HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – J.T. Kenney, a 7UP pro from Frostburg, Md., caught a semifinal-round total of five bass weighing 8 pounds, 11 ounces to displace No. 44 seed Michael Bennett of Roseville, Calif., and advance to the final round of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Forrest L. Wood Championship presented by Castrol on Lake Hamilton. Friday’s semifinal round determined which 12 pros would earn a berth to fish in Saturday’s final round for the sport’s most lucrative first-place award – $500,000.
“I caught a limit early under the (Hwy. 270) bridge,” Kenney said, “but none of them were big. I’ve caught a limit there every day, and I’ll go to the same spot first thing tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll catch a limit early then I’ll go run a buzzbait the rest of the day. That’s what I caught my two best fish on today.”
With hot, muggy weather, pressured, clear-water bass and a torrential downpour during the last hours of Friday’s competition, anglers struggled to bring keeper bass to the scale all week.
The event began with six Arkansas pros vying for one of the 12 spots in the final round. Now, only two Arkansas pros remain -Larry Nixon of Bee Branch and George Cochran of Hot Springs. Both pros are veterans in the world of tournament bass fishing, and the competition between the two pros, who are also friends of many years, should be intense.
Cochran caught five bass weighing 5 pounds, 15 ounces to beat No. 9 seed Brent Chapman of Lake Quivira, Kan.
A crowd favorite, Cochran has displayed a definite home-field advantage on Lake Hamilton. Having been home for only two weeks since January due to his busy tournament schedule, Cochran made it clear that fishing fewer, bigger-money events would be his agenda for 2006, and winning the championship would be a great start to a more relaxed pace. “I’m fishing exclusively the FLW Tour next year,” Cochran said.
“I feel good. The field is narrowed down to 12, and I’m real familiar with the lake. I’m hoping for more rain and storms tonight.” Cochran has been concentrating on a shallow-water pattern all week, and he said the heavy rains during Friday’s competition could help cool the shallows. “I’m just covering lots of water,” Cochran said. “I caught five small keepers early today where I thought I could catch them, then left. The larger fish are toward the dam and the hatchery.”
Another crowd favorite, Chevy pro and No. 24 seed Larry Nixon caught three bass weighing 4 pounds, 3 ounces to displace Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La.
“It feels good,” Nixon said of his advancement to the final round. “Fortunately, Greg didn’t have a good day. I’m glad it’s over and I squeaked in. I know some places I can go back to Saturday where fished missed my lures today,” Nixon said. Several large bass struck at Nixon’s offerings on Friday, but he said they never touched the hooks. Like Cochran, Nixon is hoping for more cloud cover on Saturday, as he believes this will cause the bass to commit to striking.
No. 38 seed Dean Rojas of Grand Saline, Texas, boated a nice catch of four bass weighing 8 pounds, 1 ounce – the second heaviest catch of the semifinal round.
“Things went pretty well today,” Rojas said. “I just didn’t get enough bites for a limit. But I’m in the right area on the right quality fish. I caught my fish on my (Bronze-Eyed) frog.”
Friday’s action saw the conclusion of the co-angler competition after the co-angler field cut down from 48 to 24 on Thursday. Trevor Janscasz of White Pigeon, Mich., walked away with a check for $25,000, thanks to his tournament-winning catch of three bass weighing 6 pounds, 10 ounces. “I feel great. I’ve never been tingling so hard in my life!” Janscasz said, shortly after exiting the stage with his prize check.
“I was catching my bass with a 5-inch cut-tail worm, rigged on a 1/8-ounce ballhead jig,” Jascasz said. “I caught my first couple fish from weeds, but my largest bass came from a creek channel.”
Also notable in the Co-angler Division was Kim Bain of Brisbane, Australia, who caught one bass in the final round to slip to 12th place. Bain was the highest-qualifying female angler to ever fish the championship, and she sat in the top 10 at the end of day two.
“I’m really proud of myself,” Bain said. “I’ve been consistent throughout the year, and I’ve learned so much. It’s really great being here, but I knew the fishing would be tough. But, we all love to fish, and that’s why we’re here.”
In conjunction with the championship is a world-class outdoor show at the Hot Springs Convention Center and Summit Arena featuring more than 140 exhibits and free daily giveaways, including 500 hats and T-shirts, 500 tackle kits, 500 tackle boxes and 1,500 rods and reels courtesy of KATV in Little Rock. The outdoor show also features daily fishing seminars by Hank Parker, Chevy pro Jimmy Houston, Chevy pro Dion Hibdon, Guido Hibdon, Forrest L. Wood and other bass-fishing legends.
Admission is absolutely free and show hours run from noon to 9 p.m. July 15, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. July 16. One lucky fan attending the final weigh-in Saturday will win a new Ranger Z-20 Comanche bass boat powered by Yamaha courtesy of Allen Tillery Chevrolet. Qualifiers for the boat giveaway will be drawn daily, and you must be present to qualify and win.
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 most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its six tournament trails. Wal-Mart has been the title sponsor of FLW Outdoors since 1997.
For more information on FLW Outdoors and its tournament circuits, visit FLWOutdoors.com.
In one of the fascinating twists of the bracket-style format, Texas pro Lendell Martin Jr. and Robert Karbas Jr. of Wake Forrest, N.C., both failed to catch a keeper bass on Friday. The tiebreaker is determined by the highest seed entering the event, which was Karbas at No.19. Martin was the No. 43 seed.
The two Arkansas pros remaining in the event – Larry Nixon and George Cochran – have combined earnings of $3.4 million, 52 Forrest L. Wood and Classic qualifications, three Classic wins and 20 tour-level wins. They are two of the most successful bass anglers in history.
Once again, the fishing was extremely tough Friday. The 24 co-anglers competing Friday weighed a total of 39 pounds, 2 ounces on 35 bass.
Ten of the 12 finalists were seeded 29 or higher.
Nine pros representing Texas qualified for the Forrest L. Wood Championship, and three – Takahiro Omori, Alton Jones and Dean Rojas – advanced to the final round of 12 anglers.