BUFFALO, N.Y. (Aug. 26, 2004) – It’s a smallmouth-catching frenzy this week on Lake Erie, as EverStart Series Northern Division competitors have milked the legendary fishery for 312 five-bass limits over two days. With two days left of competition, Brian Hensley of Edwardsburg, Mich., leads the pro field with a two-day catch of 10 bass weighing a hefty 40 pounds, 6 ounces. Although Hensley led the opening round by a 14-ounce margin, weights are cleared for tomorrow’s semifinal round, and he will start at zero along with 19 other semifinal-round pros.

Lake Erie waves pounded competitors’ boats even harder Thursday, forcing some anglers to leave their bass-laden honeyholes in search of calmer hot spots. Included in the group of movers was Hensley, but in his case, the move paid off.

“It was rough today,” said Hensley, who caught his bass in 30 to 40 feet of water on an ISG Dream Tube and a prototype drop-shot bait. “I fished as long as I could on a spot I wanted to fish. It got to the point where every wave was starting to come over the front, and I didn’t feel comfortable, so I abandoned that. I found a new area relatively close that I had not fished and caught several of my really good fish there, so I’m excited about that.”

Hensley estimates his biggest catch of the day weighed around 5 pounds, 5 ounces. In the past, Hensley has found success on the other end of Lake Erie near the Detroit River, posting two EverStart Series top-10s and two Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League top-10s there since 1999.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been to this side of the lake,” he said. “I haven’t really spent a lot of time out here. I came over last week to fish, went home, fished a BFL on the Detroit River, got back, fished Sunday, and then Monday we couldn’t go because it was so windy. So it’s been limited.”

Rounding out the top five pros are Mike Desforges of Burlington, Ontario (10 bass, 39 pounds, 8 ounces); Thomas Lavictoire of West Rutland, Vt. (10 bass, 36 pounds, 4 ounces); Michael Trickler of Waterloo (10 bass, 36 pounds, 4 ounces); and Butch Dobransky of Canton, Ohio (10 bass, 35 pounds, 9 ounces).

Karl Tripple of Ilion leads the 20 co-anglers who advanced to the semifinal round with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 32 pounds, 14 ounces. Tripple caught his bass on tubes and drop-shots and left today’s competition with a bit more respect for his pro partners.

“I’ll tell you what, it was just a matter of the guy in the back of the boat holding his mouth right while the guy in the front of the boat does a good job moving around,” said Tripple, who has one career EverStart Series top-10 finish in four tries. “It’s tough for these guys because (the rough water) kind of handicaps you in the front of the boat. I’ve run a lot of big lakes, but nobody gets used to water like this. It’s an awesome lake, but boy, it can be treacherous out there.”

Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Jeff Harris of Grand Blanc, Mich. (10 bass, 31 pounds, 2 ounces); Larry Evans of South Point, Ohio (10 bass, 30 pounds, 8 ounces); Mark McNeil of Ledyard, Conn. (10 bass, 30 pounds, 3 ounces); and Lou Zahra of Warrensburg (nine bass, 29 pounds, 12 ounces).

Trickler earned $750 Thursday as the Pro Division big-bass winner with a 5-pound, 15-ounce bass. Three co-anglers caught a 5-pound, 3-ounce bass to tie for co-angler big-bass honors. Jim Short of Ocean Pines, Md., Bob Popp of Minetto, and Darell Craft of Morristown, Tenn., each earned $83 for their big bass.

NFTA Boat Harbor in Buffalo hosts daily takeoffs at 7 a.m. Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will begin at 4 p.m. at the Wal-Mart store located at 4255 McKinley Parkway in Hamburg. The community is encouraged to attend daily takeoffs and weigh-ins.

The tournament began Wednesday with 184 pros and 184 co-anglers competing for two days to determine the top 20 in both divisions that will compete on day three. Following Friday’s competition, the top 10 pros and 10 co-anglers will fish in Saturday’s final round, with winners determined by the heaviest two-day catch weight.

The winning pro is guaranteed $10,000 cash plus an Evinrude- or Yamaha-powered Ranger 519 VS equipped with Garmin electronics, a Minn Kota trolling motor and EverStart Batteries. If the winner is the original owner of a Ranger boat, he will receive a $10,000 bonus from Ranger for a top pro award worth $61,900. If he is a qualifying participant in the Ranger Cup incentive program, Ranger will award another $3,000 cash (or $1,500 to the highest-finishing Ranger Cup participant if not the winner), and Yamaha will match 50 percent of Ranger Cup winnings if the angler’s boat is powered by a Yamaha outboard. Garmin will award the winning pro $1,000 if he uses only Garmin electronics and at least one unit is a qualifying unit.

The winning co-angler is guaranteed $5,000 cash, and if he is a Ranger boat owner, Ranger will award him a new Ranger 519 VS for a total prize package worth $35,000.

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.

For more information on the EverStart Series or any of FLW Outdoors’ six tournament trails, visit FLWOutdoors.com.