BUFFALO, N.Y. (Aug. 27, 2004) – An impending storm meant tougher fishing for EverStart Series Northern Division competitors today on Lake Erie, but leader Joseph Pappas of Southgate, Mich., still brought in an impressive five-bass limit weighing 19 pounds, 15 ounces, giving him more than a 2-pound lead heading into Saturday’s final round. The top 10 pros and 10 co-anglers from Friday’s semifinal round will fish in the finals, with the winners determined by the heaviest two-day weight.

Nearly 400 competitors in both the pro and co-angler divisions brought in hefty stringers Wednesday to kick off the tournament in typical Erie style. Windy conditions Thursday, however, brought rough, barely navigable water, resulting in lower catch weights to close the opening round. According to Pappas, the fishing today was better than the past two days in terms of wind and waves. Pappas is making a 15-mile run to fish rocks and hard-bottom structure in 30 to 44 feet of water.

“They forecasted a wind, but it was easier to maneuver through today so it was easier fishing,” said Pappas, a fourth-year EverStart Series contender who has also found success in the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League. “I’m not traveling far, and I know a lot of guys pass me going farther, but it’s just a matter of getting the right bites and putting them in the boat. This is actually the first time I’ve ever been over here to this side of the lake, and in practice I did a lot of driving around and looking for things. I didn’t fish much; I just tried to locate things, and sure enough, most of the spots I found had fish on them. It’s my first final round, and I haven’t been in this position before so I’m hoping to take advantage of it. Who knows when it will happen again.”

Like nearly all of his fellow competitors, Pappas has caught his fish this week on tubes and drop-shots, and his heaviest bass today weighed close to 5 pounds.

Rounding out the top five pros are Jeffrey Thomas of Broadway, N.C. (five bass, 17 pounds, 9 ounces); Thomas Lavictoire of West Rutland, Vt. (five bass, 17 pounds, 6 ounces); David Trautman of Kent, Ohio (five bass, 17 pounds, 5 ounces); and Brad Brodnicki of Amherst (five bass, 16 pounds, 3 ounces).

James Richardson Jr. of Cincinnati leads the 10 final-round co-anglers thanks to a five-bass catch Friday that weighed 14 pounds, 9 ounces. He holds a slim 2-ounce lead heading into the final day.

“I love smallmouth fishing up here on Lake Erie,” said Richardson, who also caught his bass on a tube and a drop-shot. “It’s super. My practice partner and I caught a lot of 10- to 12-inch smallmouths, so that means it’s going to be a fantastic fishery for kids in the future. Today it’s just a tough bite; a storm was moving through, and sometimes that can really hurt the fish. Today I thought for sure everybody was really going to catch them, but surprisingly, the weights were down.”

Richardson is currently ranked 23rd in Northern Division co-angler standings. He’s no stranger to the final round, having claimed eighth place at the EverStart Series event on New York’s Thousand Islands in 2001.

Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Jeff Harris of Grand Blanc, Mich. (five bass, 14 pounds, 7 ounces); Mike Kozell of Depew (five bass, 14 pounds, 4 ounces); Dave Goodwin of Batavia, Ill. (five bass, 14 pounds, 4 ounces); and Mark McNeil of Ledyard, Conn. (five bass, 13 pounds, 10 ounces).

Sixteen-year-old Zackery Seal of Eldred, Pa., did not make the final-round cut but did finish a respectable 14th, earning himself $800. He fished with pro Al Gagliarducci of Agawam, Mass., during the semifinal round.

NFTA Boat Harbor in Buffalo will host the final takeoff at 7 a.m. Saturday. The final-round weigh-in will begin at 4 p.m. at the Wal-Mart store located at 4255 McKinley Parkway in Hamburg. The community is encouraged to attend the final 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.

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.

For more information on the EverStart Series or any of FLW Outdoors’ six tournament trails, visit FLWOutdoors.com.