Although primarily considered a Southeastern sport, anglers from the West have reigned supreme in FLW Outdoors events this season. In addition to Ehrler’s victory at the EverStart Series Championship, Moorpark, Calif., co-angler Gary Collins earned the EverStart Series/Evinrude Outboards Co-angler of the Year award, and Spokane, Wash., pro Luke Clausen earned $500,000 in August as the Wal-Mart FLW Tour champion.
Despite a dominant season in the EverStart Series Western Division in which he ranked third on the strength of two top-four finishes, Ehrler believed he lost the tournament Saturday when he lost a 3-pound bass. “I knew I’d lost,” said Ehrler, who was the No. 1-ranked angler in the Western Division in its inaugural season in 2003. “I snapped one of them off yesterday, and today I snapped another one off – a 3-pounder – and I go, ‘That’s the tournament. I’m done. I’m going home; I didn’t win it, and that’s it.’ I just can’t believe it. I’ve never won a major tournament before, and this has just been huge. I could cry right now.”
Ehrler overcame a tough challenge from local pro H.C. Sumpter of Nancy by throwing a jig the entire tournament. Saturday he fished an area in the back of Beaver Creek. “I was fishing a little point that comes out in the creek channel,” he said. “I honestly didn’t think I had enough. I love fishing out here. Kentucky’s absolutely amazing.”
Rounding out the top five pros are Sumpter (nine bass, 10 pounds, 3 ounces, $20,000); Lloyd Pickett Jr. of Bartlett, Tenn. (five bass, 9 pounds, 14 ounces, $15,000); Pedigree pro Greg Pugh of Cullman, Ala. (six bass, 8 pounds, 5 ounces, $12,500); and Warren Wyman of Calera, Ala. (four bass, 8 pounds, 3 ounces, $10,000).
Ehrler won a $500 Wal-Mart gift card as winner of the Energizer Keeps on Going Award, which is given to the pro angler who comes from the farthest behind on opening day to advance to the final round. Ehrler finished 68th on day one. He also earned the Schick Close Finish Award – a $100 Wal-Mart gift card – for entering the final round in the last qualifying position, 10th place.
Mark Fletcher of Palmetto, Ga., earned the $1,000 Snickers Big Bass Award for catching the heaviest bass during the first two days of the championship, a 5-pound, 11-ouncer.
Ronald Mueller of Prosperity, S.C., caught four bass Friday that weighed 5 pounds, 1 ounce to emerge as the 2004 EverStart Series champion in the Co-angler Division. For the win, he earned $10,000 cash plus an Evinrude- or Yamaha-powered Ranger boat equipped with a Minn Kota trolling motor, Garmin electronics and EverStart batteries. He ranked 10th in the Eastern Division of the EverStart Series to qualify for the championship.
The $335,975 tournament, which was presented by Energizer, began Wednesday with the top 40 pros and co-anglers from the Eastern, Central and Northern divisions of the EverStart Series and the top 30 from the Western Division competing for two days for one of 10 final-round slots. The 10 finalists started at zero Friday, and co-angler competition concluded. The 10 pros continued competition Saturday with the winner determined by the heaviest two-day catch weight.
Each EverStart Series division features four regular-season events that lead to the championship. Every angler who receives weight credit in a tournament earns points, and these points determine angler standings and thus the championship field.
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.
Coverage of the EverStart Series Championship will be broadcast to 65 million subscribers of the Outdoor Life Network on “FLW Outdoors.” The show will air Sunday, Nov. 21 at 1 p.m. EST and again Wednesday, Nov. 24 at 5:30 p.m. EST.
FLW Outdoors is the industry’s premier provider of sport-fishing tournaments, including the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, the world’s most lucrative bass-fishing circuit; the EverStart Series, known as the gateway to the FLW Tour; the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League for weekend anglers; the Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail; the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Tour, the world’s most lucrative walleye-fishing circuit; the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye League for weekend anglers; the Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour, the world’s most lucrative kingfish series; and the Wal-Mart FLW Redfish Series. For more information, visit FLWOutdoors.com.