While most anglers fishing the $900,000 tournament presented by Snickers were flipping mats or rolling spinnerbaits in Moonshine Bay, Fukae opted to fish South Bay, where he practiced 18 days in search of clear water. Fishing in about a foot of water, Fukae located his bass using a small Japanese swimbait. Once a fish showed itself by short-striking the swimbait, Fukae would immediately cast back to the fish using a green pumpkin 5-inch Senko rigged with a 1/8-ounce weight on 14-pound line for added sensitivity.
"I worked very hard and it paid off," said Fukae, who earned three top-10s in 2004. "No Christmas, no New Year, just fishing. This feels better than angler of the year, because I wanted to prove to others and myself that I could win."
On opening day, Fukae caught five bass weighing 13 pounds, 2 ounces to finish in 22nd place. He then upped the ante Thursday with five bass weighing 16 pounds, 8 ounces to advance to the final round as the No. 3 seed. On Friday, he retained the No. 3 position with five bass weighing 14 pounds, 8 ounces, just 2 pounds, 13 ounces behind day-three leader Keith Pace of Monticello, Ark. A five-bass catch weighing 14 pounds, 1 ounce secured the $100,000 win for Fukae on Saturday.
Harrison, an FLW Tour veteran who had a breakout year in 2005 with a top-10 finish in the regular season and a 12th-place showing at the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship, finished second and earned $36,000 with a final-round total of 10 bass weighing 26 pounds, 4 ounces. On opening day, Harrison was second with five bass weighing 18 pounds, 14 ounces. He landed another five bass weighing 7 pounds, 8 ounce Thursday to qualify for the final round as the No. 5 seed. On Friday, Harrison slipped to eighth-place when he weighed in five bass for 7 pounds, 3 ounces. Saturday was another story, however, as he weighed in the third heaviest limit of the tournament, 19 pounds, 1 ounce
Harrison's bait of choice was a white 3/8-ounce Chatterbait manufactured by Rad Lures - the same bait that won the Stren Series season opener on Lake Okeechobee earlier this month. Harrison threw the bait along the edges of isolated reeds in Moonshine Bay. The lure produced a 6-pounder and a 7-pound, 15-ounce largemouth for Harrison on Saturday.
Rounding out the top five pros were Pace (10 bass, 25 pounds, 11 ounces, $25,000); Kelly Jordon of Mineola, Texas (10 bass, 24 pounds, 10 ounces, $20,000); and Team Chevy pro David Fritts of Lexington, N.C. (10 bass, 19 pounds, 7 ounces, $18,000).
Tim Johnson of Dallas, Ga., earned a $20,000 victory in the Co-angler Division Friday with five bass weighing 8 pounds, 9 ounces. He caught the bass casting a Rat-L-Trap to an open-water ditch while fishing with Fritts. The ditch dropped from 1 to 5 feet and, according to Johnson, appeared to be a spawning area.
"This feels great," said Johnson, who has earned two top-10s in Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League competition since 2003. "This is the first tournament that I've ever fished as a co-angler. I normally fish as a boater, and I thought that it would be hard fishing in the back of the boat, but I had three terrific partners this week."
Rounding out the top five co-anglers were Fred Martin of North Little Rock, Ark. (four bass, 6 pounds, 9 ounces, $10,000); Ron Chapman of Lake Quivira, Kan. (three bass, 6 pounds, 8 ounces, $9,000); Randy Clark of Mobile, Ala. (five bass, 5 pounds, 13 ounces, $8,000) and James Fredieu of Saint Martinville, La. (three bass, 5 pounds, 3 ounces, $7,000)
Overall, 48 bass weighing 100 pounds, 8 ounces, including eight five-bass limits, were caught Saturday by the 10 pro finalists.
The next FLW Tour stop will be the $1.25 million Chevy Open on Lake Murray in Columbia, S.C., February 8-11 followed by a stop presented by A&W Root Beer on Pickwick Lake in Florence, Ala., March 1-4. The $1.25 million Wal-Mart Open powered by Tyson will visit Beaver Lake in Rogers, Ark., April 5-8, then it's off to Kentucky Lake May 10-13 for a tournament presented by Pedigree. The final regular-season stop, presented by Kellogg's, runs June 21-24 on Lake Champlain in Plattsburgh, N.Y.
Each tournament takes the world's best anglers a step closer to the $1.5 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship and Outdoor Show presented by Castrol, which will be held Aug. 2-5 on Logan Martin Lake in Birmingham, Ala. The prestigious championship hosted by Birmingham, Pell City and St. Clair County features 48 pros, 48 co-anglers and bass fishing's largest guaranteed cash award - a $500,000 first-place prize for the winning pro. Held in conjunction with the tournament is a world-class outdoor show featuring more than 140 exhibits.
Coverage of the Lake Okeechobee tournament will be broadcast to 78 million FSN (Fox Sports Net) subscribers in the United States as part of the "FLW Outdoors" television programs airing Feb. 19 and Feb. 26. "FLW Outdoors" airs Sunday mornings at 11 Eastern time. "FLW Outdoors" is also broadcast internationally to more than 300 million households in such countries as Germany, China, South Africa, Australia, Malaysia, Russia, Hungary and the United Kingdom, making it the most widely distributed weekly outdoor-sports television show in the world. Additionally, FLW Outdoors is proud to provide tournament coverage to more than 800,000 service members stationed around the world in 177 countries and aboard naval ships through broadcasts on the American Forces Network.
Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, FLW Outdoors administers the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Series, Stren Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye League, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Series and Wal-Mart FLW Redfish Series. These circuits offer combined purses exceeding $36.5 million through 235 events in 2006.
For more information about FLW Outdoors and its tournament programs, visit FLWOutdoors.com or call (270) 252-1000.
Wal-Mart and many of America's largest and most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its tournament trails. Wal-Mart signed on as an FLW Outdoors sponsor in 1997 and today is the world's leading supporter of tournament fishing. For more information about Wal-Mart, visit Wal-Mart.com.