EUFAULA, Ala. (March 3, 2004) – Pro Rusty Smith of Somerset, Ky., caught five bass weighing 22 pounds, 4 ounces to lead the $256,825 EverStart Series Eastern Division event on Lake Eufaula near Eufaula, Ala. A full field of 200 boats are competing in the tournament, which will award the winning pro as much as $61,900 in cash and prizes.

Anglers reported a relatively tough practice. Water temperatures at the beginning of the week were hovering around 50 degrees. High temperatures, however, have been hitting 80 this week, and each day the water temperature has increased by as much as 4 degrees. By Wednesday, bass were starting to show signs of actively feeding and day one’s weights were very solid.

“I didn’t catch much in practice,” Smith said, “but I caught nine today, and seven were keepers. I just fished slowly around logs with jigs and spinnerbaits in about 10 feet of water.

“The fish are on the move. At the beginning of the week, the spot where I caught my fish had a water temperature of 50. Today it was 56 degrees.”

Rounding out the top five pros are Patrick Hailstone of Cincinnati, Ohio (five bass, 21 pounds, 12 ounces); Rodger Beaver of Leesburg, Ga. (five bass, 21 pounds, 6 ounces); Ott Defoe of Knoxville, Tenn. (five bass, 19 pounds, 13 ounces); and Derrick Millirons of Seale (five bass, 19 pounds, 6 ounces).

John Crosby Jr. of Macon, Ga., leads the Co-angler Division thanks to a five bass limit weighing 17 pounds, 7 ounces.

“We caught all our fish on small crankbaits in 6 feet of water,” Crosby said. “We mainly fished secondary points along creek channels.”

Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Joseph Webster of Fulton, Miss. (five bass, 16 pounds, 9 ounces); Adam Lockey of Newport, N.C. (four bass, 15 pounds, 6 ounces); Ronald Mueller or Prosperity, S.C. (four bass, 15 pounds, 6 ounces); and Mike Freeman of Oxford (five bass, 15 pounds).

Gary Niemi of Lake Placid, Fla., earned $750 as the big-bass award winner in the Pro Division thanks to an 8-pound, 10-ounce largemouth. Gary Whiteley of Catoosa, Okla., claimed co-angler big-bass honors with a 6-pound, 7-ounce bass that earned him $250.

Anglers caught 814 bass Wednesday, including 62 five-bass limits. More than 99 percent of the bass were released alive.

Anglers will take off each morning at 6 from Lakepoint Resort State Park in Eufaula. Thursday’s weigh-in will also be held there beginning at 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 1218 S. Eufaula Ave. in Eufaula beginning at 4 p.m. The community is encouraged to attend daily takeoffs and weigh-ins.

The full field will compete for two days to determine the top 20 pros and 20 co-anglers who advance to Friday’s semifinal round based on their two-day accumulated weight. Weights are cleared for the semifinal round, and anglers compete for one day to determine who advances to Saturday’s final round. Only the top 10 pros and 10 co-anglers compete Saturday, and the winner is 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 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.