HARTFORD, Conn. – Boater Dalton Bobo of Northport, Ala., caught five bass weighing 14 pounds, 15 ounces to grab the opening-day lead in the $1 million Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League All-American presented by Chevy – one of the longest running and most respected championships in competitive bass fishing. Ninety-six of the nation’s best weekend anglers, representing 22 states, are competing in the event, which offers $140,000 to the winning boater and $70,000 to the winning co-angler.
Anglers are facing typical river conditions – the ever-present obstacles presented by current and rapidly changing water clarity due to high water. They also have to deal with tidal influences to access some out-of-the-way fishing areas. Temperatures were hot and the air was humid with light showers to start the competition Thursday, but the forecast calls for improved conditions the rest of the week.
Bobo used a variety of topwater lures to catch his bass in 2 to 5 feet of water, but the bait he focused on most was a buzzbait. “I had the weather, with the clouds and all, to throw it all day,” he said.
He started the day intent on fishing backwater areas but arrived only to find them without any water thanks to receding river levels. “I knew the fish were there, but I couldn’t get to them,” Bobo said, who changed tactics on the fly and found quality bass on submerged grass and wood. “I think I figured the fish and the tide out today.”
Bobo qualified for the All-American through the Dixie Division, where he finished fifth in the points standings and third in the Clarks Hill Regional Championship. He now holds an impressive lead of 3 pounds, 7 ounces in the biggest tournament of his life. He also caught the day’s largest bass in the Boater Division, a 5-pound, 11-ounce largemouth. If it holds up through Saturday as the Snickers Big Bass for the division, he will receive a $1,000 bonus.
Rounding out the top-five boaters are Christopher Carmell of Virginia Beach, Va. (five bass, 11 pounds, 8 ounces); Robert Walser of Lexington, N.C. (five bass, 11 pounds, 4 ounces); Jeremy T. Lawyer of Sarcoxie, Mo. (five bass, 11 pounds); and Kip Carter of Oxford, Ga. (five bass, 10 pounds, 12 ounces).
Only the top-10 boaters following Friday’s weigh-in will advance to Saturday’s final round where competitors maintain their two-day total weight and fish for the heaviest three-day weight to determine the winner.
Michael Wright of Covington, Ga., who qualified through the Bulldog Division and the Lake Toho Regional, leads the Co-angler Division by only a few ounces with a five-bass limit weighing 8 pounds, 15 ounces. “I had a great time,” Wright said. “It took me all day to get my fifth fish, but I finally got it.”
Wright was fishing mainly finesse gear around grass and laydowns in 2 to 8 feet of water. Specifically, he was throwing Zoom finesse soft-plastics to catch his limit of bass.
Rounding out the top-five co-anglers are Carl Whipple of Fredericksburg, Va. (four bass, 8 pounds, 11 ounces); Anthony Ferdinando of Spicewood, Texas. (five bass, 8 pounds, 5 ounces); Pat Lay of Cleveland, Tenn. (five bass, 8 pounds, 2 ounces); and Keith L. Smith of Madison, Miss. (four bass, 7 pounds, 13 ounces).
The co-angler champion will be determined at Friday’s weigh-in based on two-day total weight.
Brandon Wallen of Monticello, Ky., caught the day’s largest bass in the Co-angler Division, a 4-pound, 7-ounce largemouth. If it holds up through Friday as the Snickers Big Bass for the division, he will receive a $1,000 bonus.
Takeoffs start at 7 a.m. from Riverfront Plaza in downtown Hartford, and anglers will weigh-in each day at 4 p.m. at the Connecticut Convention Center located at 100 Columbus Blvd. in Hartford. Surrounding the weigh-in is the Family Fun Zone and outdoor show which opens at 2 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday. The show features games and product displays for fishing fans of all ages to enjoy.
Admission is free and the first 300 children 12 and under accompanied by an adult who attend the outdoor show Friday will receive free Stren fishing line. On Saturday, the first 300 children will receive a free Rod and Reel combo plus a free FujiFilm camera. One lucky spectator attending the final weigh-in Saturday will also win a new Ranger 175VS bass boat powered by a 115-horsepower Yamaha outboard. Official entry forms for the Ranger boat giveaway are available at the Outdoor Show at the Connecticut Convention Center, and you must be present Saturday during the 4 p.m. weigh-in to win.
Oak Hill, an organization providing services and solutions for people with disabilities, will host a youth fishing derby at Great River Park in East Hartford from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday. Seventy youths are schedule to participate with top finishers in each age bracket to be recognized at 3 p.m. on stage at the Connecticut Convention Center prior to the All-American weigh-in. The derby is being sponsored locally by the Mark Sepkaski and Keith Mazerolle Foundation and the law offices of Trantolo & Trantolo.
On Saturday, 10 All-American qualifiers who do not advance to the final round will be paired with 10 anglers representing the New England Paralyzed Veterans of America for a one-day memorial tournament on the Connecticut River. This tournament honoring servicemembers wounded in the line of duty will launch from Charter Oak Landing at 8:30 a.m. Weigh-in for the memorial tournament will be held at the Connecticut Convention Center at 2 p.m. The veterans and All-American anglers will be escorted to and from the launch ramp Saturday by the Nam Knights of America, a Harley Davidson motorcycle club comprised of military personnel and law enforcement officers dedicated to honoring the memory of all veterans. Representatives of the Nam Knights will also assist NEPVA anglers during the weigh-in.
This year’s championship marks the 22nd anniversary of the first $100,000 award in competitive bass fishing. That historic award was presented to 1984 All-American champion Shaw Grigsby of Gainesville, Fla., for his victory on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in Florida. All-American qualifiers represent the best of more than 30,000 BFL participants nationwide.
The All-American and its lucrative cash awards present a unique opportunity for qualifiers looking to launch a professional bass-fishing career. Former All-American contenders who have become fishing superstars on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour include Kellogg’s pro Clark Wendlandt and four-time FLW Tour champion David Fritts.
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 presented by Abu Garcia, Stratos Owners’ 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 Wal-Mart FLW Striper Series. These circuits offer combined purses exceeding $37.9 million through 249 events in 2006.