FORT MADISON, Iowa – Already committed to the 11-event, prestigious CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series, Darrin Schwenkbeck decided in June to add the CITGO Bassmaster Northern Tour circuit to his tournament angling schedule.

Schwenkbeck proved Saturday that his decision was a good one: He earned the first win of his BASS career at the CITGO Bassmaster Northern Tour on the Mississippi River with a three-day catch of 42 pounds, 12 ounces. His prize was $17,700 in cash and a Triton boat rig with Mercury outboard worth $45,000.

“Things are just starting to happen for me,” said Schwenkbeck, 38, a former owner of a landscaping business he gave up about three years ago to concentrate on fishing full-time. “It’s been a struggle, but I guess I had the [lucky] horseshoe with me this week.”

Schwenkbeck took the Day 2 lead, moving up from the fourth position after the first day of competition. Saturday, he held on handily for the win with a final-day catch of 12 pounds, 7 ounces.

“Once I had a limit, I went to my key spot I’d saved to get that one big bass,” he said.

He had a few uneasy moments Saturday before check-in and didn’t bring in a five-fish limit. “I had one that was a ‘squeaker’ [suspected of not being of legal length] so I decided to release it. I was scared to death that was the wrong decision, that the fish had been OK after all, and that releasing it would cost me the tournament.”

But Schwenkbeck prevailed without boating a limit. He said most of his fish over the three days of the Mississippi River Tour competition fell for a SPRO BronzEye frog he worked through shallow vegetation.

The Mississippi River win elevated Schwenkbeck’s standing in the Northern Tour points race from 29th to first, much closer to a coveted berth in the 2007 CITGO Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 23-25, on Lay Lake in Birmingham, Ala. The top three points finishers at the conclusion of the five-event Northern Tour will qualify for the Classic.

To date, Schwenkbeck has made five top-50 finishes at Elite Series events and sits in fifth place on the Toyota Rookie of the Year Standings. His performance on the Elite circuit, coupled with a Tour-level win, bodes well for his angling future.

Trailing Schwenkbeck was Aaron Jakub, 32, of Lincoln, Neb., and Jason Williamson of Aiken, S.C., both with a total weight of 39 pounds, 10 ounces. Jakub was awarded second place while Williamson finished third, based on a tiebreaker.

Finishing fourth was fellow Elite Series pro Paul Hirosky of Guys Mills, Pa., who had a total catch of 39-9. David Junk of Quincy, Ill., snagged fifth place with 39-4, including a 5-2 bass for the Day 3 Purolator Big Bass award and a $1,000 bonus.

In the co-angler division, the top prize of a Triton boat package valued at $30,000 was won by Aaron Geheber, whose three-day total of 24-10 earned him a win in the first Bassmaster event he’d ever fished. Geheber, a pipe fitter from Manito, Ill., said he fishes the Mississippi River often with his 10-year-old daughter, Kaelynn.

Placing second in the co-angler division was Josh Kolbinsky of Lawrenceburg, Ind., with 23-11. Rounding out the top five were Fred Dorsey of Swainsboro, Ga., with 23 pounds even; Richard Favire Jr. of Winfield Park, N.J., with 22-14; and Chip Porche of Bixby, Okla., with 22-11.

The next stop on the CITGO Bassmaster Northern Tour circuit is Lake Champlain, Aug. 17-19, in Plattsburgh, N.Y. The event will be the third of five for the Northern Tour.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208 or visit www.bassmaster.com.