PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (Sept. 26, 2003) – Pro Art Ferguson III of St. Clair Shores, Mich., made the most of much improved conditions Friday on Lake Champlain by catching five smallmouth bass weighing 17 pounds, 6 ounces to lead 21 contenders who remained in the hunt for a $61,900 top award after Thursday’s competition in the final regular season EverStart Series tournament of 2003 was cancelled do to high winds.

“I started the season off good then went to my home waters and screwed up,” said Ferguson, who finished third at the EverStart Series Northern Division season opener on Lake Vermillion in June then a disappointing 126th on the Detroit River in July and 83rd on Lake Erie in August. “I’d like to win this one. Of course, that’s what we are all here for.”

Ferguson, who celebrated his 39th birthday Friday, caught bass in six key areas using newly introduced watermelon color Mizmo tubes on 1/4- and 3/8-ounce jig heads, a green pumpkin Senko and a Lucky Craft Sammy. “I know there are some nice largemouths in this lake, but I’ve been concentrating on smallmouths all week,” Ferguson said. “They are my specialty, and I have a few areas were I can catch some quality fish. Even if the wind blows again, I have two or three spots where I can tuck out of the wind and catch fish.”

Interestingly, Ferguson has won three other major tournaments on his birthday.

Due to a three-way tie for 19th place in the Co-angler Division on Wednesday and the cancellation of competition Thursday, 21 pros and 21 co-anglers advanced to Friday’s semifinal round instead of the customary 20 pros and 20 co-anglers. These anglers started from zero, and the top 10 pros and 10 co-anglers will fish in Saturday’s final round where they will again start from zero and compete for one day to determine the winners.

Rounding out the top five pros are Joe Lucarelli of Meredith, N.H. (five bass, 17 pounds, 3 ounces); Randy Ramsey of Battle Creek, Mich. (five bass, 16 pounds, 4 ounces); Allen Cauthen of Lancaster, S.C. (five bass, 15 pounds, 10 ounces); and Scott Green of Waterbury Center, Vt. (five bass, 15 pounds, 5 ounces).

Jeff Baffa of Tinley Park, Ill., who finished second at the Forrest Wood Open on Lake Champlain last year, led the Co-angler Division Friday with five bass weighing 16 pounds, 14 ounces.

“We fished a flat all day, but I didn’t catch a single fish while throwing into the wind or with the wind,” said Baffa, who caught all smallmouth bass using a Lucky Craft DD 78 and Pointer 100 while fishing behind Ramsey. “Casting perpendicular to the wind was the key. It’s also the same pattern that produced for me last year.”

This is only Baffa’s second time fishing Lake Champlain. He had his limit by 9 a.m.

Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Dave Linton of Twin Lakes, Wis. (five bass, 15 pounds, 7 ounces); Kevin McClurg of Huntertown, Ind. (five bass, 13 pounds, 5 ounces); Jason Sweatman of Wilmot, Wis. (five bass, 13 pounds); and Philip Borsa of Redford, Mich. (five bass, 12 pounds, 10 ounces).

A total of 184 bass, including 34 five-bass limits, were caught Friday, and more than 98 percent were released alive.

Competition resumes Saturday at 6:30 a.m. at Mooney Bay Marina in Plattsburgh followed by the final weigh-in at 3:30 p.m. at the City of Plattsburgh parking lot adjacent to the Farmer’s Market on Durkee Street. The community is encouraged to attend the takeoff and weigh-in.

The winning pro will take home a guaranteed cash award of $10,000 plus a new Ranger 519VS Comanche equipped with Garmin electronics and powered by an Evinrude or Yamaha outboard. If the winner is the original owner of a Ranger boat, he will receive an additional $10,000 cash bonus from Ranger for a total of $61,900 in cash and prizes. Ranger will also award an additional $3,000 to the winner if he is a Ranger Cup participant, and Garmin will award $1,000 to the winner if his boat is equipped with a fixed-mount Garmin Fishfinder or combination GPS/Sounder.

The winning co-angler is guaranteed $5,000 cash. If the winning co-angler is a registered Ranger owner, he will also receive a new Ranger 519VS Comanche for a total of $27,800 in cash and prizes.

Pros and co-anglers who finish in the top 40 in the regular-season standings earn an automatic berth into the no-entry-fee $335,975 EverStart Series Championship, which will be held on Old Hickory Lake near Gallatin, Tenn., Oct. 29-Nov. 1

Four divisions – Eastern, Central, Northern and Western – comprise the 2003 EverStart Series, and each division stages four regular-season tournaments leading up to the championship.

In EverStart Series competition, pros supply the boats, control boat movement and fish from the front of each boat against other pros. Co-anglers fish from the back of each boat and compete against other co-anglers.

FLW Outdoors, the world’s leading marketer of competitive fishing, administers the EverStart Series. Other FLW Outdoors-sanctioned tournament trails include the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, the Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail, the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Tour and the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye League. FLW Outdoors will award as much as $20 million through 175 tournaments in 2003.

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.

FLW Outdoors is named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood