OKEECHOBEE, Fla. (Jan. 7, 2004) – Pro Chad Grigsby of Colon, Mich., kicked off the EverStart Series season on the right foot with a five-bass limit weighing 16 pounds, 8 ounces to lead the first day of the $256,825 Lake Okeechobee Eastern Division event presented by Garmin. Two hundred pros are competing for a first-place award worth as much as $61,900, including a fully-rigged Ranger 519 VS bass boat, and 200 co-anglers are fishing for a grand prize worth as much as $35,000, including a Ranger 519 VS.

After two weeks of warm, stagnant weather, a cold front swept through south Florida dropping temperatures 15 degrees. Bass were in full-spawn mode prior to the frontal system, and many are still on beds despite the drop in temperatures. Anglers report observing bedding bass all over the lake, but sight fishing was tough Wednesday with cloudy skies, high winds and high water limiting visibility. Conditions, however, were still fairly warm (mid 60s) with clear water, and many anglers managed to catch solid limits throughout the massive lake.

“The weather really didn’t affect me much,” Grigsby said. “The wind was strong out of the north, but I was fishing a protected area on the north end of the lake. And I wasn’t exactly sight fishing.

“I was pitching into holes in the grass. I knew bedded fish were in there, but I just couldn’t see them. I’ve got a little area that is pretty good. The area I fished today was only 400 yards long, and I didn’t wear out the fish too bad. I think I can go back and do the same thing tomorrow.”

Rounding out the top five pros are Justin Schwier of Okeechobee (five bass, 16 pounds); Doug Vest of Okeechobee (five bass, 16 pounds); J.T. Kenney of Frostburg, Md. (five bass, 15 pounds, 13 ounces); and Craig Blankenship of Beckley, W.Va. (five bass, 15 pounds, 11 ounces).

Mike Drain of Purcell, Okla., leads the co-angler division with five bass weighing 15 pounds, 2 ounces. Drain caught his fish throwing a spinnerbait around open grass beds.

“I had a really good day today,” Drain said, “way better than in practice. I was having a hard time catching a limit weighing over 8 pounds in practice, but today I had a kicker fish that weighed 6 pounds, 15 ounces, and that really helps a limit. My pro partner had a good area and we were just fan casting around grass beds. I had a limit by 9:30 a.m.”

Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Gerald Smith of Louisville, Ky. (five bass, 12 pounds, 1 ounce); Asa Godsey of Clewiston (five bass, 11 pounds, 1 ounce); Donald Miller of High Point, N.C. (five bass, 10 pounds, 13 ounces); and Jerry Barnett of Uniontown, Ohio (five bass, 10 pounds, 12 ounces).

Tim Arnold of Cullman, Ala., won $750 Wednesday as the Pro Division Snickers big-bass winner with an 8-pound, 8-ounce monster bass. Drain and Kenneth Owens of Wise, Va., took co-angler big-bass honors and $125 each with 6-pound, 15-ounce largemouths.

Anglers caught 147 limits. A grand total of 1,249 bass weighing 2,161 pounds, 2 ounces were brought to the scale.

Anglers take off each morning at 7 a.m. from Okee-Tantie Recreation Area in Okeechobee. Thursday’s weigh-in will also be held at Okie-Tantie beginning at 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 2101 S. Parrott Ave. in Okeechobee beginning at 4 p.m. The community is encouraged to attend daily takeoffs and weigh-ins.

Following Thursday’s conclusion of the opening round, the top 20 pros and 20 co-anglers based on their two-day accumulated weight advance to Friday’s semifinal round. Weights are cleared for Friday’s competition, and the top 10 pros and 10 co-anglers advance to Saturday’s final round based on Friday’s total weight. Weights carry over for Saturday’s competition, and the winners are determined by the heaviest two-day weights.

The winning pro will take home a guaranteed cash award of $10,000 plus a new Ranger 519 VS 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 only Garmin electronics and at least one unit is a qualifying unit.

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 519 VS for a total of $35,000 in cash and prizes.

Four divisions – Eastern, Central, Northern and Western – comprise the 2004 EverStart Series. Each division stages four regular-season tournaments leading up to the no-entry-fee $335,975 EverStart Series Championship presented by Energizer, which will be held on Lake Cumberland near Somerset, Ky., Nov. 3-6.

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.

Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, FLW Outdoors is the world’s leading marketer of competitive fishing. FLW Outdoors-sanctioned tournament trails are the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, EverStart Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail, Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Tour and Wal-Mart RCL Walleye League. EverStart Batteries, the best-selling batteries in the world, are marketed exclusively by Wal-Mart stores.

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.