MANNING, S.C. (April 21, 2004) – Pro Bryan Hudgins of Orange Park, Fla., caught five bass weighing 23 pounds, 15 ounces to lead day one of the $256,825 EverStart Series Eastern Division event on the Santee Cooper lakes near Manning. A full field of 200 boats are competing in the tournament, which will award the winning pro as much as $61,900 in cash and prizes.

The peak of the bass spawn took place several weeks ago on the Santee Cooper lakes, and anglers reported fairly difficult fishing conditions during practice. Poor fishing on Santee Cooper, however, is still better than good fishing on nearly every other lake in the country. Anglers caught a ton of bass Wednesday, literally. Actually they caught more than 2200 pounds of fish including numerous 20-pound limits.

Many of the big limits were caught on jigs, and some of the leaders managed to find a few spawning fish still locked on the beds. Nevertheless, most of the big bass (those between 6 and 8 pounds) weighed in Saturday had already spawned.

Rounding out the top five pros are Steve Kennedy of Auburn, Ala. (five bass, 23 pounds, 1 ounce); Wesley Strader of Spring City, Tenn. (five bass, 22 pounds, 5 ounces); Ken Ellis of Bowman (five bass, 22 pounds, 1 ounce); and Micah Bennett of Summerville (five bass, 21 pounds, 2 ounces).

Brent Long of Sherrills Ford, N.C., leads the Co-angler Division thanks to a five-bass limit weighing 14 pounds, 14 ounces.

“We were fishing grass this morning with a Texas rig,” Long said, “but my three best fish came later in the day on a white spinnerbait on the outside edges of trees. The water around the trees was about 3-feet deep. The fish have spawned and are moving back off the bank.

“I caught fish all day and about eight were keepers. My best fish was right at 5 pounds. Hopefully I can fish the same way tomorrow.”

Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Roger Phillips of Delta, Ala. (three bass, 14 pounds, 9 ounces); Jason Hampson of Cartersville, Ga. (five bass, 14 pounds, 6 ounces); Reginald Pickett of Greensboro, N.C. (five bass, 14 pounds, 4 ounces); and Tony Haymon of West Palm Beach, Fla. (three bass, 12 pounds, 13 ounces).

Hudgins earned $750 as the big-bass award winner in the Pro Division thanks to a 7-pound, 7-ounce bass. Phillips claimed co-angler big-bass honors with an impressive 8-pound, 9-ounce largemouth that earned him $250.

Anglers caught 882 bass Wednesday, including 82 five-bass limits.

Anglers will take off each morning at 7 from the John C. Land III Landing on Lake Marion in Summerton. Thursday’s weigh-in will also be held there beginning at 3 p.m., and Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 481 W. Boyce St. in Manning beginning at 4 p.m. The community is encouraged to attend daily takeoffs and weigh-ins.

The full field will compete for two days to determine the top 20 pros and 20 co-anglers who advance 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 advances 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 $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. 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 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, 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. Central Division anglers who finish in the top 40 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.