More than 8,000 spectators were on their feet as the Dudley-Davis matchup came down to a scant 2 pounds, 6 ounces. Unbeknownst to the crowd, Davis had weighed in all of his fish – four bass weighing 9 pounds, 4 ounces – and Dudley’s fifth and final fish weighed in at 2 pounds, 9 ounces to claim the win by a thrilling 3-ounce margin, a victory that had Dudley almost too moved to speak. His limit of five bass weighed in at 9 pounds, 7 ounces.
“That sure is a lot of money to be fishing for,” said Dudley, who was born and raised in Virginia and was thus familiar with the Commonwealth’s tidal waters. “I didn’t want to practice as much as normal because I figured things would be changing, and I learned more and more every day. God’s in control, and he doesn’t make mistakes. It’s amazing what can happen when you put your trust in God.”
Dudley began his FLW Tour career in 1996, the circuit’s inaugural year. He enjoyed his best year on the FLW Tour to date in 2003, coming in second in the Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year race to enter the tournament as the No. 2 seed. Dudley is no stranger to championship events, having qualified for seven in eight years on tour. Before Saturday’s win, his crowning achievement was the historic $700,000 win on the Mobile-Tensaw Delta at the Ranger M1 tournament in March 2002.
“Any time you’re in this type of tournament with pressure of this magnitude, you learn how to deal with it,” said Dudley, who became a first-time father less than two months ago. “It feels great.”
During the opening round, Dudley eliminated No. 47 seed Jim Moynagh of Carver, Minn., with a two-day total of 12 pounds, 1 ounce. He then picked off No. 23 seed Rick Lillegard in the semifinal round with a five-bass limit weighing 11 pounds, 10 ounces. The win is his eighth career FLW Tour top-10 finish. Dudley is also a formidable competitor on other FLW Outdoors tournament trails, including the EverStart Series and the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League. He scored an EverStart Northern Division win on Minnesota’s Lake Vermilion in June.
Dudley caught all of his bass during the semifinal and final rounds along a shallow flat at the mouth of the Appomattox using a 1/2-ounce Rabbit Dog spinner bait in chartreuse and white. “I culled three times today and broke two off,” Dudley said. “It’s the only time all year that I broke anything off, and I was very upset. I did not think that I had it won. By my calculations, it was going to take 13 pounds, and I was a long way from that.”
Before beginning his assault on the all-time money winner’s list last season and amassing $1.2 million in winnings in just two seasons, Dudley was struggling to get by, living from paycheck to paycheck and fishing tournaments from a 1997 Ranger 461 that he affectionately calls “The Green Monster.” His fortunes changed in 2001 when he signed with Castrol midway through the season. “It was definitely a turning point,” Dudley said. “They’ve been behind me and had faith in what I can do.”
To put things in perspective, Chevy pro Larry Nixon from Bee Branch, Ark., was the first angler to reach a million dollars in tournament earnings, and it took him nearly a dozen years to do it. “Larry earned every bit of his million, and I’m not going to say that I haven’t, but if the payouts had been the same, he would have won millions more,” Dudley said. “It just shows the growth of the sport, and we got into it at the right time.”
Davis earned $75,000 for his second-place run, his first career top-10 finish on the FLW Tour. “It’s very exciting,” said Davis, who advanced to the FLW Tour via the EverStart Series, where he was the Central Division points champion in 2001. “You look at these 12 (finalists), and they’re guys I idolize. It’s just incredible. The tide was so messed up and so high, but I had been catching them pretty good on a crankbait. Every day I was fortunate to catch a couple of keepers early.”
Davis finished the year in the 19th position and defeated No. 30 seed Aaron Martens of Castaic, Calif., to advance to the semifinals, where he overcame No. 43 seed Keith Williams of Conway, Ark., to earn a coveted final-round slot.
Dudley caught the lone limit in a tough day of fishing for a field dominated by veterans. Nixon blanked on the final day, as did Yamaha pro Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., who won the Shop-Vac Clean Sweep Award for catching the heaviest amount of weight over the first three days of the tournament.
Local angler John Crews of Jetersville received rousing support from the packed crowd in the Greater Richmond Convention Center but caught only one bass for 2 pounds, 7 ounces to finish eighth. He earned $24,000 for the finish.
“I was fishing low-water places, but it just wasn’t happening,” said Crews, a Yamaha pro with two years’ experience on the FLW Tour. “This was anybody’s tournament, and we all had to go out there and adjust to the fish.”
Rob Kilby of Hot Springs, Ark., caught three bass weighing 5 pounds, 15 ounces for $40,800 to claim third. Finishing fourth was Cody Bird of Granbury, Texas, with two bass weighing 3 pounds, 15 ounces that earned him $35,000. Earning the $30,000 fifth-place cash award was 7 UP pro Shad Schenck of Waynetown, Ind., with a three-bass catch weighing 3 pounds, 10 ounces. Chevy pro Kevin VanDam caught two bass weighing 2 pounds, 14 ounces to finish sixth and earn $28,000, and Jimmy Millsaps of Canton, Ga., earned $26,000 and a seventh-place finish with two bass weighing 2 pounds, 14 ounces. With Crews in eighth place, Kellogg’s pro Alvin Shaw of State Road, N.C., finished ninth and earned $22,000 with one bass weighing 1 pound, 6 ounces. Paul Elias of Pachuta, Miss., claimed the No. 10 spot and $20,000 with one bass weighing 15 ounces. Nixon finished 11th for $19,000 and Hackney finished 12th for $18,000. Ties are broken by end-of-season ranking.
The tournament began Wednesday at Osborne Marina with the top 48 pros based on year-end points standings competing head-to-head in a unique bracket-style format. During the two-day opening round, the No. 1 seed competed against the No. 48 seed, the No. 2 seed competed against the No. 47 seed, and so on. Following Thursday’s competition, the field was cut to 24, and pros continued head-to-head competition for one day to earn one of 12 final-round slots. During Saturday’s final round, the 12 anglers competed against the entire field.
Co-angler competition concluded Friday, with Ken Keirsey of Owasso, Okla., earning $25,000 as the Co-angler Division champion. Co-anglers competed against their entire field for two days, after which the field was cut to the top 24. Keirsey caught four bass weighing 6 pounds, 14 ounces to defeat second-place finisher Bret Bell of O’Fallon, Mo., by 1 pound, 14 ounces.
Surrounding the event was a world-class outdoor show held at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, site of daily weigh-ins. The outdoor show featured more than 150,000 square feet of exhibits. The event concluded with a concert featuring country music star Andy Griggs.
Coverage of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour World Championship of Bass Fishing will be featured on the “FLW Outdoors” television show, which is broadcast to 55 million subscribers on the Outdoor Life Network. The program features fishing legends Hank Parker and Larry Nixon alongside hosts Charlie Evans, Carlton Wing and Taylor Carr. Parker’s preview of the championship will air Sunday at noon CST. Tournament highlights from the championship will air Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. CST and Sept. 21 at noon CST followed by a tournament recap featuring Nixon Sept. 27 and 28.
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.