Pugh entered Thursday's competition in 51st but wound up on top after catching a limit of bass Thursday that weighed 24 pounds, 5 ounces - more than 10 pounds heavier than his Wednesday weight. Pugh spent last week on Kentucky Lake at the Wal-Mart FLW Tour event and as a result got only three days of practice time on Guntersville - three unproductive days, at that.
"I caught one keeper in three days of practice," said Pugh, who is currently ranked third in Eastern Division points standings. "I couldn't get on anything. I did a lot of praying and asked the Lord to help me catch enough to stay in the championship, and he overdid it for me." The top 40 pros in the points standings after the Guntersville event advance to the EverStart Series Championship.
Pugh forsook the easier bite found in shallow water and instead focused on transition bass in 15 to 18 feet of water. "Right now the fish are in kind of a transition period, and they're trying to move into some different water," he said. "I'm cranking deep crankbaits and also throwing jigs. To get the kind of bite that I'm getting I need the water to move a little bit. When the water starts pulling some, it positions the fish where they need to be. When the water's not pulling on a river system, the fish don't seem to be as active. They kind of sit back a little bit and you've got to force-feed them. Shallow fish will bite no matter what, but these deeper fish need some current moving to bite. These fish have moved off the beds and they're ready to bite."
Rounding out the top five pros are Micah Bennett of Summerville, S.C. (10 bass, 38 pounds, 6 ounces); Marshall Deakins of Dunlap, Tenn. (10 bass, 36 pounds); Rodger Beaver of Leesburg, Ga. (10 bass, 35 pounds); and Edward Gettys of Stevenson (10 bass, 34 pounds, 10 ounces).
Daniel Heideger of Killen leads the 20 semifinal-round co-anglers thanks to a two-day total of 10 bass that weighed 26 pounds, 1 ounce. Heideger recently relocated to the area from Ohio and made the move from the EverStart Series Northern Division, and is finding the Eastern Division waters to be more than friendly.
"The first time I had ever seen (Guntersville) was Tuesday," Heideger said. "Changing divisions has been a good move."
Heideger started the day with a top-water bait but switched to a worm as the sun came out. "Yesterday was overcast with some fog, which really helped the top-water bite," he said. "Today the sun was bright, and it was really tough on the top-water bite and that's why I did better with the worm."
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Michi Oba of Tokyo (eight bass, 25 pounds, 9 ounces); Greg Coots of Fyffe (10 bass, 24 pounds, 8 ounces); Darin Mitchell of Rutledge, Ga. (eight bass, 24 pounds, 1 ounce); and Kelly Alexander of Jacksonville, Fla. (eight bass, 23 pounds, 15 ounces).
Weights are cleared for Friday's competition, and anglers compete for one day to determine the 10 pros and 10 co-anglers who will fish in Saturday's final round. Weights are carried over for Saturday, with the winners determined by the heaviest two-day weights.
Anglers take off at 6 each morning from Guntersville State Park Pier, which is located at 1155 Lodge Drive in Guntersville. Friday and Saturday's weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 11697 Highway 431 S. in Guntersville beginning at 4 p.m. The community is encouraged to attend the takeoff and weigh-in.
The winning pro is guaranteed $10,000 cash plus an Evinrude- or Yamaha-powered Ranger 519 VS equipped with Garmin electronics, a Minn Kota trolling motor and EverStart Batteries. If the winner is the original owner of a Ranger boat, he will receive a $10,000 bonus from Ranger for a top pro award worth $61,900. If he is a qualifying participant in the Ranger Cup incentive program, Ranger will award another $3,000 cash (or $1,500 to the highest-finishing Ranger Cup participant if not the winner), and Yamaha will match 50 percent of Ranger Cup winnings if the angler's boat is powered by a Yamaha outboard. Garmin will award the winning pro $1,000 if he uses only Garmin electronics and at least one unit is a qualifying unit.
The winning co-angler is guaranteed $5,000 cash, and if he is a Ranger boat owner, Ranger will award him a new Ranger 519 VS for a total prize package worth $35,000. Co-anglers who make the final round of each regular-season EverStart Series event and wear an EverStart/Evinrude shirt and cap on stage are awarded points toward the EverStart Batteries and Evinrude Outboard Engines Co-angler Award. The co-angler receiving the most points by the end of the season receives a 2004 Evinrude 225HO Direct Injection outboard engine rigged on a Ranger boat equipped with a Minn Kota trolling motor and EverStart batteries.
The EverStart Series features a pro/co-angler format with pros supplying the boats, fishing from the front deck against other pros and controlling boat movement. Co-anglers fish from the back deck and compete against other co-anglers. Every angler who receives weight credit in a tournament earns points that determine angler standings. Two hundred points are awarded to the winner, 199 points for second, 198 points for third, and so on.
Designed as a pathway to the $6.8 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour, the world's most lucrative bass-tournament series, the EverStart Series features four divisions - Eastern, Central, Northern and Western - with four regular-season events each. The season culminates with the $335,975 EverStart Series Championship, which will be held Nov. 3-6 on Lake Cumberland near Somerset, Ky. The event will be broadcast to 65 million subscribers of the Outdoor Life Network on the "FLW Outdoors" television series. Eastern Division anglers who finish in the top 40 in the final points standings are eligible to compete in the championship.
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.