Hackney received a Ranger 519VX powered by a Yamaha outboard and equipped with Minn Kota trolling motor, Garmin electronics and EverStart Batteries plus $25,000 cash. Additionally, he will appear on a special FLW Tour edition Kellogg's cereal box.
Four anglers had a legitimate shot at the title coming into the Chevy Open. J.T. Kenney of Frostburg, Md., entered the tournament with a two-point lead over Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C. Kenney, however, finished the event in 114th place and Gagliardi finished the tournament in 37th place. Those performances left the door open for Hackney, who was 16 points behind Kenney, and Namiki, who was 23 points out of the lead. Hackney and Namiki both made the final tournament's top-10 cut, which meant the title would be determined on the final day of the regular season. Namiki needed to finish seven points ahead of Hackney, but he finished fifth, one place behind.
"I've wanted this title for a long time," said Hackney, who finished second in the points standings in both the FLW Tour and Bassmaster Tour last season. "I would rather win angler of the year than the tournament. The angler of the year title shows who has truly been the best angler throughout the year. It's like winning a tournament that lasts all season. It's a great honor."
Hackney has arguably been the best professional bass angler in the world over the past two years. In 2004, he finished in the top 10 twice on the FLW Tour and repeated that accomplishment in 2005. A 66th-place finish at the season-opener on Lake Okeechobee was Hackney's worst performance of the season, and he has made the top 50 in every event since then. Hackney also maintained his remarkable consistency on the Bassmaster Tour in 2005 with a fifth-place finish in the angler-of-the-year race.
"I said a little prayer before the tournament started," said a visibly moved Hackney while standing on stage in front of a capacity crowd of more than 2,000 cheering fans. "I prayed that regardless of what I had to go through, I would win this."
The young pro began fishing Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League events in 1991 and made a major statement in 1998 when he won the BFL Arkie Division points title, finished first at the BFL Sam Rayburn regional championship and qualified for the 1999 BFL All-American. The success from that breakout season prompted Hackney to begin fishing the EverStart Series in 1999, where his impact was felt immediately, earning five top-10s in four years. Hackney's success in the EverStart Series allowed him to qualify for the FLW Tour, which he began fishing full time in 2001. A model of consistency, Hackney has qualified for the Forrest L. Wood Championship every year he has been on tour.
Over the course of his FLW Outdoors career, Hackney has made 22 top-10s and has earned $378,234 since 1995.
"I almost didn't win this," said Hackney, who accidentally left his fifth keeper bass in the livewell at weigh-in on the second day of the Wal-Mart Open on Beaver Lake - a mistake that cost him approximately 20 points in the standings. "I wanted to drive my truck off a cliff at Beaver Lake. I still can't believe I left a fish in the livewell. If someone worked for me and did that, I would fire them, but I can't fire myself. So I either had to win Angler of the Year or lose by a lot for me to feel better."
Namiki can't hang his head for finishing second in the Angler of the Year race. With the Forrest L. Wood Championship remaining, Namiki has compiled one of the most impressive seasons in the history of the FLW Tour. Not only has the Japan native won a tour event this season on Wheeler Lake, he has made the top 10 three other times. He finished fourth at the season open on Lake Okeechobee, fifth at Wheeler Lake and, of course, fifth at the Chevy Open on the Potomac River. Only Denny Brauer of Camdenton, Mo., has more top-10 finishes in one season - five in 1998. Only four other anglers have four top-10 finishes in a single season - Kellogg's pro Clark Wendlandt (1999 and 2000), Rick Clunn (1998 and 2000), Land O'Lakes pro Jerry Williams in 1998 and David Fritts in 1997.
Namiki may seem to be a new face in professional bass fishing, but he has been a force in the sport for many years. He qualified for the Bassmaster Classic in 1997 and has three top-10 finishes in Bassmaster competition. He has earned an impressive $171,000 in 2005 on the FLW Tour.
The Land O'Lakes Angler of the Year title is determined by the total accumulated points from six regular-season events. Two hundred points are awarded for a win, 199 for second, 198 for third, and so on.
As the Land O'Lakes Angler of the Year, Hackney will enter the $1.5 million Forrest L. Wood Championship on Arkansas' Lake Hamilton as the No. 1 seed. There he will compete in head-to-head competition July 13-16 for the sport's biggest prize - $500,000 cash. Only the top 48 anglers advance to the Forrest L. Wood Championship, which also features a world-class boat and outdoor show with free admission. For a list of championship qualifiers, see the FLW Tour standings posted at FLWOutdoors.com.
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 purse of $30 million 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.
For more information on FLW Outdoors and its tournament programs, visit FLWOutdoors.com or call (270) 252-1000. To plan your trip to Hot Springs for the $1.5 million Forrest L. Wood Championship, visit HotSprings.org.
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.