The eight-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier opened the tournament with a five-bass limit weighing 18 pounds, 2 ounces to place seventh then climbed to second Thursday with a limit weighing 19 pounds, 3 ounces for a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 37 pounds, 5 ounces. On Friday, with weights zeroed and the field cut from 200 pros and 200 co-anglers to the top 10 in each division, Mann maintained his second place standing with a limit weighing 8 pounds, 2 ounces.
On Saturday he landed his winning catch with the same watermelon-red flake Senkos that he used to catch all but two of his fish this week.
“This feels great,” said Mann, who twice before earned runner-up finishes in FLW Tour competition. “I guess everyone likes to win. I’ll cherish it for awhile, but in a few weeks there will be another winner, and we’ll keep moving forward.”
Cold overnight temperatures made fishing tough Saturday, as none of the pros caught five-bass limits. Overall, 2,499 bass weighing 5,152 pounds, 12 ounces where brought to the scale this week, and more than 99 percent of the bass were released alive. If the tour maintains a 98 percent live-release rate throughout the season, Energizer will donate $25,000 to the Children’s Miracle Network.
Despite last year’s hurricanes and drawdown to remove muck and excess vegetation, the lake fished better this year than during the tour’s 1998 visit when anglers caught a total of 1,529 bass weighing 3,461 pounds, 4 ounces.
EverStart Series sensation Art Berry of Hemet, Calif., caught three bass weighing 9 pounds, 2 ounces to boost his two-day total catch to six bass weighing 15 pounds, 7 ounces. It wasn’t enough to overtake Mann, however, as Berry earned $36,000 and his fourth second-place finish in FLW Outdoors competition.
Before moving up to the FLW Tour this year, Berry dominated the EverStart Series Western division, earning five top-10 finishes – including three seconds – in eight tournaments. He has also earned four Bassmaster top 10s and an FLW Tour top 10 in the only tournament he fished during the 2000 season.
Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., took third place and $25,000 with a total of seven bass weighing 13 pounds, 3 ounces in his second top-10 finish in as many FLW Tour events.
Seven-Up pro JT Kenney of Frostburg, Md. (six bass, 11 pounds, 1 ounces, $20,000); and Toby Hartsell of Livington, S.C. (five bass, 10 pounds, 6 ounces, $18,000) rounded out the top five pros.
Berry also earned the Energizer Keeps on Going Award and a $500 Wal-Mart gift card for advancing to the final round as the No. 9 seed after finishing 39th on opening day. It was co-angler Richard Lowitzki of St. Charles, Ill., however, who made the biggest jump in the standings and ultimately finished seventh after opening the tournament with zero fish. After his disappointing start, Lowitzki caught four bass weighing 22 pounds, 6 ounces to advance to the final round of co-angler competition. His incredible catch included an 11-pound, 3-ounce largemouth that ranks as the second heaviest bass in FLW Tour history. The angler who catches the heaviest bass during the 2005 season will win a $5,000 Snickers Big Bass Award.
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 Friday 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.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” 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 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 were 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 was her 11th top-10 finish in FLW Outdoors competition.
In addition to a top award of $100,000 and cash awards of $10,000 through 50th place in the Pro Division, anglers were also competing this week 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.
The next stop on the $7.6 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour is the Ouachita River in Monroe, La. The $900,000 event presented by 7 UP and hosted by the Monroe/West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau runs March 9-12.
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.