While weights dropped off for the start of the final round Friday, enthusiast spectators witnessed a near-record catch in the opening round when co-angler Richard Lowitzki of St. Charles, Ill., hoisted an 11-pound, 3-ounce largemouth onto the scale Thursday. The behemoth bass fell just 11 ounces short of the record and ranks as the second heaviest bass in FLW Tour history, surpassing the 11-pounder caught by Bobby Curtis of Siloam Springs, Ark., on Lake Okeechobee last month and the 11-pounder caught by Ray Beck of Beaumont, Texas, on Sam Rayburn Reservoir in 1998. Only the 11-pound, 14-ounce bass caught by Jim Nolan on the Santee Cooper lakes in 1996 is heavier.
Counting Lowitzki and Curtis’ fish, plus a 10-pound, 2-ounce bass caught by co-angler Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Ark., on Lake Okeechobee, three of the top seven weights for the Snickers Big Bass Award have come in the last two events. Only fish landed on the first two days of competition count toward the Snickers Big Bass Award.
Cold temperatures and windy conditions made fishing tough for anglers who survived the cut, and only two pros and one co-angler caught five-bass limits Friday. Overall, 48 bass weighing 107 pounds, 14 ounces where brought to the scale.
“I didn’t think 10 pounds would lead, so it turned out to be a good day,” said Lane, a two-time All-American qualifier who is making is second top-10 appearance in as many FLW Tour events this season. “I’m going to go out and fish as hard as I possibly can, and if I’m meant to win, I’ll catch fish.”
Lane qualified for the FLW Tour after earning three EverStart Series top-10 finishes and finishing sixth in the EverStart Series Eastern Division points race in 2004. He caught four of his bass on a 3/8-ounce War Eagle spinnerbait and a 7-inch Gambler worm while fishing arrow head grass near staging areas in Lake Kissimmee. His fifth, and final, fish of the day came on a Gambler BB Cricket in Lake Toho.
“I grew up fishing these lakes with my dad and brothers,” Lane said. “All the guys I’m fishing against are my heroes, so when they come up and congratulate me, I’m living a dream.”
Eight-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier Tom Mann Jr. of Buford, Ga., caught five bass weighing 8 pounds, 2 ounces on a Senko to secure the No. 2 spot heading into the final day of competition, while 7 UP pro JT Kenney of Frostburg, Md., caught three bass weighing 6 pounds, 5 ounces to grab the No. 3 spot. Kenney was flipping a black and blue Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver in lakes Kissimmee and Toho.
Pedigree pro Greg Pugh of Cullman, Ala. (three bass, 6 pounds, 5 ounces) and Art Berry of Hemet, Calif. (three bass, 6 pounds, 5 ounces) rounded out the top five pros. Ties on day three are resolved by day two standings.
Retired Master Sgt. Ken Chapman of Woodlawn, Tenn., who served with the Army’s 5th Special Forces Group in Afghanistan and Iraq, took top honors and $20,000 in the Co-angler Division with four bass weighing 19 pounds, 3 ounces. He caught the fish on green pumpkin and pearl Zoom Horny Toads while fishing grass mats in Lake Kissimmee with Mann.
“There is so much grass out there, and it’s so thick, if you don’t throw it over one’s head, you won’t get hit,” said Chapman, who has earned three top-10 finishes in FLW Outdoors competition since 2003, including a fourth-place finish at the 2004 EverStart Series tournament on the Red River. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. I figured I would fish all of these for a year and the EverStarts to qualify (for the FLW Tour Pro Division). I’m learning from some great guys, and that’s what fishing as a co-angler is all about.”
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Tim Peek of Sharpsburg, Ga. (five bass, 10 pounds, 2 ounces, $10,000); Trevor Jancasz of White Pigeon, Mich. (two bass, 6 pounds, 2 ounces, $9,000); Judy Israel of Clewiston (one bass, 3 pounds, 9 ounces, $8,000); and Bill Rogers of Jasper, Texas (two bass, 3 pounds, 7 ounces, $7,000).
Israel, a former teacher from the Bronx, N.Y., made fishing history last year by winning the FLW Tour stop on the Atchafalaya Basin. She is the first woman to win an FLW Tour event, and this is her 11th top-10 finish in FLW Outdoors competition.
Anglers will take off from Kissimmee Lakefront Park at 7 Saturday morning. Saturday’s weigh-in will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 1471 E. Osceola Pkwy. in Kissimmee beginning at 3 p.m.
The community is invited to join the worlds’ top bass anglers as they celebrate the FLW Tour’s 10th anniversary in the Family Fun Zone outside the weigh-in tent in the Wal-Mart parking lot. The free Family Fun Zone, which opens at 11 a.m., features interactive displays, product samples and games for the entire family to enjoy.
Weights were cleared for Friday’s competition, and pros will continue competition Saturday with the winner determined by the heaviest two-day weight.
In addition to a top award of $100,000 and cash awards of at least $10,000 through 50th place in the Pro Division, anglers are also competing for valuable points that determine Land O’ Lakes Angler of the Year standings and the field for the 2005 Forrest L. Wood Championship, set for July 13-16 in Hot Springs, Ark., on Lake Hamilton. The $1.5 million championship presented by Castrol awards the winning pro $500,000 cash, the sport’s largest payout, and features a world-class outdoor show.
Complete coverage of the FLW Tour’s stop on Lake Toho will be broadcast on Fox Sports Net (FSN) March 6 and March 13 as part of the “FLW Outdoors” television program. “FLW Outdoors” airs every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern time on FSN.
Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, FLW Outdoors administers the Wal-Mart FLW Tour and seven other national tournament circuits offering a combined $30 million in awards through 214 events in 2005. The 27-year-old organization is the purveyor of America’s largest and most prestigious fishing tournaments, including the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, EverStart Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye League, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour and Wal-Mart FLW Redfish Series.
Wal-Mart and many of America’s largest and most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its tournament trails. Wal-Mart signed on as title sponsor of the FLW Tour in 1997 and today is the title sponsor of all FLW Outdoors events.
For more information on Wal-Mart, visit Wal-Mart.com. For more information on FLW Outdoors and its tournament programs, visit FLWOutdoors.com or call (270) 252-1000. For more information on FSN, visit FoxSports.com.