CLEARLAKE, Calif. (April 15, 2004) – Pro Art Berry of Hemet took over the top spot Thursday at the EverStart Series Western Division tournament on Clear Lake with a five-bass limit weighing 29 pounds, 4 ounces. Berry’s Thursday total boosted his two-day accumulated weight to 44 pounds, 13 ounces, earning him the No. 1 spot among the 20 pros who advanced to Friday’s semifinal round.

The tournament, which is presented by Evinrude, began Wednesday with 152 Pro Division anglers competing for two days to determine the top 20 pros who will fish Friday based on their two-day accumulated weight. Following Saturday’s final round, the winning pro will claim as much as $60,400 in cash and prizes. One hundred and fifty-two co-anglers were also in the hunt for a coveted semifinal-round slot in hopes of earning the top co-angler award of as much as $34,500 in cash and prizes.

Anglers were given a reprieve from the chilly rain that fell on them Wednesday but temperatures are still unseasonably cool in the Clear Lake area, leaving many anglers scrambling for a working pattern after spending several days basking in the sunshine during pretournament practice. Berry – currently No. 1 in Western Division points standings – garnered his hefty tournament lead by drop-shotting a Zoom Finesse Worm.

“I’m fishing an area with a large amount of baitfish,” said Berry, who has four EverStart Series top-10 finishes in only six career EverStart Series events. “There are a lot of threadfin shad … it’s kind of a unique area. I’m just really excited. This is a great opportunity. I’ve had lots of chances in the past, and I’d like to finally put a cap on it (with a win). I’m just looking for Angler of the Year – that’s my main goal. I’ve been fishing conservatively, and it’s gone a long way.”

Berry is no stranger to Clear Lake and was thus able to adapt fairly rapidly to the change in weather conditions. “I’ve fished this place my whole life, and I’ve seen so many tournaments where it’s nice in practice but in the tournament it gets really cold,” Berry said. “That was the hard part for me, especially at Clear Lake. Because there are so many big ones, you have a tendency to swing for the fences when just fishing will do it.”

Rounding out the top five pros are Brent Ehrler of Redlands (10 bass, 40 pounds, 6 ounces); Gabe Bolivar of Ramona (10 bass, 39 pounds, 15 ounces); Sean Minderman of Post Falls, Idaho (10 bass, 39 pounds, 11 ounces); and Wayne Breazeale of Kelseyville (10 bass, 33 pounds, 14 ounces).

Berry claimed $500 Thursday as the big-bass award winner in the Pro Division with a 12-pound monster bass. The current EverStart Series record stands at 12 pounds, 11 ounces, caught by co-angler Jeary Wheeler of Batesville, Ark., on Sam Rayburn Reservoir in 2003.

Pat Wilson of Petaluma took a 1-ounce lead in the Co-angler Division at the conclusion of the opening round with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 29 pounds, 2 ounces. Wilson is a former points champion in the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League Western Division. He has fished 17 FLW Outdoors events since 2000 and has accumulated 10 top-10 finishes, including three BFL victories.

“I’m throwing Roboworms and weightless worms,” Wilson said. “Eight to 12 pounds was my target weight each day, and I was lucky yesterday to get two 5-pounders on a stick bait. Each day I probably caught 20 keepers but not a lot of big fish. I’m just targeting keeper bites. One of the keys to doing well is that I’m using P-Line fluorocarbon; I think that’s been a big contributing factor to being able to get bites.”

Rounding out the top five co-anglers are James Rios of Brentwood (10 bass, 29 pounds, 1 ounce); Charlie Crawford of Peoria, Ariz. (10 bass, 28 pounds, 8 ounces); Brian Mlekush of Rancho Cucamonga (10 bass, 28 pounds, 1 ounce); and Dan Powers of Weaverville (10 bass, 27 pounds, 4 ounces).

Dallas Merrick of Oroville took co-angler big-bass honors Thursday and $200 thanks to an 8-pound, 6-ounce bass.

Redbud Park in Clearlake hosts daily takeoffs each morning at 7. Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 15960 Dam Road in Clearlake beginning at 4 p.m. The community is encouraged to attend daily takeoffs and weigh-ins.

The top 20 pros and 20 co-anglers will fish Friday for one of 10 slots in both divisions in Saturday’s final round. Weights are cleared for Friday’s competition, and Saturday’s winners are determined by the heaviest two-day weights.

The winning pro is guaranteed $8,500 cash plus an Evinrude- or Yamaha-powered Ranger 519 VS equipped with Garmin electronics, a Minn Kota trolling motor and EverStart Batteries, based on a 150-boat field. If the winner is the original owner of a Ranger boat, he will receive a $10,000 bonus from Ranger for a top pro award worth $60,400. If he is a qualifying participant in the Ranger Cup incentive program, Ranger will award another $3,000 cash (or $1,500 to the highest-finishing Ranger Cup participant if not the winner), and Yamaha will match 50 percent of Ranger Cup winnings if the angler’s boat is powered by a Yamaha outboard. Garmin will award the winning pro $1,000 if he uses only Garmin electronics and at least one unit is a qualifying unit.

The winning co-angler is guaranteed $4,500 cash based on a 150-boat field, and if he is a Ranger boat owner, Ranger will award him a new Ranger 519 VS for a total prize package worth $34,500. Co-anglers who make the final round of each regular-season EverStart Series event and wear an EverStart/Evinrude shirt and cap on stage are awarded points toward the EverStart Batteries and Evinrude Outboard Engines Co-angler Award. The co-angler receiving the most points by the end of the season receives a 2004 Evinrude 225HO Direct Injection outboard engine rigged on a Ranger boat equipped with a Minn Kota trolling motor and EverStart batteries.

The EverStart Series features a pro/co-angler format with pros supplying the boats, fishing from the front deck against other pros and controlling boat movement. Co-anglers fish from the back deck and compete against other co-anglers. Every angler who receives weight credit in a tournament earns points that determine angler standings. Two hundred points are awarded to the winner, 199 points for second, 198 points for third, and so on.

Designed as a pathway to the $6.8 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour, the world’s most lucrative bass-tournament series, the $3.88 million EverStart Series features four divisions – Eastern, Central, Northern and Western – with four regular-season events each. The season culminates with the $335,975 EverStart Series Championship presented by Energizer, which will be held Nov. 3-6 on Lake Cumberland near Somerset, Ky. The event will be broadcast to 65 million subscribers of the Outdoor Life Network on the “FLW Outdoors” television series. Western Division anglers who finish in the top 30 in the final points standings are eligible to compete in the championship.

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

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.