OKEECHOBEE, Fla. – Pro Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., caught a five-bass limit weighing 23 pounds, 11 ounces to lead day one of the season-opening Stren Series Southeast Division event on Lake Okeechobee.
Pros are competing for as much as $64,500 and valuable points that could qualify them for a trip to the $1 million Stren Series Championship for a shot at $140,000. The highest-finishing pro from each division at the Stren Series Championship will also earn a spot in the new $2 million 2007 Forrest Wood Cup where they will compete against top pros from the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League and Ranger owners’ tournaments for bass fishing’s first $1 million top award.
A full field of 200 boats launched Wednesday for the first FLW Outdoors event of 2006. Anglers were welcomed by bluebird skies and temperatures in the low- to mid-70s, though word was many of the traditional hotspots and grass mats so popular on Okeechobee weren’t there this year, due to damage caused by hurricanes in the fall of 2005.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen Lake Okeechobee in my life,” Ashley said. “I got here on last Friday for practice, and found my fish on Monday. People are telling me a lot of the grass mats and things are gone, though.
“The fish seem to be coming onto the beds. If it cools off, it may make it slower, but I don’t think it’ll shut the bite completely down.” Ashley caught his bass, which included an 8 1/2-pounder and a 7-pounder, in the South Bay area on a homemade spinnerbait.
Rounding out the top five pros are Timothy Little of Acworth, Ga. (five bass, 20 pounds, 14 ounces); Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C. (five bass, 19 pounds, 6 ounces); Rick Ankenbauer of Clearwater, Fla. (five bass, 18 pounds, 9 ounces); and Billy Brown Jr. of Ocala, Fla. (five bass, 17 pounds, 8 ounces).
Greg Vinson of Wetumpka, Ala., earned $750 for the Snicker’s Big Bass in the Pro Division thanks to a big 10-pound bass.
Brad Rodrigue of Pierre Part, La., leads the Co-angler Division in the chase for a top award worth as much as $35,000, including a 519VX Ranger if contingency guidelines are met. He caught five bass weighing 17 pounds, 1 ounce.
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Lance Henderson of Ft. Ogden, Fla. (five bass, 14 pounds, 12 ounces); Keith J. Carson of Debary, Fla. (five bass, 12 pounds, 8 ounces); Matt Hults of Gautier, Miss. (five bass, 12 pounds, 4 ounces); and Brian England of Lafayette, Ga. (five bass, 11 pounds, 5 ounces).
Hults earned $250 for the Snicker’s Big Bass in the Co-angler Division thanks to a 7-pound, 4-ounce bass.
Anglers caught a total of 1,429 bass weighing 2,483 pounds, 3 ounces.
Stren Series tournaments are four-day events consisting of three rounds. The entire field competes Wednesday and Thursday, and the top 20 pros and co-anglers – based on two-day accumulated weights – advance to day three. Anglers start at zero Thursday and compete for 10 spots in each division in the final round. Winners are determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from days three and four.
The next Stren Series Southeast Division event will be held Feb. 15-18 on West Point Lake in LaGrange, Ga. Boats will launch from Highland Marina Resort in LaGrange. The Tourism Division of LaGrange Troup County Chamber of Commerce will be hosting the event. Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart located at 803 New Franklin Road in LaGrange.
Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, FLW Outdoors administers the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Series, Stren 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, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Series and Wal-Mart FLW Redfish Series. These circuits offer combined purses exceeding $36.5 million through 235 events in 2006.
For more information about FLW Outdoors and its tournament programs, visit FLWOutdoors.com or call (270) 252-1000.
Wal-Mart and many of America’s largest and most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its tournament trails. Wal-Mart signed on as an FLW Outdoors sponsor in 1997 and today is the world’s leading supporter of tournament fishing. For more information about Wal-Mart, visit Wal-Mart.com.