Co-angler Israel to make her fourth top-10 appearance
EUFAULA, Ala. – When all the fish were caught and weighed in today’s semifinal round, it was the proven veterans, like pro Roger Crafton, who stepped forward and took the reigns of the runaway horse that is Lake Eufaula this week. Eufaula has been kicking up bass at a near-record pace all week long. Today Crafton outwitted some of the biggest and the best of them, catching five bass weighing 20 pounds, 1 ounce to snare the Pro Division lead heading into tomorrow’s home stretch of this $185,000 EverStart Series Eastern Division tournament.
Pro Jim Blanchard of Albany, Ga., probably best described the superlative fishing conditions at Eufaula. “These fish came in as shallow as early as I’ve ever seen,” he said. “In spots, you could just cruise through the shallows and it looked like an aquarium.”
For Crafton, a native of Boca Grande, Fla., he probably couldn’t have fared any better if he had been fishing in an aquarium today. The only angler to land over 20 pounds, he fished in a protected shallow pocket located in about the middle of Lake Eufaula. All three days of the tournament, his boat, including pro and co-angler, has caught brought back over 30 pounds of bass from the same area.
“It’s hard to believe it’s holding up like that because there are other guys who are in there,” he said.
He added that on day two there were about 20 boats in the same area as he was. Today, however, only three or four boats shared the pocket with Crafton. He hopes that will ease some of the pressure going into the final round because he plans to head right back in there and use his spinnerbait and plastic worms.
“I think (the spot) will hold up tomorrow,” he said. “Hopefully, with this resting period, tomorrow will be even better.”
Crafton is no stranger to success on the EverStart circuit. In 1998, he won the EverStart Series event at Lake Santee Cooper, S.C., and has seven career top-10 appearances, including three on the EverStart Series and four on the former Red Man Tournament Trail.
The 44-year-old Crafton was just part of the veterans movement to take over the leaderboard today. The top 10 also included former EverStart winners Rodger Beaver (sixth place today) of Leesburg, Ga., Frank Poirier (third place) of Hopewell, Va., and James Nuckols Jr. (seventh place) of Rockwood, Tenn. Beaver won last year at Lake Cumberland, Ky., and Poirier won the event at Lake Eufaula in 1998. Nuckols won just last month at Lake Okeechobee, Fla., and is making a bid to be the first angler ever to win back-to-back titles on one Operation Bass tournament circuit.
Another pro angler who has looked strong this week is Jeffrey Thomas. He finished in second place today with a 19-pound, 10-ounce stringer. When asked about heading to Wal-Mart for tomorrow’s final-round weigh-in and the prospect of winning $10,000, the Broadway, N.C., native said, “Well, going to Wal-Mart is kind of my family tradition. We’d take the family out, eat some fish and go to Wal-Mart. But most of the time I spend money there.”
After Crafton, today’s top five pros were (from second through fifth place) Thomas; Poirier, with five bass weighing 18 pounds, 13 ounces; Mark Shepard of Labelle, Fla., with five bass weighing 18 pounds, 10 ounces; and Koby Kreiger of Osceola, Ind., with five bass weighing 17 pounds, 11 ounces.
EverStart newcomer grabs top co-angler position
While the pros looked to the veterans for leadership today, the co-anglers saw the rise of a rookie into first place.
Joseph Webster, 26 years old and fishing in just his first EverStart tournament, caught five bass weighing 15 pounds, 7 ounces to jump to the head of the pack. The Hamilton, Ala., native took advantage of his familiarity with Lake Eufaula and the onset of rain this afternoon to make his big catches.
“Yeah we fish here quite a bit. It helps out being familiar with the area and knowing what’s going on,” he said. “When the clouds came in and the rain started, the fish bit twice as well. I caught about two limits today. We had a good day.”
Still, one EverStart veteran to make the co-angler cut is poised to make her mark. Judy Israel of Clewiston, Fla., came in with five bass weighing 11 pounds, 6 ounces and placed eighth today. This is her fourth top-10 appearance in the Co-Angler Division on the EverStart Series, which ranks her second overall in top-10 appearances. Should she manage to win tomorrow, it would be her first-ever victory and only the second by a female angler on this circuit. And she has a fair shot at accomplishing the feat, considering she placed second at this event on Lake Eufaula in 1999.
Israel – who, remarkably, has been bass fishing with plastic baits for only about five years – has become a force to be reckoned with in the Co-Angler Division. Her husband, Abbie Israel – who placed in the co-angler top 10 in January’s Wal-Mart FLW Tour event on Lake Okeechobee – fishes all the tournaments with her.
“She is a true student of this sport,” he said. “The difference (between me and her) is that she has built a reputation (on tour). The guys listen to her. And I love it.”
Co-Angler Bruce Bowersock of Lake Worth, Fla., qualified in second place with five bass weighing 14 pounds, 13 ounces followed by Tee Watkins of East Point, Ky., with five bass weighing 14 pounds, 9 ounces.
Tomorrow, the top 10 pros and co-anglers will again start at zero for the final round. The winning pro will receive $15,000 cash and a new Ranger boat, and the winning co-angler will collect $6,000 cash.
Saturday’s final-round action begins at 6:30 a.m. at Lake Point State Park located at 104 Lake Point Drive north of Eufaula. The final weigh-in begins at 4 p.m. at the Wal-Mart Supercenter located at 1218 South Eufaula Ave. in Eufaula.
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