HARTFORD, Conn. – Boater Robert Walser, 46, of Lexington, N.C., caught a final-day limit of five bass that weighed 11 pounds, 11 ounces, bringing his three day total to 15 bass weighing 34 pounds, 10 ounces to grab his first All-American win and $140,000. He climbed from third to second Friday then stepped up again Saturday to win the historic $1 million Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League All-American on the Connecticut River.
“It was a big sigh of relief,” said Walser, who entered the final day of competition 6 ounces off the lead with 10 bass weighing 22-15. “It was something I needed to change, I was tired of being in the middle of the pack. I had to adjust everyday to pull these limits of fish and today I adjusted the right way. It has been peaceful all week. It’s about time and absolutely perfect.”
Walser said he was fishing mainly banks with rocks, wood and other submerged structure. “I was throwing a Weapon Jig head with a homemade skirt I’ve named my magic cricket.”
The jig was also tipped with a green-pumpkin Zoom Super Chunk trailer.
This was Walser’s 31st top-10 appearance in FLW Outdoors competition and his third straight All-American. He qualified for the All-American by finishing the season ranked third in the North Carolina Division then finishing fifth at the Clarks Hill Regional in Georgia. When he is not chasing bass, Walser works has a plumber. In addition to his $140,000 payday Saturday, Walser also earned a new Ranger boat as the highest finishing Ranger Cup participant in the All-American.
Rounding out the top-five boaters are Chad Dorland of Dunnellon, Fla. (15 bass, 32-7, $25,000); Kip Carter of Oxford, Ga. (15 bass, 30-7, $14,000 plus $9,000 Ranger bonus and $9,000 Yamaha bonus); Mark Mauldin of Cleveland, Tenn. (15 bass, 27-9, $13,000 plus $8,000 Stratos bonus and $8,000 Evinrude bonus); and Mike McDonald of Randleman, N.C. (14 bass, 27-6, $12,000 plus $7,000 Ranger bonus and $7,000 Evinrude bonus).
Joe Hunt of Lincoln University, Pa., earned $10,000 as the Yamaha “Be the Best” points champion. He finished 20th Friday with seven bass weighing 13-14 after winning the Northeast Division points race en route to qualifying for the All-American.
Eric Brantley of Springfield, Mo., earned $5,000 as the Yamaha “Be the Best” points champion in the Co-angler Division. He finished 35th Friday with three bass weighing 5-1 after winning the Ozark Division points race en route to qualifying for the BFL All-American.
The tournament began Thursday with 48 boaters and 48 co-angler representing 22 states, but only the top-10 boaters advanced to Saturday’s final round.
Co-angler competition ended Friday afternoon with William Redmond of Sciotoville, Ohio, claiming the win and $60,000 with a two-day total of nine bass weighing 14-4. He was fishing a Texas-rigged Senko over grass behind boater Todd Hollowell of Fishers, Ind., and managed to jump from 11th to first with five bass weighing 8-1.
“It’s a dream come true, and I hope to be back next year,” Redmond said.
In fact fishing the All-American was a dream come true for every qualifier as even the boater finishing in last place earned $3,500 in the no-entry-fee championship. The last place co-angler earned $2,500.
The All-American was also a dream come true for one lucky spectator who won a new Ranger 175VS bass boat powered by a 115-horsepower Yamaha outboard during the final weigh-in. This year’s lucky winner was Mike Hall of Southington, Conn.
Ten All-American qualifiers who did not advance to the final round were paired with 10 anglers representing the New England Paralyzed Veterans of America for a one-day memorial tournament on the Connecticut River Saturday. The veterans and All-American anglers were escorted to and from the launch ramp 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 also assisted NEPVA anglers during their weigh-in at the convention center. Taking first place in the memorial tournament was Larry Harris of Wilbraham, Mass., who was fishing with Michael McAtee of Waverly, Ky. The pair landed five bass weighing 8 pounds, 10 ounces.
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.