ROGERS, Ark. – With a $1.25 million purse and $200,000 going to the winning pro, it’s one of the biggest and most anticipated tournaments in bass fishing, surpassed only by the $1.5 million Forrest L. Wood Championship, and it’s finally under way. The eighth annual Wal-Mart Open Powered by Tyson began with cloudy skies and cool temperatures, but the action quickly heated up when legendary angler Guido Hibdon of Gravois Mills, Mo., placed five bass weighing 18 pounds, 4 ounces on the scale Wednesday afternoon.
All but six pros caught fish on opening day, and the majority of anglers, 77 to be exact, are hovering between 8 pounds and 10 pounds, 15 ounces. That puts more than a third of the pro field one 5-pounder away from making the all-important 10th-place cut, which stands at 13 pounds, 1 ounce. Several fish over 5 pounds have already crossed the stage.
Of the 400 anglers competing, 174 five-bass limits were weighed, including 135 in the Pro Division alone. Those anglers who landed atop the leader board like Hibdon and Jeremiah Kindy of Benton, Ark., who is currently second with five bass weighing 15 pounds, 2 ounces, are now well positioned to make the final-round cut Thursday as fishing conditions should continue to improve with the onset of warmer weather.
“I started the day catching a bunch of little spots that I knew wouldn’t do me any good,” said Hibdon, who has earned a Bassmaster Classic title and four FLW Tour top-10s in his storied career. “So I decided to go do what I knew I should be doing all along. I went largemouth fishing, and I moved around quite a bit.”
Hibdon caught the majority of his bass using a melon/pepper Guido Bug finesse jig in 20 to 30 feet of water while Kindy caught four largemouths and one meanmouth on an original Wiggle Wart crankbait cast to secondary points.
“I only have 10 of the original Wiggle Warts left, and I’m going to keep riding them as long as I can,” said Kindy, a Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League Arkie Division standout who finished 10th at last month’s FLW Tour stop on the Ouachita River in Monroe, La. “In the last three years I’ve won more than $30,000 on the bait. The new Wiggle Wart work fine, but I have confidence in the old originals.”
Darrel Robertson of Jay, Okla., (five bass, 14 pounds, 15 ounces); Chris McCall of Jasper, Texas (five bass, 14 pounds, 11 ounces) and Cody Bird of Granbury, Texas (five bass, 14 pounds, 4 ounces) rounded out the top five pros.
Kindy earned the day’s Snickers Big Bass award of $750 in the Pro Division with a 5-pound, 8-ounce largemouth.
In the Co-angler Division Mike Hawks of Galax, Va., leads the tournament thanks to a five-bass catch weighing 10 pounds, 12 ounces. He fished with pro Robert Karbas Jr. of Wake Forest, N.C., who caught five bass weighing 11 pounds, 7 ounces and is currently in a three-way tie for 28th place.
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Mark Phillips of Fayetteville, Ark. (five bass, 9 pounds, 15 ounces); Jeff Baffa of Tinley Park, Ill. (five bass, 9 pounds, 10 ounces); Tee Watkins of East Point, Ky. (five bass, 8 pounds, 13 ounces); and Sondra Rankin of Paducah, Ky. (five bass, 8 pounds, 12 ounces).
Land O’Lakes angler Judy Israel of Clewiston, Fla., claimed the Snickers Big Bass award and $500 in the Co-angler Division with a 5-pound, 13-ounce largemouth that she caught on a finesse worm while fishing with pro Lee Skipper of Lancaster, S.C., who is currently in 185th place with one bass weighing 2 pounds, 11 ounces.
Israel gained national acclaim last year as the first and only woman to win an FLW Tour event. That accomplishment could be challenged this week, however, as three women are currently in the top 20. Rankin is fifth, Mary Parnell of Casselberry, Fla., is seventh and Kim Bain from Queensland, Australia, is 18th.
Beaver Lake yielded a catch of 1,343 bass weighing 2,260 pounds, 2 ounces Wednesday. Over 99 percent of the bass were released alive.
Anglers will take off from Prairie Creek Marina at 7 each morning. Thursday’s weigh-in will also be held at the marina beginning at 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 2110 West Walnut in Rogers beginning at 5 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively.
The community is invited to join the worlds’ top bass anglers as they celebrate the FLW Tour’s 10th anniversary in the Family Fun Zone Friday and Saturday outside the weigh-in tent in the Wal-Mart parking lot. The free Family Fun Zone, which opens at 3 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday, features interactive displays, product samples and games for the entire family to enjoy. Immediately following Friday’s weigh-in, fans are invited to a free concert featuring country-music recording-artist Craig Morgan. Morgan’s single “That’s What I Love About Sunday” recently hit No. 1 on the country radio charts.
Following Thursday’s competition, the field will be narrowed from 200 competitors per division to 10, and weights will be cleared for Friday’s competition. Co-angler competition concludes Friday based on the heaviest one-day weight, and pros continue competition Saturday with the winner determined by the heaviest two-day weight. The winning co-angler earns $40,000 while the winning pro earns $200,000. Pros finishing as low as 50th place earn $10,000.
Anglers are also competing this week for valuable points that determine Land O’ Lakes Angler of the Year standings and the field for the 2005 Forrest L. Wood Championship, set for July 13-16 in Hot Springs, Ark., on Lake Hamilton. The $1.5 million championship presented by Castrol awards the winning pro $500,000 cash, the sport’s largest payout, and features a world-class outdoor show.
Complete coverage of the Wal-Mart Open Powered by Tyson will be broadcast on FSN May 8 and May 15 as part of the “Wal-Mart FLW Outdoors” television program. “Wal-Mart FLW Outdoors” airs every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern time on FSN.
Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, FLW Outdoors administers the Wal-Mart FLW Tour and seven other national tournament circuits offering a combined $30 million in awards through 214 events in 2005. The 27-year-old organization is the purveyor of America’s largest and most prestigious fishing tournaments, including the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, EverStart Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye League, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour and Wal-Mart FLW Redfish Series.
Wal-Mart and many of America’s largest and most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its tournament trails. Wal-Mart signed on as title sponsor of the FLW Tour in 1997 and today is the title sponsor of all FLW Outdoors events.
For more information on Wal-Mart, visit Wal-Mart.com. For more information on FLW Outdoors and its tournament programs, explore FLWOutdoors.com or call (270) 252-1000. For more information on FSN, visit FoxSports.com.