ROGERS, Ark. – Wal-Mart FLW Tour rookie Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz., made a remarkable jump from 105th to first on the leader board Thursday with a 19-pound, 8-ounce limit that pushed his two-day total to nine bass weighing 27 pounds, 9 ounces. He now leads 10 Pro Division finalists into the second half of competition in the $1.25 million Wal-Mart Open Powered by Tyson on Beaver Lake.
All finalists start back at zero weight Friday, and the pro with the heaviest two-day cumulative weight Saturday will earn $200,000 – a payout surpassed only by the tour’s $500,000 award at the Forrest L. Wood Championship. The co-angler title, and a $40,000 first-place prize, will be awarded at the conclusion of Friday’s competition.
“I had a great practice, but I choked yesterday,” said Pirch, referring to his four-bass catch weighing 8 pounds, 1 ounce on opening day. “I had to gain a lot of ground, so I fished as hard as I could. The sun coming out today gave good visibility and pushed the fish to visible targets.”
Pirch’s limit is the heaviest of the tournament so far, earning him the Energizer Keeps on Going Award for coming from the farthest behind to qualify for the final round.
“Nineteen pounds is just a phenomenal day,” Pirch said. “I would like to go out and do it again, but it’s going to be hard to top. I’m going to try though.”
Pirch earned four top-10s in the EverStart Series Western Division before stepping up to the FLW Tour this season. He said that he used three patterns to catch his limit Thursday: fishing near shallow schools of shad first thing in the morning, sight fishing later in the morning and casting to staging fish in the afternoon.
Castrol pro Darrel Robertson of Jay, Okla., added five bass weighing 11 pounds, 11 ounces to his day one catch to finish the opening round in second with 10 bass weighing 26 pounds, 10 ounces. He used a chartreuse and white War Eagle spinnerbait, a watermelon colored Zoom finesse worm, and a bubble gum colored lizard to catch his limit. He predicts, however, that the final two days will be a sight-fishing bonanza.
“We are going to have more fun sight fishing than a man has ever had,” said Robertson, who was running the banks Thursday casting his spinnerbait while searching for bedding fish. “I won’t be able to sleep for thinking about it.”
Alton Jones of Waco, Texas, who caught five bass weighing 11 pounds, 8 ounces on day one and five bass weighing 14 pounds, 2 ounces on day two, claimed the No. 3 qualifying spot with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 25 pounds, 10 ounces. He used Yum soft plastics.
Jeremiah Kindy of Benton, Ark. (10 bass, 25 pounds, 3 ounces) and Andre Moore of Scottsdale, Ariz. (10 bass, 25 pounds, 1 ounce) rounded out the top five pros.
Lawry’s pro Jason Kilpatrick of Satsuma, Ala., earned the day’s Snickers Big Bass award of $750 in the Pro Division with a 4-pound, 14-ounce largemouth. Land O’ Lakes co-angler Judy Israel of Clewiston, Fla., earned the overall Snickers Big Bass award of $1,000 for catching the heaviest bass in either division during the opening round. Israel caught a 5-pound, 13-ounce largemouth on a finesse worm Wednesday.
Jeff Turner of Plainfield, Ill., leads the Co-angler Division thanks to a two-day catch of nine bass weighing 17 pounds, 11 ounces. Turner caught four bass weighing 6 pounds, 9 ounces Wednesday while fishing with pro Robert Sherry of Saint Charles, Ill., then added another five bass weighing 11 pounds, 2 ounces to his total Thursday while fishing with Skippy pro Art Berry of Hemet, Calif.
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Jeff Baffa of Tinley Park, Ill. (10 bass, 16 pounds, 13 ounces); Tee Watkins of East Point, Ky. (10 bass, 15 pounds, 11 ounces); Frank Meyer of Marianna, Fla. (10 bass, 15 pounds, 9 ounces); and Derek Jones of Chicago, Ill. (10 bass, 15 pounds, 6 ounces).
Energizer co-angler Matt Scheipeter of St. Louis, Mo., and co-angler Ernie Hillebrandt of Sam Rayburn, Texas, tied for the Snickers Big Bass award and each earned $250 with a 4-pound, 5-ounce bass.
Beaver Lake produced 1,224 bass weighing 1,881 pounds, 3 ounces Thursday, including 147 five-bass limits.
Anglers will take off from Prairie Creek Marina at 7 each morning. 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 was narrowed from 200 competitors per division to 10, and weights were cleared.
In addition to a top award of $200,000 and cash awards of at least $10,000 through 50th place in the Pro Division, anglers are also competing 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.