“I hooked one right before weigh-in that about pulled me into the water,” said McCall, whose two-day catch ranks as the third heaviest opening-round total in FLW Tour history. “It was a giant, but it pulled off. My partner told me that I would have probably set the FLW Tour record had I landed it.”
McCall caught most of his fish Thursday using a 1/2-ounce white and chartreuse Gambler spinnerbait that he was burning through clear water patches over shell beds, which was a change from Wednesday when he was flipping a Gambler Craw to thick grass. “This lake is just incredible,” he said. “You can catch 7-, 8-, 9-, 10-pound fish on any catch. It’s just phenomenal.”
Phenomenal is right. More bass are being brought to the scale this year than in any previous FLW Tour stop on Lake Okeechobee, a tribute to the massive lake’s stature as one of the world’s premier bass fisheries. So far, 3,104 bass weighing a total of 6,227 pounds have been weighed in, smashing the previous record of 2,568 bass weighing 4,862 pounds, 7 ounces set in 2002 by a field of 175 pros and 175 co-anglers. More than 99 percent of the bass were released alive, thanks in part to an all-new, state-of-the-art Crestliner release boat that will be used at every FLW Tour stop in 2004.
A record 336 limits were weighed in by Pro Division anglers Wednesday and Thursday, surpassing the previous FLW Tour opening round record of 334 set in 2002 by a field of 175 pros on New York’s Lake Champlain.
“This is shaping up to be a truly amazing tournament from many perspectives,” said Tournament Director Bill Taylor. “We knew we had a record-setting season prepared in terms of payouts, and we knew we had the best anglers in the world competing, but to start out like this is just incredible. I hope it is a sign of things to come.”
Nixon (10 bass, 39 pounds, 4 ounces); Billy Bowen Jr. of Ocala, Fla. (10 bass, 38 pounds, 10 ounces); Shinichi Fukae of Osaka, Japan (10 bass, 38 pounds, 2 ounces); and Dave Lefebre of Union City, Pa. (10 bass, 37 pounds, 6 ounces) rounded out the top five pros.
Robert Kimbrough of Vero Beach, Fla., added five bass weighing 21 pounds, 2 ounces to his opening day catch of five bass weighing 7 pounds, 6 ounces to jump from 49th into the Co-angler Division lead with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 28 pounds, 8 ounces. His impressive catch was the second heaviest limit of the day, just 1 ounce behind pro Dean Rojas of Grand Saline, Texas, who jumped from 33rd to eighth Thursday with five bass weighing 21 pounds, 3 ounces added to his opening day limit of 15 pounds. Kimbrough caught his heavyweight limit while fishing behind pro Randy Alexander who finished 117th with 10 bass weighing 19 pounds, 3 ounces.
“I was throwing a Zoom Fluke and Senko in open water around one stickup,” said Kimbrough, who is fishing his first FLW Tour event. “I was dead sticking the baits, just throwing them in and letting them sit.”
Alex Ormand of Bessemer City, N.C. (eight bass, 25 pounds, 4 ounces); Ken Murphy of Meridian, Miss. (10 bass, 22 pounds, 3 ounces); Ken Keirsey of Owasso, Okla. (10 bass, 21 pounds, 13 ounces); and Simon Morrow of Alexander City, Ala. (10 bass, 21 pounds, 6 ounces) rounded out the top five co-anglers.
Other notable finishes among co-anglers are Kim Bain from Queensland, Australia, who finished 133rd with six bass weighing 7 pounds, 8 ounces, and Michi Oba of Tokyo, who is the highest co-angler finisher among a contingent of eight anglers from Japan. He finished 40th with seven bass weighing 14 pounds, 2 ounces. Sgt. 1st Class Joe Van Cleave, an Army Ranger who recently returned from tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, finished 173rd with three bass weighing 4 pounds, 6 ounces. Van Cleave, who was among the soldiers who conducted the rescue of Jessica Lynch, fished the tournament as a guest of FLW Outdoors after his brother John contacted the organization.
Rojas earned $750 as the winner of the Snickers Big-Bass Award in the Pro Division thanks to a 10-pound largemouth and another $1,000 from Snickers for catching the heaviest bass in either division over the first two days. Alan Paczkowski of Henrico, N.C., took the co-angler Snickers Big-Bass Award and $500 with a 9-pound, 14-ounce bass that he caught while fishing with pro Todd Ary of Birmingham, Ala. Snickers will award an additional $5,000 at the end of the year to the angler who catches the heaviest bass during the regular season.
The four-day, $500,000 tournament is the first of seven FLW Tour events that will culminate with the record-setting $1.5 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship and Outdoor Show in Birmingham, Ala., Aug. 11-14, where the winning pro earns the sport’s largest cash award, $500,000, and fishing fans are treated to hundreds of displays featuring special offers on everything from crankbaits to bass boats.
Coverage of the Lake Okeechobee tournament will be broadcast to 65 million Outdoor Life Network subscribers on the “FLW Outdoors” television program. A tournament preview show featuring bass-fishing legend Hank Parker will air Feb. 8 at 1 p.m. Eastern time and Feb. 12 at 5 p.m. Eastern time, and fishing fans can watch the tournament weigh-in with hosts Carlton Wing, Taylor Carr and Charlie Evans Feb. 15 and Feb. 19. Tournament veteran Larry Nixon will host a tournament wrap-up show Feb. 22 and Feb. 26.
Anglers take off beginning at 7 a.m. each morning from Roland Martin’s Marina in Clewiston. Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 1005 W. Sugarland Highway in Clewiston beginning at 5 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively. The FLW Tour’s Family Fun Zone featuring product giveaways, interactive displays and games for fishing fans of all ages will open in the Wal-Mart parking lot Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m.
The FLW Tour field was expanded to 200 pros and 200 co-anglers for 2004. Pros and co-anglers are randomly paired each day, with pros supplying the boat, controlling boat movement and competing against other pros. Co-anglers fish from the back deck against other co-anglers. Anglers in both divisions compete for two days to determine who advances to Friday’s competition. Weights are cleared Friday, and the top 10 co-anglers compete for one day to determine the winner. The top 10 pros continue competition Saturday, with the winner determined by the heaviest two-day weight.
Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, the Wal-Mart FLW Tour is administered by FLW Outdoors, the world’s leading marketer of competitive fishing. Other FLW Outdoors-sanctioned tournament trails are the EverStart Series, the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Tour, the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye League and the Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail.
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.