CLEWISTON, Fla. (Jan. 7, 2004) – The $6.8 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour will kick off its ninth year of competition Jan. 21-24 with a $500,000 event presented by EverStart Batteries on Lake Okeechobee in Clewiston, Fla. Hosted by Roland Martin’s Marina, the tournament features 400 anglers from the United States, Japan and Australia, with 200 of the world’s best bass pros angling for a top pro award of $100,000 cash. Two hundred co-anglers will also compete for a top award of $15,000 cash.

The nation’s most lucrative bass-fishing circuit has kicked off eight of the past nine seasons from Lake Okeechobee, but don’t expect the sprawling Florida fishery to be too familiar to competitors. Local pro Scott Martin of Clewiston says water levels are at a two-year high, which means anglers could face Okeechobee conditions they haven’t seen in a while.

“That could change things up a bit, but the fish are still going to be relating heavily to the grass,” Martin said. “I look for flipping and pitching with plastics to be the dominant pattern for bigger fish.” Martin named South Bay, North Shore and Moonshine Bay as well as isolated backwater marshes and the rim canal as places likely to be holding big fish. In addition to flipping and pitching with June bug soft plastics, Martin predicts that chrome/blue Rat-L-Traps and white/gold spinnerbaits will produce plenty of keepers.

Anglers take off each morning from Roland Martin’s Marina at 7 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday’s weigh-in will also be held at the marina beginning at 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 1005 W. Sugarland Highway in Clewiston beginning at 5 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively.

The community is encouraged to attend the Family Fun Zone Friday and Saturday outside the weigh-in tent in the Wal-Mart parking lot. The Family Fun Zone features interactive displays, product samples and games for the entire family to enjoy. The Fun Zone will open Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m.

The full field competes in the two-day opening round for one of 10 slots in Friday’s competition based on their two-day accumulated weight. Weights are cleared for day three, and co-angler competition concludes following Friday’s weigh-in. The 10 pros continue competition Saturday, with the winner determined by the heaviest two-day weight.

In FLW Tour competition, pros and co-anglers are randomly paired each day, with pros supplying the boat, controlling boat movement and competing against other pros. Co-anglers fish from the back deck against other co-anglers.

The Okeechobee event marks the beginning of the most lucrative FLW Tour season to date, as the popular tournament series features a $6.8 million purse in 2004, including two $500,000 events, two $900,000 events and two $1.25 million Open events during the regular season. Each event leads up to the historic $1.5 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship, which will be held Aug. 11-14 on Logan Martin near Birmingham, Ala. The prestigious championship features 48 pros, 48 co-anglers and bass fishing’s largest guaranteed cash award – a $500,000 first-place prize for the winning pro. Held in conjunction with the tournament is a world-class outdoor show, featuring booths and displays for everything from crankbaits to bass boats.

Coverage of the Lake Okeechobee tournament will be broadcast to 65 million subscribers of the Outdoor Life Network on the “FLW Outdoors” television program. A tournament preview show featuring bass-fishing legend Hank Parker will air Feb. 8 at 1 p.m. Eastern time and Feb. 12 at 5 p.m. Eastern time, and fishing fans can watch the tournament weigh-in with hosts Carlton Wing, Taylor Carr and Charlie Evans Feb. 15 at 1 p.m. and Feb. 19 at 5 p.m. Eastern time. Tournament veteran Larry Nixon will host a tournament wrap-up show Feb. 22 at 1 p.m. Eastern time, and that show will re-air Feb. 26 at 5 p.m. Eastern time.

The second regular-season FLW Tour stop will be held Feb. 11-14 on the Atchafalaya Basin near Morgan City, La., followed by a stop March 10-13 on Old Hickory Lake in Gallatin, Tenn., and the Wal-Mart Open on Beaver Lake near Rogers, Ark., March 31-April 3. Kentucky Lake near Benton, Ky., will host the fifth tour stop May 12-15 followed by the Forrest Wood Open on Lake Champlain near Plattsburgh, N.Y., June 23-26.

Named after Forrest L. Wood, the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, the Wal-Mart FLW Tour is administered by FLW Outdoors, the world’s leading marketer of competitive fishing. Other FLW Outdoors-sanctioned tournament trails are the EverStart Series, the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Tour, the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye League and the Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail.

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.