Hackney, who entered the tournament as the No. 21 seed, defeated No. 4 seed Tommy Biffle of Wagoner, Okla., in a nail-biting standoff in which the tournament’s two heaviest limits were weighed. Biffle, a Chevy pro, weighed first, wowing the crowd with five bass weighing 12 pounds, 13 ounces. Then Hackney approached the stage to show off some lunkers of his own. “I guess that was my third fish that really got me rolling, and I got comfortable after that,” said Hackney, who has fished the FLW Tour for three full seasons. “But after I got up here, I thought, ‘Man, I should have kept fishing!’”
The tournament began Wednesday with the top 48 pros based on year-end points standings competing head-to-head for one of 24 slots in Friday’s semifinal round. Anglers competed in six regular-season events to earn crucial points, and the championship’s unique bracket-style format paired the No. 1 seed with the No. 48 seed, the No. 2 seed with the No. 47 seed, and so on. The field was cut to 24 following Thursday’s competition, and anglers continued head-to-head competition Friday to earn one of 12 final-round slots. The 12 remaining anglers will compete against their entire field during Saturday’s final round.
Castrol pro David Dudley of Manteo, N.C., scored a $700,000 victory in 2002 at the Ranger M1 tournament and put himself in position to claim another huge prize Friday by catching five bass weighing 11 pounds, 10 ounces to knock off Yamaha pro Rick Lillegard of Atkinson, N.H., the No. 23 seed.
“It was a fun day today; I had a good time out there besides the wind and the rain,” said Dudley, runner-up in the 2003 Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year race and the No. 2 seed. “Hopefully tomorrow I’ll do better than I did today, because it’ll probably take 13 pounds to win. I really didn’t have good practice. I’m putting stuff together as the tournament goes on and learning more every day.”
Two of bass fishing’s most successful anglers, 2001 Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., and 1997 and 2000 Angler of the Year Clark Wendlandt of Cedar Park, Texas, fished head-to-head Friday in one of the tournament’s most intense pairings, and VanDam came out the victor with a four-bass catch weighing 6 pounds, 12 ounces. Wendlandt, a Kellogg’s pro and the No. 3 seed, caught two bass weighing 2 pounds, 3 ounces.
“It was brutal today,” said VanDam, a Chevy pro who qualified for the event in the No. 22 position. “I was in the Energizer boat today, and that was my motto – keep going and going and going. I have a style that’s different from some guys; I like to fish fast. My philosophy is to put my bait in front of as many bass as possible. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but this is a great place for that run-and-gun style.”
Also advancing was local angler and No. 34 seed John Crews of Jetersville, who bested No. 10 seed Mike Hawkes of Sabinal, Texas, to claim his final-round spot.
“It was a slow start to the morning,” said Crews, who caught five bass that weighed 9 pounds, 8 ounces. “When my camera boat showed up, I started catching fish.”
Crews, who has only two years on the FLW Tour, ranks as the finalist with the fewest years of experience but said he looks forward to fishing against tournament veterans like VanDam, Dudley and Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., for $500,000.
“I’m looking in every direction and there are champions,” said Crews of his final-round competition. “It’s an honor and a privilege. I’m looking forward to going out there and seeing what I can do.”
Co-angler competition concluded Friday, and Ken Keirsey of Owasso, Okla., claimed $25,000 cash as the Co-angler Division Champion thanks to a four-bass catch that weighed 6 pounds, 14 ounces. His winning weight bested second-place finisher Bret Bell of O’Fallon, Mo., by 1 pound, 14 ounces.
“This is an extreme sport,” said Keirsey, who came back from an 18th-place finish Thursday to win. “We drove for an hour and 20 minutes, broke down for two hours, and riding an hour and 20 minutes back felt like riding a bull. I didn’t think we’d make it. I drew Dave Lefebre both days (as my pro partner), and we had a great trip.”
Keirsey also received a $1,400 Wal-Mart gift card from Castrol. Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Bell (three bass, 5 pounds, $15,000); Craig Clayton of Rogers, Ark. (three bass, 3 pounds, 15 ounces, $12,500); Ralph Wilson of Warner Robins, Ga. (two bass, 3 pounds, 4 ounces, $9,000); and Chuck Lawless of Park Hill, Okla. (three bass, 3 pounds, 4 ounces, $7,500). Ties are broken by end-of-season ranking.
Osborne Marina in Richmond will host the event’s final takeoff at 7 a.m. The $500,000 winner will be crowned Saturday at the weigh-in beginning at 5 p.m. at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Surrounding the tournament is a world-class outdoor show featuring more than 150,000 square feet of exhibits that is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free. The event concludes Saturday with a free concert featuring country artist Andy Griggs following the final weigh-in.
Before Friday’s weigh-in, representatives from Energizer Batteries presented a $25,000 check to the Children’s Miracle Network to recognize the FLW Tour’s maintenance of a 98 percent or higher live-release rate throughout the season. The tour released alive 99.7 percent of all fish weighed in during the season to earn the $25,000 Children’s Miracle Network donation.
Coverage of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour World Championship of Bass Fishing will be featured on the “FLW Outdoors” television show, which is broadcast to 55 million subscribers on the Outdoor Life Network. The program features fishing legends Hank Parker and Larry Nixon alongside hosts Charlie Evans, Carlton Wing and Taylor Carr. Parker’s preview of the championship will air Saturday at 6 p.m. and again Sunday at noon CST. Tournament highlights from the championship will air Sept. 20 and 21 followed by a tournament recap featuring Nixon Sept. 27 and 28.
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. For a complete list of FLW Outdoors sponsors and for more information about the premier products and services they offer, please visit FLWOutdoors.com.