DECATUR, Ala. – After catching an incredible five-bass limit weighing 19 pounds, 14 ounces on a mild and calm opening day of the $1 million Stren Series Championship on Wheeler Lake, Southeast Division rookie Sam Bass of Section, Ala., caught just two bass weighing 4 pounds, 8 ounces Thursday. His two-day total of seven bass weighing 23-12 was enough, however, to keep him at the top of the leaderboard heading into the final round of competition.
“That’s fishing,” said Bass, lamenting his day-two catch. “One day you catch everything, and the next day they humble you.”
Bass caught his limit on opening day using a topwater bait in grass on Decatur Flats. On Thursday, however, he switched to a flipping laydowns in Flint Creek in an effort to seek refuge from the wind. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to fish the flats, so I had a backup plan,” he said. “But apparently, so did a lot of other people.”
Bass said he arrived in Flint Creek to find a dozen boats fishing the same areas he was targeting. Like Bass, the boats moved into the area after a cold front moved through overnight, bringing 30 degree temperatures, clear skies and strong winds to the region – conditions that made fishing open water difficult at best.
“I was knocking on wood all day long,” Bass said. “I kept thinking, `All I have to do is catch a limit, and I’ll be fishing tomorrow.'”
Fortunately for Bass, conditions were tough on everyone, and he didn’t need a limit after all. The 3-pound lead he opened on day one held up.
“There are a lot of good fishermen here, and I really left the door open,” Bass said. “I’m fortunate to have finished where I did.”
Spiderwire pro Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., held on to his No. 2 spot as well to advance to Friday’s final round of 10 pros with a two-day total of seven bass weighing 23 pounds, 8 ounces.
Ricky Scott of Van Buren, Ark. (10 bass, 23-3); Kellogg’s pro Dave Lefebre of Union City, Pa. (10 bass, 23-1) and Mark Shepard of Labelle, Fla. (10 bass, 22-3) rounded out the top five pros.
Pros Ott Defoe of Knoxville, Tenn.; Jason Borofka of Salinas, Calif.; Stacey King of Reeds Spring, Mo.; Thanh Le of Las Vegas, Nev.; and JT Kenney of Daytona Beach, Fla., also cleared the top-10 cut weight of 21 pounds, 2 ounces and will continue fishing Friday for a top award of $140,000.
Despite finishing the opening round in seventh and eighth place, respectively, King and Borofka have earned a place in the history books as the first pro qualifiers for the $2 million Forrest Wood Cup in Hot Springs, Ark., Aug 2-5, 2007. Three more pro spots are still up for grabs this week, as the top finishers from each of the Stren Series’ five divisions will secure an automatic berth into the world’s most lucrative bass tournament for a chance to win the sport’s first $1 million award.
“This was a goal of mine at the start of the season,” said King, a 12-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier. “I’m also in contention to qualify through the FLW Series, so this takes the pressure off. It’s a thrill.”
Le earned the day’s Snickers Big Bass award of $750 in the Pro Division with a 5-pound, 12-ounce largemouth that he caught on a Carolina rigged Baby Brush Hog with just seven minutes remaining to fish.
Thomas Szwankowski of Hope, Ark., leads the top 10 co-anglers in their hunt for a $70,000 payday with a two-day catch of nine bass weighing 18-10.
Szwankowski caught five bass weighing 12-7 Wednesday while fishing with Justin Kerr of Simi Valley, Calif., then added another four bass weighing 6-3 to his total Thursday while fishing with Bounty Basics pro Jacob Powroznik of Prince George, Va.
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Marty Sexton of St. Paul, Minn. (10 bass, 16-6); Alan Hults of Gautier, Miss. (10 bass, 16-5); Phillip Hudnall of Newkirk, Okla. (nine bass, 14-13); and Daniel Shuga of Botkins, Ohio (nine bass, 14-9).
Kerry Barnett of Waldron, Ark.; Jason Billmaier of Las Vegas, Nev.; Monte Knight of Quiteman, Miss.; Alan Hench of Lititz, Pa.; and Thomas Rizzo of Rochester, Pa., also cleared the top-10 cut weight of 13 pounds, 8 ounces.
Like King and Borofka, Shuga and Billmaier have also earned a place in the history books as the first co-angler qualifiers for the Forrest Wood Cup. Three more co-angler qualifiers will be determined Friday.
Shuga earned the day’s Snickers Big Bass award of $375 in the Co-angler Division with a 4-pound, 4-ounce largemouth.
Overall, 851 bass weighing 1,330 pounds, 4 ounces were caught by 156 pros and 131 co-anglers Thursday. There were 78 five-bass limits caught and more than 99 percent of the bass were released alive.
Anglers will take off from Ingalls Harbor located on Highway 20 W. in Decatur at 7 each morning. Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 2800 Spring Ave. S.W. in Decatur beginning at 4 p.m. The community is invited to attend the Family Fun Zone Friday and Saturday outside the weigh-in tent in the Wal-Mart parking lot. The Family Fun Zone, which opens at 2 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday, features interactive displays, product samples and games for the entire family to enjoy. Admission to all activities is free.
Weights will be cleared Friday, and co-angler competition will conclude with the winner determined by the day’s heaviest catch. Pro competition will conclude Saturday, with the winner determined by the heaviest cumulative weight from days three and four.
The winning pro will earn an Evinrude- or Yamaha-powered Ranger 519VX equipped with Lowrance electronics, a Minn Kota trolling motor and EverStart batteries plus $50,000 cash. If the winner is the original owner of a qualifying Ranger boat powered by an Evinrude or Yamaha outboard that is used during the tournament, he will also receive a $25,000 bonus from Ranger and an additional $25,000 Evinrude/Yamaha bonus for a total award of $140,000. The winning co-angler will receive a fully rigged Ranger 519VX plus $15,000 cash. If the winning co-angler meets Ranger and Evinrude or Yamaha contingency guidelines, he will also receive bonuses totaling $15,000 for a total award of $70,000.
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.