“This has been a dream of mine forever,” said Scheide, who advanced to the finals as the No. 7 seed after landing 10 bass weighing 36 pounds, 5 ounces during first two days of competition.
Scheide caught his bass Wednesday and Thursday under clear, calm conditions by flipping a black-and-blue Terminator rattling creature bait through gaps in a 1/4-mile stretch of hyacinth mats floating in Pelican Bay. When the wind picked up and the temperature dropped Friday, Scheide switched to a compact black-and-blue Gambler Cricket paired with a 1 1/2-ounce tungsten weight to more easily punch through the matted hyacinths as they became more compacted.
“I knew that when the wind picked up and it turned cold that the fish would move to the thickest cover they could find,” he said. “All of that vegetation holds heat, and the fish move right up into it.”
Scheide stepped up to the FLW Tour after finishing 14th in the EverStart Series Central Division in 2003. Before making the move, he earned 14 top 10 finishes, including two Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League wins, in FLW Outdoors tournaments dating back to 1995.
Scheide also earned a $1,000 bonus from Solar Bat for his use of Solar Bat sunglasses on the tournament trail.
Rounding out the top five pros are McCall (10 bass, 23 pounds, 1 ounce, $35,000); Castrol pro David Dudley of Manteo, N.C. (10 bass, 22 pounds, 11 ounces, $20,000); Shinichi Fukae of Osaka, Japan (10 bass, 20 pounds, 7 ounces, $16,000); and Kellogg’s pro Dave Lefebre of Union City, Pa. (10 bass, 19 pounds, 7 ounces, $14,000).
Robert Kimbrough of Vero Beach, Fla., claimed the co-angler crown and $15,000 Friday with three bass weighing 7 pounds, 1 ounce that he caught while fishing behind McCall. Kimbrough also collected a $500 Wal-Mart gift card from Castrol and $500 worth of Castrol products for the win.
Lake Okeechobee lived up to its world-class reputation, as anglers brought more bass to the scale this year than in any previous FLW Tour stop on the massive lake. A total of 3,209 bass weighing 6,429 pounds, 11 ounces were weighed in by the expanded field of 200 pros and 200 co-anglers, 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. If the tour maintains a 98 percent live-release rate throughout the season, Energizer will donate $25,000 to the Children’s Miracle Network.
The biggest bass of the tournament was caught by Team Yamaha angler Dean Rojas of Grand Saline, Texas, who landed a 10-pound behemoth Thursday to win $750 and the day’s Snickers Big-Bass Award in the Pro Division. Rojas earned another $1,000 from Snickers for catching the heaviest bass in either division over the first two days of competition, and he stands to win an additional $5,000 in August if the fish holds up as the heaviest bass of the regular season.
Rojas also earned the Energizer Keeps on Going Award and a $500 Wal-Mart gift card for advancing to the final round as the No. 8 seed after finishing 33rd on opening day. In the end, he finished the tournament in seventh place with a final round catch of 10 bass weighing 13 pounds, 7 ounces.
Nixon set a new Lake Okeechobee record on opening day with five bass weighing 28 pounds, 6 ounces, besting the record of five bass weighing 27 pounds, 6 ounces set by Mike Surman of Boca Raton, Fla., at last year’s season opener. Nixon’s catch fell 1 pound short of the all-time five-bass record set by Jeff Coble of Henderson, N.C., on the Santee Cooper Lakes in 1996 and just 1 ounce short of the No. 2 spot held by Joe Thomas of Milford, Ohio, with a catch from Kentucky Lake in 1997. Nixon stumbled Thursday, however, landing just one bass weighing 13 ounces. Ultimately he finished ninth with a final round catch of six bass weighing 8 pounds, 2 ounces.
McCall earned the Shop-Vac Clean Sweep Award and a selection of four Shop-Vac products for advancing to the finals as the No. 1 seed with 10 bass weighing 46 pounds, 6 ounces – a new Lake Okeechobee record and the third heaviest opening-round total in FLW Tour history. The impressive catch trails only Darrel Robertson’s 10-bass, 49-pound, 8-ounce catch on Lake Murray last season and Pete Thilveros’ 10-bass, 47-pound, 5-ounce catch on Kentucky Lake in 1998.
The four-day, $500,000 Lake Okeechobee tournament marked the beginning of the most lucrative FLW Tour season to date, as the popular tournament series features a $6.8 million purse in 2004, including two $500,000 events, two $900,000 events and two $1.25 million Open events during the regular season. Each event leads up to the historic $1.5 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship, which will be held Aug. 11-14 on Logan Martin near Birmingham, Ala. The prestigious championship features 48 pros, 48 co-anglers and bass fishing’s largest guaranteed cash award – a $500,000 first-place prize for the winning pro. Held in conjunction with the tournament is a world-class outdoor show, featuring great deals on everything from crankbaits to bass boats.
The second regular-season FLW Tour stop will be held Feb. 11-14 on the Atchafalaya Basin near Morgan City, La., followed by a stop March 10-13 on Old Hickory Lake in Gallatin, Tenn., and the Wal-Mart Open on Beaver Lake near Rogers, Ark., March 31-April 3. Kentucky Lake near Benton, Ky., will host the fifth tour stop May 12-15 followed by the Forrest Wood Open on Lake Champlain near Plattsburgh, N.Y., June 23-26.
Coverage of every FLW Tour event will be broadcast to 65 million Outdoor Life Network subscribers on the “FLW Outdoors” television program every Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern time and every Thursday at 5 p.m. Eastern time. A Lake Okeechobee preview featuring bass-fishing legend Hank Parker will air Feb. 8 and Feb. 12, 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.
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.