2007 Wal-Mart FLW Tour
Detroit River, Detroit, Mich.
Opening round, Friday
Battle of the titans … Shinichi Fukae made things interesting yesterday, but ultimately Jay Yelas emerged the victor in the 2007 Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year race, becoming only the second angler to have ever won the title twice. Yelas entered this week’s tournament ranked No. 1 by a slim 26-point margin over Fukae, and yesterday, Fukae outfished Yelas by 36 places, temporarily handing the Japanese pro the AOY point lead by 10 points. While Fukae ultimately finished higher in the tournament, Yelas improved his catch today and moved 21 spots up the leaderboard to 25th, while Fukae fell from 10th to 19th. That put only six positions between Fukae and Yelas and handed Yelas back the AOY lead. Unofficial point totals give Yelas the title over Fukae by 20 points. “Shin’s a great fisherman,” Yelas said. “He passed me by yesterday, and I came in today thinking I didn’t have a chance.” Complicating matters were the two or three fish Yelas said he lost yesterday. In a race that very well could have down to ounces, those fish were mighty important. Today, though, he caught a 5-pound, 5-ouncer en route to his 18-pound, 4-ounce total day-two haul to secure his place in the record books. “It’s such an honor,” Yelas said. “Look at what a great fisherman (Fukae) is. I’m actually in shock. I thought my fish only weighed 14 pounds, but that’s what I thought I needed, about 18 pounds.” … Some might say luck was on Yelas’ side yet again, but he tells a different story, giving most of the credit to God and the rest to his ever-evolving tackle selection. “I was definitely blessed with big fish this year,” he said. “God’s favor was with me – I caught many more big fish than I normally catch in a year. Plus, I really embraced the swimbait technique. That’s how I caught the majority of my fish in four of the six tournaments.” In addition to his trusty swimbait, Yelas also extensively relied on a Berkley Gulp this season and credits that too with his success. “These type of fishermen, you have to have an edge, lure- and technique-wise,” he said. “That swimbait is made in California, and hardly anyone has it in their tackle box. A lot of these guys use a Gulp, but a lot of them don’t. It’s important to be innovative and to look for ways to improve. You can’t stick with the same lures until you die. Most of my fish came on lures that have never been in my tackle box until this year. But I still give God all the glory.” … Yelas joins Clark Wendlandt as the only two-time anglers of the year in FLW Tour history, as Wendlandt earned the title in 1997 and 2000. “It’s hard to put that into words,” said Yelas of his reaction to joining Wendlandt in such a rarified category. Yelas was previously AOY in 2002. “It’s a tremendous accomplishment against this caliber of fishermen. You have to have so many things go your way.” Things didn’t always go Yelas’ way this season, though truthfully his only misstep was at the season opener on Lake Travis. There he finished 78th, but his saving grace was his next three tournaments, where he finished in the top 10 each time, including two second-place finishes on Lake Norman and Beaver Lake. “When we started the year, I bombed out the first tournament,” he said. “To come back from a horrific start is hard to believe. Angler of the year was never on my mind until I got those three top-10s in a row.” … With Yelas’ solid performance this week, his tournament on Lake Travis remains the only event this season where he finished lower than 25th. With results like that, Yelas continues to demonstrate to fishermen young and old what it takes to finish first. For the title, Yelas earned $25,000 cash plus a fully rigged Ranger boat powered by Yamaha.
Happy to compete … Like Yelas, Fukae had his own second Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year title on the line, as Fukae ended the 2005 season ranked No. 1. Though the race came down to the wire and Fukae put up a good fight, the trophy was ultimately not to be his. “It was great but a little bit disappointing,” Fukae said via translation by his wife Miyuki. “Jay and Mark Davis, they are veteran pros. I have only fished for a couple of years in the United States, and I have learned from them lots of things.” … Fukae finished ahead of Davis, the only other angler to threaten for the AOY title. “I am happy to compete with Jay and Mark,” Fukae said. “If I can’t win, I am just happy to compete.”
Shopping at Mark Davis Bait and Tackle … Yelas and Davis have more in common than their Yamaha jerseys and their mutual quest for the Angler of the Year title. The pair are old friends who often room together while on the road at tournaments. The drama was hyped up at today’s weigh-in, as officials held Davis’ catch until the very end, as he was the final angler with any chance at dethroning Yelas from his No. 1 position. Ultimately, Davis finished the season with an unofficial total of 1,028 points, 46 behind Yelas, and he had a lot to say about his good pal earning another AOY trophy, though quite a bit of it was tongue in cheek. “Jay and I are best friends,” Davis said. “Most of these tournaments, he won’t have the right baits. I keep him stocked – my truck is like a tackle store. I also do all the cooking and most of the eating.” When he finally did get serious, Davis’ happiness for his friend was evident. “That was a goal of mine this year,” Davis admitted of the AOY crown. “I did have my sights set on it, and I tripped up at Lake Norman. But angler of the year couldn’t have gone to a better guy.”
Caraballo earns co-angler points title … While most of the focus this afternoon was on Yelas and his Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year title, co-angler Jess Caraballo earned a title of his own – 2007 Castrol Co-angler of the Year. Caraballo entered this week’s event ranked No. 1 and finished 73rd in this week’s event to clinch the Co-angler of the Year crown. It was not without sweaty palms and sleepless nights, though, as Caraballo dropped the ball a bit yesterday, bringing in only 5 pounds, 4 ounces to sit all the way down in 145th. “I had a really good practice, and I was pretty confident,” Caraballo said. “Then yesterday I only caught three fish, and all three of them died. Last night, it seemed insurmountable. I said, `I’m going to go to sleep, and hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.'” Indeed it was. Caraballo rebounded, bringing in five fish, all alive, that totaled 16 pounds, 10 ounces to raise his two-day total to 21 pounds, 14 ounces and bump himself 72 points up the leaderboard. “I was aiming for 18 pounds,” Caraballo said. “I only had four fish with 10 minutes to go, and I ended up catching two in 10 minutes.” …. Caraballo credits his practice time with pro Gabe Bolivar this season as the key to his success. “That played a big part,” he said. Caraballo is also nursing big dreams to switch to the pro side, something he hopes will happen should his primary sponsor, Gain, approve. “I’d like to fish pro; that’s my goal,” he said. “I fished (as a co-angler) last year and this year, and it was my goal to qualify in the top 10 so I could qualify as a pro. I’m pretty ambitious.”
The leaderboard shuffle … Many competitors noted for their Detroit River prowess failed to impress yesterday, including pretournament favorites Kevin Vida and Vic Vatalaro. Both rebounded in a big way today, though unfortunately for Vatalaro, that didn’t show up so much in the standings. Vida was visibly dazed and confused over his paltry day-one catch of only 10 pounds, 13 ounces that had him in 135th place, but he rebounded today with a limit weighing 20 pounds, 13 ounces that moved him all the way to 47th. That put him in check range and may also have put him back into the Forrest Wood Cup, which he had presumably dropped out of yesterday. The official field for that event will be released following the conclusion of this week’s tournament. … Vatalaro lives near the Ohio shores of Lake Erie and has accumulated numerous top-10 finishes there, so his day-one weight of 2 pounds, 7 ounces was most surprising. Languishing in 183rd place, he practically had nowhere to go but up, and while he ultimately finished the tournament 138th, he did come back mightily today, bringing in a limit worth 20 pounds, 8 ounces that boosted his two-day total to 22 pounds, 15 ounces. It may not have earned him a check, but perhaps it gave him his confidence back. … On the flip side, Alabama pro Brent Crow enjoyed a top-10 perch on day one with 19 pounds, 2 ounces but plunged 100 spots down the leaderboard to 107th after catching only 6 pounds, 15 ounces today.
Come on to Huron … When the tournament destination reads “Detroit River,” it is understood that also pretty much means a Lake Erie tournament, with a few fish also being brought in from Lake St. Clair. What is not often heard are tales of the trip to Lake Huron during a Detroit River event, but that’s exactly what pro Wesley Strader did today, making an 85-mile run to the other Great Lake. “The fish there are a lot bigger,” Strader said. “I had fished there before, so I went up on a whim. I was around plenty of fish, but they wouldn’t bite.” Indeed, Strader brought in only 8 pounds today, quite a bit less than the 13-9 he weighed in on day one when he did not fish all the way in Huron. “I didn’t make it yesterday because it was so rough,” he said. “Today I gambled. It didn’t work.” All in all, though, Strader says he has no regrets, despite the long trip that ultimately landed him in 152nd place. “I knew what I had to do,” he said.
4,191-3: Weight, in pounds and ounces, of fish brought in by both pros and co-anglers on day one, when high winds and rough seas prevented many from making the run to bass-rich Lake Erie.
4,812-5: Weight, in pounds and ounces, brought in by competitors on day two, when calmer winds prevailed and more anglers made the Erie run.
22-12: The heaviest limit weighed in so far this week, brought in today by No. 2 pro Shad Schenck.
5-13: Weight, in pounds and ounces, of the day’s heaviest bass, caught by Vida.
36-12: Pounds and ounces needed to make the top-10 pro cut.
“I’ve played the lottery before and felt like I could win it.” – Pro David Walker, on qualifying for the Forrest Wood Cup, where he has about a 1 in 80 chance of winning the $1 million top prize.
“My co-angler beat me like a yard dog.'” – The ever-colorful Cody Bird, whose day-two catch of 13-12 was bested by his co-angler Eddie Griggs’ 15 pounds.
“Pretty embarrassing, actually.” – Co-angler Ron Norris, on what it’s like to fish with leading pro and Lake Erie machine Steve Clapper, Norris’ day-two partner.
“I’ve been called reigning angler of the year and now former angler of the year, but hopefully soon I’ll be called two-time angler of the year.” – 2006 points champion Anthony Gagliardi.
Tomorrow’s takeoff is scheduled to take place at 6:30 a.m. Eastern time at Elizabeth Park Marina, located at 202 Grosse Isle Parkway in Trenton.