The four-day tournament began Wednesday and will conclude Saturday with the winning pro walking away $500,000 richer. The top 48 anglers from the six-event 2004 Wal-Mart FLW Tour advanced to the championship, the most lucrative bass tournament in the history of the sport. Anglers were seeded according to their year-end ranking, with the No. 1 pro fishing head-to-head against the No. 48 seed, the No. 2 seed fishing against the No. 47 seed, and so on.
Weights were sporadic throughout the pro field Wednesday, with several anglers topping the 10-pound mark but several more faltering slightly with much lower weights. The Clausen-Schenck matchup was the last of the 24 duos to weigh in and produced the tournament’s stoutest competition.
“I think it was tough for everybody,” said Clausen, an FLW Tour rookie. “Everybody expected to catch more than they did, and it was tough to get what I got. I caught probably 25 keepers but only five good ones.”
Clausen said he caught his bass on a top-water, using light line and finesse baits. Hailing far from Alabama, Clausen believes his home-lake “disadvantage” played right into his hands. “Bass are the same everywhere,” he said. “I think it’s easier on guys who have never been here, because we don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing. There’s no letting up tomorrow when Shad and I are 6 ounces apart. There are a lot of brackets we could have been in where we wouldn’t have to catch hardly anything tomorrow.”
2004 Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year and No. 1 seed Shinichi Fukae of Osaka, Japan, brought in an 8-pound, 1-ounce limit to fall more than 2 pounds shy of his opponent, BFGoodrich Tires pro and No. 48 seed Chad Grigsby of Colon, Mich. “He’s awesome – probably the best in the world – but I’m going to do my best and just go fishing,” said Grigsby, whose five-bass limit Wednesday weighed 10 pounds, 4 ounces. Fukae said he expects perfection from himself in tomorrow’s competition.
Also falling behind is Bassmaster Classic champion Takahiro Omori of Emory, Texas, the No. 11 seed. Omori brought in five bass that weighed 7 pounds, 1 ounce but fell behind No. 38 seed Mark Rose of Marion, Ark., whose Wednesday limit weighed in at 9 pounds, 11 ounces. “Every day I fish is a good day,” Omori said. “I did the best I can, and I’ll do my best tomorrow.” If he can shrink the deficit and overcome Rose, Omori will be in a position to unite the sport’s two most prestigious bass-fishing titles.
“He’s still got one more day, and he’s on a roll,” Rose said. “The Lord blessed me with a limit today. If he beats me, he beats me.”
Local pro Todd Ary of Birmingham, a member of Team Tyson and the No. 47 seed, barely bested his opening-round opponent, Yamaha pro and No. 2 seed Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La. Ary’s four-bass catch of 7 pounds, 14 ounces was enough to top Hackney’s limit by a mere 9 ounces. Hackney is riding the heels of a stellar season on both the FLW Tour and the Bassmaster Tour, finishing second in both circuit’s year-end points standings.
“I’m fishing against the hottest angler in the world, and it messed with my head; I’m not going to lie,” Ary said. “I lost three or four but I settled down.”
Alabama pro Matt Herren of Trussville, the No. 9 seed, holds a 3-pound, 15 ounce lead over No. 40 seed Jacob Powroznik of Prince George, Va. Pedigree pro Greg Pugh of Cullman, however, is 11 ounces behind Kellogg’s pro Dave Lefebre of Erie, Pa.
The day’s biggest lead within a bracket belongs to rookie Glenn Browne of Ocala, Fla., the No. 27 seed who currently leads No. 22 seed Koby Kreiger of Okeechobee, Fla., by 9 pounds. The slimmest lead is between Fuji pro and No. 18 seed Randy Blaukat of Lamar, Mo., and Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C. Blaukat, with 9 pounds, 13 ounces, leads Gagliardi by a mere 3 ounces.
On the co-angler side, Greg Gulledge of Monticello, Ark., leads with a commanding 15-pound, 11-ounce limit, the best catch of the tournament. The 48 co-anglers compete against their entire field, with the top 24 advancing after day two. Co-angler competition concludes Friday with the winner taking home $25,000 cash.
“It’s been an awesome day – just unreal,” said Gulledge, the No. 2-ranked co-angler of 2004. “My practice wasn’t all that good, but all I need is a good tournament day.” Gulledge caught his tournament-leading stringer – one that included a 6-pound, 5-ounce bass – flipping a jig.
Competitors take off from the Pell City Lakeside Park, located at 2801 Stemley Bridge Road in Pell City, at 7 each morning, and daily weigh-ins begin at 5 p.m. at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. In conjunction with the championship is a world-class boat and outdoor show featuring more than 140 exhibits and free daily giveaways, including hats and T-shirts, tackle kits, tackle boxes, and rods and reels, at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. The outdoor show runs 2 to 8 p.m. Aug. 12, noon to 9 p.m. Aug. 13, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 14. One lucky person attending Friday’s semifinal-round weigh-in will win the newly unveiled Ranger Z-Series Comanche powered by Yamaha, and one lucky fan attending Saturday’s final weigh-in will win a NASCAR Limited Series Ranger 521VX Comanche powered by Evinrude courtesy of The Birmingham News and Birmingham Post-Herald.
Wal-Mart and many of America’s most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its six tournament trails. Wal-Mart has been the title sponsor of FLW Outdoors since 1997. For a complete list of FLW Outdoors sponsors and for more information about the premier products and services they offer, please visit FLWOutdoors.com. Day One Notes:
* Castrol pro David Dudley of Lynchburg, Va. – defending Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship winner – weighed in 3 pounds, 12 ounces on day one to trail Chris McCall of Jasper, Texas, by 4 pounds, 7 ounces. “I’ve been a professional fisherman for nine years, and this is the worst day I’ve ever had,” he said.
* Stratos pro Ricky Shumpert of Lexington, S.C., also had a tough day on the water, weighing in 3 pounds, 14 ounces. Shumpert got off to a bad start shortly after takeoff. In the process of setting the hook on a bass, the hook popped loose and his tungsten weight shot out of the water and hit him in the mouth. Shumpert suffered a broken tooth.
* Local favorite Matt Herren of Trussville weighed in 9 pounds, 5 ounces to lead his first-round opponent, Jacob Powroznik of Prince George, Va., by nearly 4 pounds. Herren, however, almost didn’t make it back to check-in. He had battery problems, and Yamaha pro Dean Rojas gave Herren and his co-angler a ride back to the ramp.
* Evinrude pro David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn., caught a respectable 10 pounds, 8 ounces on day one. Walker’s co-angler, Greg Gulledge of Monticello, Ark., really put on a show. He caught a tournament-leading 15-pound, 11-ounce limit.
* Of the 24 brackets in the Pro Division, 13 brackets are led by the lower seed.
* The two top weights in the Pro Division belonged to 7UP pro Shad Schenck of Waynetown, Ind. (13 pounds, 14 ounces) and Luke Clausen of Spokane, Wash. (14 pounds, 4 ounces). They are first-round opponents.