While Saturday’s weather was pleasant and dry for the first time this tournament, water levels in the Mississippi River system fell all day. The rapidly changing water conditions resulted in extremely tough fishing conditions. The remaining 10 pros and co-anglers only weighed 26 bass Saturday. Ritter’s extensive knowledge of the upper Mississippi River proved to be a major advantage throughout the tournament as he and Lefebre were the only anglers to weigh five-bass limits each day of competition.
“I didn’t think I had enough to win,” said Ritter, a perennial force in the Wal-Mart BFL Great Lakes Division. “I fished flooded, green grass all week, but the areas I had were rapidly drying up because up the falling water. My primary area was dirty and dropping, so I made a move. I was able to go a spot that had been clear all week and caught three keepers to finish out my limit. The fish that bit today were just not as big.
“My primary bait this week was a black and red 1/4-ounce jig. I casted and flipped it into the grass and swam it back to the boat.”
In a fishery dominated by smallmouths, Ritter keyed on heavier largemouths to win the title. “I never caught a smallmouth all week,” he said.
Rounding out the top five pros were Lefebre (10 bass, 20 pounds, 7 ounces); Snickers pro Chris Baumgardner Gastonia, N.C. (nine bass, 18 pounds, 7 ounces); Mike Feldermann of Galena, Ill. (seven bass, 17 pounds, 12 ounces); and Aaron LaRocque of Wabasha (six bass, 14 pounds, 4 ounces).
On the strength of his semifinal round weight, Scott Cloutier of Rochester won the Co-angler Division title thanks to two-day total of four bass weighing 9 pounds, 8 ounces. Cloutier, in his first EverStart Series tournament, collected $5,000 cash and a new Ranger 519.
Remarkably, Coultier only caught one keeper bass Saturday. Did he think he had enough to win?
“Absolutely not,” he said. “I had two bites all day. I lost a 3-pounder in the morning and then caught one keeper largemouth at noon that weighed 2 pounds, 2 ounces. The water dropped a lot and cleared up in the areas we were fishing. I think the fish got skittish.”
Rounding out the top five co-anglers were Peter Cherkas of Des Moines, Iowa (four bass, 9 pounds, 5 ounces); Scot Keefe of Hinesburg, Vt. (four bass, 8 pounds, 6 ounces); Dave Norton of Burlington, Wis. (four bass, 7 pounds, 15 ounces); and Troy Sprague of Lincoln, Neb. (two bass, 4 pounds, 4 ounces).
The full field competed for two days to determine the top 20 pros and 20 co-anglers who advanced to Friday’s semifinal round based on their two-day accumulated weight. Weights were cleared for the semifinal round, and anglers competed for one day to determine who advanced to Saturday’s final round. Only the top 10 pros and 10 co-anglers competed Saturday, and the winner was determined by the heaviest two-day weight.
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 $3.88 million 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 presented by Energizer, 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. Northern Division anglers who finish in the top 40 in the final points standings are eligible to compete in the championship.
The second Northern Division tournament will be held July 21-24 on the Detroit River near Trenton, Mich., followed by a stop on Lake Erin near Buffalo, N.Y., August 25-28. Regular-season competition concludes September 22-25 on Lake Champlain near Plattsburgh, N.Y.
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. For a complete list of FLW Outdoors sponsors and for more information about the premier products and services they offer, please visit FLWOutdoors.com.