RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – On Friday, at least, Alabama’s Randy Howell was the best angler in a field full of the top bass fishermen in the world. Howell caught 15 pounds of bass and claimed the lead at the Bassmaster Elite 50 while fishing a six-hole course on Lake Dardanelle’s Illinois Bayou area.

Howell was ecstatic about the lead going into the final day and believes he has the momentum to win in the new series’ inaugural outing as part of the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer.

“It’s awesome to be leading,” Howell said. “I haven’t led a tournament in a long time, and I never won a Bassmaster tournament. I need the points because I haven’t made the Classic yet, so it’s really important that I get these points.”

In addition to a $1.6 million prize purse that will be distributed among the Elite 50 after the fourth and final event of the series, the top 10 anglers at the end of the series will earn berths in this summer’s world championship of professional bass fishing, the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer.

In the meantime, Howell has a tournament to win. Friday’s weigh-in marked the second of two field cuts, leaving just the Super Six anglers of the tournament to compete on a designated series of numbered fishing areas in what is called a Showdown format.

“I caught my limit on the second hole I went to,” he said. “… I culled them all out, but it helped me gain confidence. I don’t want to mess up my timing. My timing was good today. I caught 16 keepers today and I caught fish in every hole except (hole) five and I fished on high all day. I mean, I fished hard, you know, wide open. I covered a lot of water and really burned it up.

“I’m just looking forward to tomorrow and just keep it loose and free. I’ve got about 15 different rods in the boat and I’ll probably use all 15.”

Louisiana’s Greg Hackney was 3 pounds behind Howell with 12 pounds. The newly crowned 2004 BASS Rookie of the Year will be looking to overcome that deficit for the final day, but the main thing is, he is having fun as the only rookie competing on the Elite 50 series.

“I’m just fishing, man, and I’m enjoying it,” Hackney said. “It’s really suited me, the places that we have been fishing, but I haven’t won one yet, so I haven’t been all that excited on how I’ve done. There’s always room for improvement.

“(The course) is different, man, I mean it fishes kind of wild. I started off this morning and pretty much just shot the first 45 minutes because I was fishing like a wild man and kind of messed myself up. I shouldn’t have done that. It took a little bit to get myself gaited. I’ve never went to a place and had to shut down first thing in the morning and thought, ‘I’ve got an hour and 20 minutes and then I have to leave.’ I’d like to start off with about a 5-pounder tomorrow, get things started off right.”

Hackney’s 12-pound catch also earned him $1,000 from Busch for the Busch Heavyweight of the Day, an incentive program for the participating angler with the heaviest single-day catch.

Arizona’s Dean Rojas caught a 3-12 lunker to earn the Purolator Big Bass of the Day, the $1,000 prize awarded to the angler who brings in the heaviest fish of each day.

Texan Kelly Jordon (11-15), Kansas’ Brent Chapman (11-14) Oklahoma’s Kenyon Hill (9-2) and Texas’ Zell Rowland (8-10) round out the Super Six for the final day.

The final day of the Bassmaster Elite 50 tournament will get under way Saturday from the Lake Dardanelle State Park. The launch begins at 10 a.m. with weigh in starting at 7 p.m.

Fans can catch the first event of the new Bassmaster Elite 50 series on Arkansas' Lake Dardanelle, Saturday, April 24 at 10:30 a.m. ET/9:30 a.m. CT on ESPN2

Fans can also enjoy the BASS Sponsor Expo. Saturday, BASS will continue the Sponsor Expo. The Expo takes place from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. at the Lake Dardanelle State Park. Fans can see the new merchandise in the sport as well as special activities such as the Big Air Dogs seen on ESPN’s Great Outdoor Games and ESPN the Truck. Admission is always free.

Following the Lake Dardanelle event, the four-event Bassmaster Elite 50 series travels the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in Columbus, Miss., May 19-22, to Prattville, Ala., on the Alabama River, June 2-5, and concludes on the Ohio and Cumberland Rivers in Paducah, Ky., June 16-19.

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass-fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.

Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.

Associate Sponsors include G3 Boats.

Local Sponsors include Russellville Advertising and Promotion Commission.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit