Wal-Mart FLW Tour
Lake Okeechobee, Clewiston, Fla.
Final round, Saturday
New game in town … Many truly great anglers have hoisted giant-sized winning checks over their heads at the conclusion of Wal-Mart FLW Tour tournaments since the inception of the circuit seven years ago. It could easily be argued that the best man – for the particular lake and fishing conditions – walked away with that check each time. But pro anglers were fishing uncharted territory at this year’s season opener on Lake Okeechobee – at least for the FLW Tour – when it came to the competitive format. The full field of pros was reduced to 10 finalists after the second day of angling action this year. The winner was determined by which of those 10 produced the heaviest two-day total over latter half of the tournament. Last year the full field was cut to 20 semifinalists after day two, and then day-three weights were used to determine which 10 finalists would compete for the top prize on day four.
Friends of the format … A survey of some of this year’s finalists who fished the tournament on the “Big O” indicates the anglers are pleased with the new format. Fourth place finisher Billy Bowen Jr. of Ocala, Fla., called the new format “super.” Although Bowen was fishing his first FLW tournament, he said the format seemed familiar because it is similar to the Wal-Mart BFL All-American championship, which he has fished many times. A cold front came through the area that almost froze fishing activity for most competitors. But Bowen said the two-day final format leveled the playing field for those who got hit hard. “With a two-day total weight on Lake Okeechobee, you’re not out of anything,” he said. Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tenn. – who finished in fourth and won a recent EverStart Series tournament on Okeechobee – said the new format is the way to go. “I like it better because it gives you one day to flub and one day to come back,” he said. “Just like on day two when I came back with a huge stringer.” Morgan rebounded from 32nd place to qualify for the top 10 with a day-two stringer weighing 25 pounds, 1 ounce. Morgan was able to hold onto fourth place by reeling in a 12-3 stringer today after only registering only 4-1 after day three. Boca Raton, Fla.’s Mike Surman, who finished seventh, said he is one of many fans of the new format. “I think it’s better because – the way it was set up before, there was too much of a luck factor,” he said. “It adds a lot of strategy to it. We all like it.” According to Surman, an adroit angler who has been hauling in the pounds is less likely to fall victim to a single bad day of fishing that could quickly end a run at first place. “All 10 guys get a shot … this way you get the guy who really, truly deserves to win.”
Best man … At this year’s season opener, the man who deserved to win was pro Pat Fisher of Buford, Ga. Surman called Fisher the best man on the Big O this year, but Fisher tipped his hat to the Floridian in return. “Mike Surman taught me how to fish these mats,” Fisher said. The knowledge passed from teacher to pupil paid off for Fisher, to the tune of $100,000. “I think I graduated today,” he said. “I really do.”
1,860: total number of keeper bass caught and weighed in during the 2003 FLW Tour tournament on Lake Okeechobee. Anglers weighed in 2,568 fish last year at the Big O, but the new format had fewer anglers fishing on day three
3,773-10: total weight, in pounds and ounces, of bass weighed in 2003. Last year the total weight was 4,862-7.
28.25: percentage of total weight caught on the final day by Fisher, the winning pro. Fisher was one of 10 finalists contributing to the overall total weight for day four.
8-3: weight in pounds and ounces that Fisher’s two-day, final-round total exceeded the runner-up’s two-day, final-round weight.
“I thought fish didn’t have hands, but these fish have come up with a plan.”
– Bowen describing how the bass would tease him by hitting his bait over and over, sometimes for a full minute, before he was able to set the hook.
“I kept having nightmares. I kept seeing Andy Morgan weighing in a 9-15.”
– Surman on how he had trouble sleeping on the eve of the final day. Morgan weighed in a 9-pound, 15-ounce bass on day two that surpassed Surman’s day-one, 9-14 lunker. Though Surman collected $750 from Snickers for its daily big-bass award, Morgan’s fish earned that amount plus another $1,000 for being the largest fish caught in the first two days of the tournament. It has been speculated that the bass could earn an additional $5,000 at season’s end for being the largest bass caught on the tour. Surman added, “Now Andy can leave and take my money with him, and I can stay here.”
Quick links, Day 1: