by less than a pound was 2004 Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year and No. 1 seed Shinichi Fukae of Osaka, Japan, who fell to No. 25 seed Mickey Bruce of Buford, Ga., who caught a limit of five bass that weighed 11 pounds, 4 ounces.
“In my dreams I thought I could fish for $500,000, but in reality I didn’t think it would ever happen,” said Bruce, a seven-year FLW Tour veteran.
BFGoodrich Tires pro Scott Martin, who caught the heaviest weight on day two, advanced to the finals by 1 pound, 1 ounce on the strength of an 11-pound, 10-ounce limit. He edged past Lee Bailey Jr. of Amston, Conn., to survive another day. Martin won the final regular-season event in June on New York’s Lake Champlain.
“It’s nerve-wracking; I didn’t have a limit at 10 a.m.,” Martin said. “I scrounged around and got a decent limit. The Lord took care of me. He’s got a plan for my life, and I’m going for it. If I can figure out how to catch a good bag in the morning I’ll feel confident about it.”
Banana Boat pro Kevin Vida of Clare, Mich., brought in the day’s second-heaviest limit, handily defeating No. 6 seed Tracy Adams of Wilkesboro, N.C., thanks to a 12-pound, 6-ounce stringer.
“I’ve got a great pattern going right now,” said Vida, who caught his bass Friday on a 1/4-ounce Hildebrandt jig and a 3/8-ounce Berkley Power Jig. “Hopefully it stays like it did this afternoon. I had a great last hour and got something figured out.”
Going home is local pro Matt Herren of Trussville, defeated by No. 33 seed Jimmy Millsaps of Canton, Ga. Herren surprised the crowd by weighing in only two fish for 3 pounds, 15 ounces.
“It wasn’t really the pressure or the knowledge of the lake,” Herren said. “The conditions totally changed the past week. In Alabama it’s unheard of to have 80-degree surface temperatures in August. The air temperature was that.”
Co-angler Stephen Tosh Jr. of Waterford, Calif., champion of the Kentucky Lake event in May, made it a double-win season Friday by winning the Co-angler Division by 3 pounds, 13 ounces. Tosh’s five-bass limit weighing 13 pounds, 1 ounce earned him $25,000.
“I had to work so hard, and I’m really happy I drew Randy Blaukat and Mickey Bruce,” Tosh said. “It’s just good luck, and thank God for Kinami cut-tail worms. I had a great year and finished third in the points, and I had some good draws and it carried over. (Thirteen pounds) is such a huge bag for here.
“My whole life all I wanted to do was be a bass fisherman,” said Tosh, who plans to switch to the Pro Division next season. “It’s definitely going to be hard, but I’m just going to try to survive (as a pro).”
Competitors will take off from the Pell City Lakeside Park, located at 2801 Stemley Bridge Road in Pell City, at 7 a.m. Saturday, and the final weigh-in will begin at 5 p.m. at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. In conjunction with the championship is a world-class boat and outdoor show featuring more than 140 exhibits and free daily giveaways, including hats and T-shirts, tackle kits, tackle boxes, and rods and reels, at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. The outdoor show runs 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. One lucky fan attending Saturday’s final weigh-in will win a NASCAR Limited Series Ranger 521VX Comanche powered by Evinrude courtesy of The Birmingham News and Birmingham Post-Herald.
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