LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. – John Billheimer Jr. of Discovery Bay, Calif., a 16-year-old pro fishing his first Stren Series event, caught a two-day total of seven largemouth bass weighing 19 pounds, 12 ounces to win the Stren Series Western Division event on Lake Havasu presented by Evinrude, which included a field of 200 pros and 200 co-anglers – the largest pro bass tournament ever held in the West. Billheimer, who won by nearly 5 pounds, earned $50,000 in cash and prizes, including a Ranger 519 VX powered by an Evinrude or Yamaha outboard, EverStart batteries, Lowrance electronics and a Minn Kota trolling motor. He is the youngest pro to ever win a Stren Series event.
“I practiced for four days and only got three bites,” Billheimer said. “On the last afternoon, I was dragging a worm through the grass under the London Bridge and got a bite. That’s all I had to really go on. So on Wednesday, I decided to start with a crankbait around the bridge. I fished there all four days. I threw a Norman DD22 in 10 feet of water. It would dig down in the mud and grass, and I would just rip it out. The fish were really lethargic, and I was getting a reaction bite all week.
“The wind was crucial. I was getting most of my bites in the afternoons when the wind kicked up, but today, there was no wind. I had one keeper at 2:30 p.m., and then I caught two in a row.”
Billheimer, a junior in high school, missed all week of school to practice and compete in the tournament.
“My parents are really supportive and know what I want to do with my life,” Billheimer said. “My goal is to make pro fishing a career. My dad knows what bass fishing means to me, so he told me as long as I keep up with my schoolwork when I’m on the road, I can fish. My dad was here all week, and my mom came down for the last day and sat on the London Bridge all day and watched me fish.
“I’d never been to Lake Havasu before, so I really feel good about the rest of the Western Division scheduled, because I know Clear Lake, Shasta and the Delta. I’m excited.”
Billheimer won a boat in a team tournament last November and decided this year was the time to move up to the front of the boat.
Rounding out the top five pros were Patrick Clement of Anderson, Calif. (seven bass, 14 pounds, 15 ounces, $10,000, plus a $1,500 Ranger Cup award); Jimmy Walker of Alpine, Calif. (five bass, 12 pounds, 12 ounces, $9,000); Fred Ward of Phoenix, Ariz. (five bass, 12 pounds, 3 ounces, $8,000); and Jimmy Reese of Witter Springs, Calif. (five bass, 11 pounds, 10 ounces, $7,500).
Terrence Rath of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., won the Co-angler Division with a two-day total of three bass weighing 10 pounds, 12 ounces and earned $5,000. Rath was paired with Billheimer both days of the final round.
“With the tough conditions, I knew it wouldn’t take much to win,” Rath said. “I caught my big fish – 4 pounds, 15 ounces – this morning and thought I had enough then to win.”
Rath, 31, is trying to save enough money to buy a boat and move to the Pro Division next year. “This win will really help me accomplish my goal of becoming a pro,” he said.
Rounding out the top five co-anglers were Lewis Southard of Chandler, Ariz. (four bass, 10 pounds, $4,000); John Rickicke of Phoenix, Ariz. (three bass, 7 pounds, $3,500); Jim Wickham of Morristown, Ariz. (two bass, 5 pounds, 8 ounces, $2,500); and Mark Walsh of Las Vegas, Nev. (two bass, 5 pounds, 2 ounces, $2,000).
Anglers caught a total of 27 bass Saturday weighing 52 pounds, 8 ounces. All bass were weighed alive.
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 Western Division event will be held March 1-4 on Clear Lake near Lakeport, Calif.
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, Wal-Mart FLW Redfish Series and Stratos Owners Tournament Trail. These circuits offer combined purses of $36.9 million through 241 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.