GALLATIN, Tenn. (Oct. 29, 2003) – EverStart Series Championship qualifiers woke up Wednesday morning to a thick blanket of fog covering Old Hickory Lake just outside of Nashville, Tenn., in Gallatin. After approximately a one-and-half hour delay, anglers launched at about 8:30 a.m. to open the four-day, $335,975 event on the Cumberland River impoundment.

Many anglers experienced tough fishing conditions while practicing and a quick glance into participants’ boats proved no one technique would dominate the tournament. Everything from jigs, plastics, crankbaits, spinnerbaits and topwaters could be found tied on to pros’ rods, and the opening day’s weights showed just how tough the fishing was. Only two five-fish limits were brought to the scales and dozens of pros zeroed.

Northern Division pro Art Ferguson III of St Claire, Mich., who twice finished in the top five this season, weighed in four bass for 12 pounds, 3 ounces, to take the early lead. His original game plan involved running all over the lake to hit as much different cover as possible, but after takeoff he decided to slow down and concentrate on one area.

“I feel great to be in this position, but I thought there would be a lot more weight caught today,” said Ferguson, who used four different baits to catch his four keepers. “I have four or five more areas where I think I can catch fish, but I doubt I’ll be moving much tomorrow.”

Kellogg’s pro Clark Wendlandt of Cedar Park, Texas, used a 3/8-ounce Gambler Ninja jig to boat four keepers weighing 10 pounds, 7 ounces to secure second place. Both Ferguson and Wendlandt admitted finding a place to themselves was a big key in catching fish.

Rounding out the top five pros were Clifford Perch of Payson, Ariz., with four fish weighing 10 pounds, 2 ounces; Tommy Dillon of Manhattan, Kan., with five fish weighing 9 pounds, 13 ounces; and 2003 All-American champion Tony Christian of Hull, Ga., with four fish weighing 9 pounds, 10 ounces. Perch also caught the day’s Snickers Big Bass in the Pro Division and earned $625 with an impressive 6 pound, 7 ounce largemouth.

Amazingly, Ken Baldwin of Needles, Calif., managed to take first place and Snickers Big Bass honors in the Co-angler Division with a single bass. The massive fish, Baldwin’s personal best and the largest of the tournament thus far, weighed 7 pounds, 3 ounces and earned him $250.

“I caught it early in the morning on a Yamamoto jig,” Baldwin said regarding his big bass. “I was actually pretty calm at first, but then I couldn’t stop shaking for about 15 minutes.”

Rounding out the top five co-anglers were Mario Ringo of Arcadia, Calif., with three fish weighing 6 pounds, 6 ounces; Kohigashi Kazuhiro of Hyougo, Japan, with three fish weighing 5 pounds; Bill Rogers of Jasper, Texas, with three fish weighing 5 pounds; and Bob Snyder of Marion, Ind., with three fish weighing 4 pounds, 14 ounces.

Several recent cold fronts dropped the water temperature by as much as 10 degrees the past two weeks, and while still active in relatively warm, shallow water, bass are in the process of changing patterns. Wednesday’s weather was warmer than the previous three days, however, and a warm forecast should help fishing conditions improve each day of the tournament.

A field of 149 pros and 149 co-anglers representing 47 states, Canada and Japan are competing in the lucrative championship. To qualify for the EverStart Series Championship, anglers competed in one of four EverStart Series divisions – Central, Eastern, Northern or Western. The top 30 points leaders from the Western Division and the top 40 points leaders from each of the other three divisions were invited to the no-entry-fee championship.

After two days of fishing, pros and co-anglers with the top 20 weights advance to Friday’s semifinal round where weights are zeroed. The leading co-angler at the end of the semifinal round will be crowned champion. The top 10 pros advance to Saturday’s final round where they once again start from zero.

The winning pro is guaranteed $25,000 cash plus an Evinrude- or Yamaha-powered Ranger boat equipped with Garmin electronics, a Minn Kota trolling motor and EverStart batteries. If the winner is an original owner of a Ranger boat, he will receive a $10,000 bonus for a top pro award of $76,900. The winning co-angler is guaranteed $10,000 cash and a fully rigged Ranger boat.

Takeoff for each day of the tournament is held at 7 a.m., except for an 8 a.m. takeoff Friday, at Bull Creek marina. Thursday’s weigh-in will be held at Bull Creek beginning at 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 1112 Nashville Pike in Gallatin beginning at 5 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday. The EverStart Series Family Fun Zone, which features free admission, free giveaways and interactive games for children, opens Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m. The community is encouraged to attend the daily weigh-ins and the Family Fun Zone, where some of the nation’s top pros will be available for autographs and photos.

The EverStart Series Championship will be broadcast to 55 million subscribers of the Outdoor Life Network on the “FLW Outdoors” television program Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. Central time and Nov. 9 at noon Central time. Saturday’s final weigh-in will also be broadcast live to Wal-Mart Stores nationwide.

The EverStart Series is administered by FLW Outdoors, the world’s leading marketer of competitive fishing. Other FLW Outdoors-sanctioned tournament trails are the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, 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.