OAKLEY, Calif. (May 6, 2004) – Pro Gary Howell of Stockton caught a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 39 pounds, 1 ounce to lead the opening round of the $208,605 EverStart Series Western Division event on the California Delta near Oakley. A field of 145 boats competed in the first round, but only the top 20 pros and co-anglers advanced to fish Friday’s semifinal round. On Saturday, the winning pro could win as much as $59,900 in cash and prizes.

The California Delta is one of the world’s greatest largemouth fisheries. Anglers flock to the Delta every year in search of trophy bass. Double-digit fish are common and Wednesday’s round produced a monster 12-pound, 9-ounce largemouth. While no double-digit bass were brought to the scales Thursday, overall weights were up. Anglers weighed in more than 2500 pounds of bass.

“I actually struggled early today,” Howell said. “I only had one fish at 10 a.m., but then I caught a few keepers. I had about 11 pounds in the livewell and decided I probably had enough to make the cut, so I just went fishing looking for some new areas for tomorrow. But I live here and have a lot of water to go fish.

“Today and yesterday I fished offshore grass beds that had a hard bottom. I caught most of my keepers yesterday on a Senko, but today I caught them on a tube and crankbait. If skies are cloudy tomorrow as the forecast says, I’ll probably be cranking a lot.”

Rounding out the top five pros are Bernie Gaunt of West Sacramento (10 bass, 38 pounds, 15 ounces); Mike Folkestad of Yorba Linda (10 bass, 36 pounds, 15 ounces); Michael Bennett of Roseville (10 bass, 35 pounds, 9 ounces); and Bob Cagle of Yuba City (10 bass, 35 pounds, 7 ounces).

Bob Weaver of Lawton, Okla., maintained his lead in the Co-angler Division thanks to 10 bass weighing 31 pounds, 12 ounces. Weaver had a healthy lead after day one and could afford a smaller weight Thursday.

“I did something completely different today,” Weaver said. “I fished a crankbait and had a limit by 8 a.m. I tried some new stuff and just had a good time. I’m fishing with Gary (Howell) tomorrow, so I have a feeling we’ll be cranking. So we’ll see what happens. I’m really comfortable with a crankbait.”

Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Reese Randall of Payson, Ariz. (10 bass, 30 pounds, 2 ounces); Gary Wilson of Tracy (10 bass, 27 pounds, 11 ounces); Gary Haraguchi of Antioch (10 bass, 26 pounds, 12 ounces); and James Gross of Kingman, Ariz. (10 bass, 26 pounds, 4 ounces).

Chuck English of Las Vegas, Nev., caught the Pro Division Snickers Big Bass – a 9-pound, 15-ounce largemouth – worth $500. Kyle Clement of Anderson earned $200 by catching the co-angler Snickers Big Bass – a 9-pound, 6-ounce bass.

Anglers caught 1151 bass Thursday, including 178 five-bass limits, that weighted 2514 pounds, 1 ounce.

Big Break Marina in Oakley will host daily takeoffs each morning at 6. Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 4893 Lone Tree Way in Antioch beginning at 4 p.m. The community is encouraged to attend daily takeoffs and weigh-ins.

The field competed for two days to determine the top 20 pros and 20 co-anglers who advanced to Friday’s semifinal round based on their two-day accumulated weight. Weights are cleared for the semifinal round, and anglers compete for one day to determine who will advance to Saturday’s final round. Only the top 10 pros and 10 co-anglers compete Saturday, and the winner is determined by the heaviest two-day weight.

The winning pro is guaranteed $8,000 cash plus an Evinrude- or Yamaha-powered Ranger 519 VS equipped with Garmin electronics, a Minn Kota trolling motor and EverStart Batteries, based on a 150-boat field. 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 $59,900. 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 $4,200 cash based on a 145-boat field, and if he is a Ranger boat owner, Ranger will award him a new Ranger 519 VS for a total prize package worth $34,200. Co-anglers who make the final round of each regular-season EverStart Series event and wear an EverStart/Evinrude shirt and cap on stage are awarded points toward the EverStart Batteries and Evinrude Outboard Engines Co-angler Award. The co-angler receiving the most points by the end of the season receives a 2004 Evinrude 225HO Direct Injection outboard engine rigged on a Ranger boat equipped with a Minn Kota trolling motor and EverStart batteries.

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. Every angler who receives weight credit in a tournament earns points that determine angler standings. Two hundred points are awarded to the winner, 199 points for second, 198 points for third, and so on.

Designed as a pathway to the $6.8 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour, the world’s most lucrative bass-tournament series, the $3.88 million EverStart Series features four divisions – Eastern, Central, Northern and Western – with four regular-season events each. The season culminates with the $335,975 EverStart Series Championship presented by Energizer, which will be held Nov. 3-6 on Lake Cumberland near Somerset, Ky. The event will be broadcast to 65 million subscribers of the Outdoor Life Network on the “FLW Outdoors” television series. Western Division anglers who finish in the top 30 in the final points standings are eligible to compete in the championship.

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.