“This feels great,” said a teary-eyed Hoernke. “It’s been a long time coming. This is the greatest thing in the world.”
It seems to have worked so far for Hoernke, who guides at Lake Fork, Texas, between tournaments. While he competed at the 2000 BFL All-American and even won a BFL Cowboy Division event in 1998, this was his first-ever top-10 appearance at the EverStart level. He has fished the Central Division sporadically since 2001, but this week’s tournament was his sole entry into EverStart competition this season.
“This is the only one I’ve fished this year, so I wasn’t in the running for the points. My plan was to win,” he said.
The plan worked to a T. While Hoernke owns a regular 21-foot bass boat, he brought and used a flat-bottom, 17-foot aluminum boat all week long on the Red River. The idea was to gain access to some of the more remote backwater areas that bigger boats couldn’t reach. The first two days of competition, he used that access to his advantage when he found a little backwater area off the river’s heavily fished Pool 4 and made the cut. The last two days when there were fewer tournament boats, he fell back to his second scouted location, which involved a more conventional – and accessible – shallow-water pattern on nearby Pool 3. There, he shared the same water as Sappington.
“We watched each other catch fish all through the event,” Hoernke said. “I knew it was going to be won out of that area. When I saw that there were just two of us in there, I poured it on because I have a lot of respect for John.” Hoernke landed a total of 28 bass Saturday, eventually culling out to his winning weight. In the finals, he said he alternated between throwing a chartreuse, lime and white spinner bait and flipping a black-and-red-flake tube.
Second place bittersweet for Sappington Sappington, from Wyandotte, Okla., caught a limit weighing 12 pounds, 6 ounces in the finals and collected $10,000 for second place. He admitted to feeling slightly disappointed by the outcome if only because he fished within sight of Hoernke and because he loves Louisiana fishing, having tasted victory here before. The last time he fished a major tournament in this state, he won the 2002 FLW Championship at Cross Lake in Shreveport.
“Sean and I fished the exact same place up the river a little bit from the takeoff (at Morgan’s Landing),” he said. “I kind of did think I had it (won). I felt like I caught enough fish to win it, but he caught more fish than I did so he deserved it.”
Sappington used a Lake Fork craw to land the bulk of bass, but said he did lose one 5-pounder early Saturday morning that could have made the difference between first and second place, which the veteran knows can be crucial in pro fishing.
“If you would have asked me three days ago about second place, I would have said, ‘great,’” he said. “But the problem with second place is that nobody remembers second place. But I’ve had a good tournament. There was nothing more I could do.” Gulledge lands in third Danny Gulledge of Hamburg, Ark., who took a sizable lead on day one with an 18-pound stringer, finished the tournament in third place with a five-bass weight of 10 pounds, 9 ounces. He collected $9,000.
Like earlier in the week, conditions were hot, humid and blindingly sunny Saturday. That’s just the way Gulledge, who used a War Eagle spinner bait, liked it.
“The sun was key for what I was doing,” he said. “Anytime I could see the brim suspended, I could catch fish. My last two fish I caught in the last 10 minutes.”
The high temperatures even had the locals sweating. Jerry Hester, who hails from nearby Coushatta, La., finished in fourth place with five bass weighing 9 pounds, 2 ounces. He collected $8,000. “It was hot – real hot – out there,” he said. “I had a plan to save my big ones and catch them today, but they just didn’t bite.”
Stegall finishes fifth Roger Stegall of Iuka, Miss., also caught five bass weighing 9 pounds, 2 ounces, but finished in fifth place due to a tiebreaker. He collected $7,500.
“I’m not bragging, but I’ve been sort of consistent. I’ve had about 9 or 10 pounds every day,” he said, adding that he made a grueling 50-mile, lock-to-lock run in the heat in search of a 5-pound bite. “I caught most of them on a Strike King spinner bait and June bug worm.”
Rounding out the top 10 pro finishers are Lendell Martin Jr. of Nacogdoches, Texas, (sixth place, $6,500) with five bass weighing 7 pounds, 8 ounces; Craig Powers of Rockwood, Tenn., (seventh, $5,500) with four bass weighing 7-7; Randall Osborne of Mount Sterling, Ky., (eighth, $5,000) with five bass weighing 7-7; Bobby Graves of Mount Ida, Ark., (ninth, $4,500) with three bass weighing 4-14; and Slade Dearman of Onalaska, Texas, (10th, $4,000) with two bass weighing 4-6.
Jackie Davis of Willard, Mo., won the 2003 Central Division standings title when Powers finished in seventh place Saturday. Davis finished the year with 763 points and Powers finished with 757.
“Jackie Davis is a great competitor, and he’s a great guy. He deserved it,” Powers said. “It worked out as it should have.”
The Central Division is done for the 2003 season. The next EverStart Series tournament is a Northern Division contest at the Detroit River in Trenton, Mich., June 23-26.