OKEECHOBEE, Fla. (Jan. 10, 2004) - Local pro Justin Schwier of Okeechobee caught a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 26 pounds, 12 ounces to win the $256,825 EverStart Series Eastern Division season opener on Lake Okeechobee presented by Garmin. With a lead of more than 4 pounds going into Saturday's final round, Schwier caught another limit of five bass weighing 8 pounds, 4 ounces to edge runner-up Chad Morgenthaler of Coulterville, Ill., by a mere 8 ounces to win the first place prize of $10,000 plus a new Ranger 519 VS equipped with Garmin electronics and EverStart batteries and powered by an Evinrude or Yamaha outboard.

A major cold front blew through south Florida Saturday morning dropping high temperatures nearly 25 degrees and bringing blustery north winds. Saturday's afternoon temperatures were actually about 15 degrees cooler than the water temperature, which measured in the high 60s. The constantly fluctuating weather this past week never allowed the bass to get into a consistent pattern. The bass at Lake Okeechobee are in the process of spawning, but the unstable weather resulted in tough fishing conditions. Patterns changed often, and anglers' skills were put to the test each day as they adapted to the changing conditions.

"I just barely squeaked out this win," Schwier said. "I didn't think it would be this close, and I'm lucky it panned out for me. I caught 15 to 20 keepers today but I just couldn't put any size on them. "The fish are spawning in cattails, and I was just casting a 10-inch worm up in the cattails and letting it sit there. I was dead-sticking it or moving it really slowly, but it was tough with the strong wind. I also threw a spinnerbait today."

Rounding out the top five pros are Morgenthaler (10 bass, 26 pounds, 4 ounces); Doug Vest of Okeechobee (nine bass, 24 pounds, 15 ounces); J.T. Kenney of Frostburg, Md. (10 bass, 23 pounds, 12 ounces); and Larry Inman of Greensboro, N.C. (10 bass, 23 pounds, 1 ounce).

Although fishing conditions were much tougher Saturday, Vest wowed the audience with the largest catch of the tournament - an impressive 8-pound, 12-ounce largemouth.

Edward Adams of Egg Harbor Township, N.J., also had a big lead in the Co-angler Division going into the final round, and Saturday's solid catch of four bass sealed the title. Adams caught a two-day total of nine bass weighing 20 pounds, 2 ounces to win $5,000. "The fishing was a lot tougher today," Adams said. "The wind made me work harder, and it took a while to adjust. I didn't catch my first fish until 9:30 a.m. and caught my fourth keeper with 10 minutes to go in the tournament. The 8-pound bass I caught yesterday is what won the tournament for me. This was the first day I didn't catch a limit.

"I was casting an eight-inch worm on a 3/16-ounce weight and just dead-sticking it. That's the only way I could catch fish today. I would cast it out, and as long as the boat was in the right position, I would just let the worm sit there for as long as possible. "I'm excited because now I have enough money to fish all the (EverStart Series) Eastern Division events."

Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Rodney Marks of Apopka (nine bass, 17 pounds, 10 ounce); Kevin Jenckes of New Durham, N.H.(eight bass, 13 pounds, 11 ounces); Ken Crumpler of Marianna (10 bass, 13 pounds, 5 ounces); and Billy Cason of High Springs (10 bass, 12 pounds, 7 ounces).

The 10 pros and 10 co-anglers caught 86 bass, including 13 limits, that weighed 143 pounds, 14 ounces. All fish were released. The top 10 pros and 10 co-anglers advanced to Saturday's final round based on Friday's total weight. Weights carried over for Saturday's competition, and the winners were determined by the heaviest two-day weights.

The winning pro was guaranteed a cash award of $10,000 plus a new Ranger 519 VS equipped with Garmin electronics and EverStart batteries and powered by an Evinrude or Yamaha outboard. If the winner was the original owner of a Ranger boat, he will receive an additional $10,000 cash bonus from Ranger for a total of $61,900 in cash and prizes. Ranger will also award an additional $3,000 to the winner if he is a Ranger Cup participant, and Garmin will award $1,000 to the winner if his boat is equipped with only Garmin electronics and at least one unit is a qualifying unit.

The winning co-angler was guaranteed $5,000 cash. If the winning co-angler is a registered Ranger owner, he will also receive a new Ranger 519 VS for a total of $35,000 in cash and prizes. Four divisions - Eastern, Central, Northern and Western - comprise the 2004 EverStart Series. Each division stages four regular-season tournaments leading up to the no-entry-fee $335,975 EverStart Series Championship presented by Energizer, which will be held on Lake Cumberland near Somerset, Ky., Nov. 3-6. In EverStart Series competition, pros supply the boats, control boat movement and fish from the front of each boat against other pros. Co-anglers fish from the back of each boat and compete against other co-anglers.

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.