2006 Stren Series Championship
Wheeler Lake, Decatur, Ala.
Semifinal round, Friday
Headed for the big show … The Stren Series co-angler qualifiers for the 2007 Forrest Wood Cup have been set, and the fab five are Monte Knight from the Central Division, Alan Hench from the Northeast Division, Alan Hults from the Southeast Division, Jason Billmaier from the Western Division and Daniel Shuga from the Midwest Division. These five are the first of 81 co-anglers that will qualify for the elite Forrest Wood Cup championship event, a tournament that will feature the best of the best from all FLW Outdoors bass-tournament trails as well as The Bass Federation (TBF). The top-finishing pros and co-anglers from all five Stren Series divisions at this week’s Stren Series Championship will earn a spot in the Forrest Wood Cup. Two pros – Jason Borofka from the Western Division and Stacey King from the Midwest Division – have already secured their slot, and the final three pro positions will be determined tomorrow. Already having qualification in the bag before the 2007 season has even started certainly takes some pressure off the competitors. “That’s something I can’t even imagine or dream about,” Hench said. “Now I can go fish and just have fun. I can smile all the way back to Pennsylvania now.”
Sandi’s surprise … It is just shy of 400 miles between the tournament host city of Decatur, Ala., and Gautier, Miss., hometown of No. 5 co-angler Hults. But that didn’t stop his wife-to-be, Sandi, from making the lengthy trip to surprise her final-round flame. “She came up and practiced with me for three days, but then she had to go to work,” Hults said. “I had a tough day today, and I was kind of depressed. When we were riding back to town, I called her, and she told me she was here.” Indeed, Sandi had driven six hours to watch Hults not only collect $5,500 in winnings but also qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup. “She told me she didn’t want me to be alone,” Hults said. “It made my day.”
Electric performance … No. 7 co-angler Billmaier has been a solid presence in the Stren Series Western Division since its inception in 2003. In fact, Billmaier was the first-ever Western Division co-angler winner, having taken victory at the inaugural event on Lake Pleasant in 2003. Now, he is the first-ever Western Division co-angler to make it to the Forrest Wood Cup. How does this everyday electrician keep making history? The humble Billmaier simply shrugs, admitting that he never even realized just exactly what he has accomplished. Though he is excited about 2007, he’s not quite ready to give up his day job. “A lot of people would like to fish for a living, but I’ve got a family and priorities,” he said.
Showdown … Pros J.T. Kenney and Dave Lefebre currently sit right next to each other on the leaderboard, with Kenney ending day three in second and Lefebre in third. But what makes this matchup interesting is that they are the two pros left from the Northeast Division, meaning whoever finishes highest tomorrow will earn a ticket to the Forrest Wood Cup. Lefebre, well-known as a fierce competitor, no doubt has his juices flowing. Kenney, on the other hand, is Daytona Beach cool, and if he really cares, he’s doing a good job masking it. “It would really make next year easier, but to be honest, that’s the bottom thing on my mind,” said Kenney, adding that what he’s really shooting for this week is the Stren Series Championship title. Joked Lefebre, “I told J.T. I slacked off today because he told me he was 140th in FLW Series standings.” In fact he’s 24th, and the top 30 Wal-Mart FLW Series pros will advance to the Forrest Wood Cup. But with one FLW Series event left on the docket, Lefebre is currently fifth in points, meaning that whichever one doesn’t qualify for the Cup via the Stren Series Championship still has a pretty solid shot of making it through the FLW Series. Nevertheless, watching two of bass fishing’s hottest pros duking it out for something other than a tournament win can make for some pretty good entertainment.
Lone ranger … If anyone doubts Lefebre is le bomb, take a look at his stats. The young phenom has 26 career FLW Outdoors top-10 finishes, six of which came this season alone (including his performance this week). In fact, right now he’s riding a pretty wild hot streak in which he has landed in the top 10 his last five tournaments in a row. Unfortunately for Lefebre, he has a theory about why that might be that might not sit well with his lovely wife, Anne. “I love my wife, and we just had a baby about 55 days ago,” Lefebre said. “Ever since she quit going (to tournaments), I’ve been making top-10s.” Indeed, Anne and their son, Mitchell, are usually a fixture at tournaments in which Dave competes, but their brand-new daughter, Macy, has lately kept her home. “She’s ready to come with me to the next FLW Series, but I think I’m going to leave her at home,” Dave joked.
Taking the pressure … West Coast anglers have made their presence known in a big way the past couple of years, and they have a penchant for winning big tournaments. Washington pro Luke Clausen, of course, holds FLW Tour Championship and Bassmaster Classic titles, and this year’s FLW Tour Championship winner, California’s Brent Ehrler, won the Stren Series Championship back in 2004. So as the lone representative of the Western Division in this week’s final round, California pro Jason Borofka has a West Coast reputation to uphold. According to Borofka, Westerners have the golden touch thanks to the diversity of fisheries found in their part of the country. “I don’t know if it’s luck,” Borofka said. “We’ve got so many different bodies of water. For Western guys, it’s just easy for us to adapt.” … While Eastern competitors often bemoan the crowded conditions on often smaller lakes as well as the pressure of fishing in a 200-boat field, West Coast pros tend to have a different outlook. “We fish a lot of pressured lakes,” Borofka said. “Even with 200 boats, it’s not nearly as pressured as it is back home.” Borofka, then, should have it easy tomorrow, with only nine other pros to contend with and no co-anglers in the back of his boat. Could it be another West Coast championship victory? Anything could happen, but Borofka currently sits more than 10 pounds behind the leader.
Shepard the survivor … It’s been a while since No. 8 pro Mark Shepard has made a top-10 cut, though he did qualify for this week’s championship by ranking 23rd in Southeast Division points. One possible explanation for his lack of final-round appearances could be the fact that he has lived through four hurricanes in the last two years. He rattles off the names of the storms like some do their children: “Charley, Frances, Jeanne, Wilma,” he said. It goes without saying that Shepard suffered extensive property damage during the storms, which he says rendered his double-wide into two single wides, splitting it right down the center. “We didn’t get much help from the insurance company, really,” he said. “It’s been a struggle trying to get a roof. It’s got a blue tarp on it right now.” Many of us can’t fathom going without a roof for a few days, let alone weeks and months and now going on years. With such a set of circumstances, making the top 10 at a lucrative event such as the Stren Series Championship is going to mean a lot. “This means I can get a roof on my house,” Shepard said. … Shepard is guaranteed a paycheck of at least $8,000 thanks to his top-10 performance this week. If he finishes higher than 10th and qualifies for contingency cash, he’ll take home a lot more than that, which should afford him a new roof and then some.
5: Number of top 10 finalists from the Southeast Division, all of whom are clamoring for the one Forrest Wood Cup berth afforded to a Southeast qualifier.
3: Number of top 10 pros from the state of Florida.
3: Number of co-anglers who came up empty-handed on day three.
5-3: Co-angler champion Monte Knight’s winning catch, in pounds and ounces.
“I moved from 80th to eighth yesterday.” – No. 9 pro Stacey King, whose day-three 1-pound, 5-ounce catch puts him almost 15 pounds behind the leader. In fact, he jumped from 81st to eighth on day two, proving that anything is possible in the sport of fishing.
“I left the house, and the furnace wasn’t working. It was 20 degrees. That wasn’t a good sight.” – No. 10 co-angler Shuga, on leaving his wife in less-than-desirable conditions to come and fish this week’s championship.
“We ended that competition with a bang, didn’t we?” – Stren Series tournament director Chris Jones, after electrical power was restored in the weigh-in tent. The power had gone out immediately after the co-angler champion was crowned.
Tomorrow’s final takeoff is scheduled to take place at 7 a.m. CST at Ingalls Harbor, located off Highway 20 in Decatur.