Vatalaro opened the tournament Wednesday with five bass weighing 19 pounds, 8 ounces. On Thursday, he added another five bass weighing 20 pounds, 1 ounce to his catch to make the top-20 cut in second place with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 39 pounds, 9 ounces. He then caught five bass weighing 18 pounds, 13 ounces Friday to make the top-10 cut in second place. On Saturday he caught another five bass weighing 19 pounds, 13 ounces to secure his third Stren Series win.
"It was a pretty rough ride today," said Vatalaro, who has five wins and 11 top-10 finishes in FLW competition. "You have to have a good boat, good motor and good gear to fish in conditions like this."
Vatalaro drove his Z21 Ranger 55 miles across Lake Erie in 6- to 7-foot waves to get to a small rock pile. Once there, he used a Mizmo goby on a drop-shot to catch the majority of his bass.
"I was doing a couple things differently than most people were," he said. "I fished my drop-shot about 6 inches off the bottom while others were fishing theirs several feet from the bottom. The other thing I did was try to keep my bait in one place. I didn't want that sinker to move at all."
Vatalaro said by keeping his bait in one place, he reduced the chances of catching a sheepshead and improved his chances of catching bass.
"Sheepsheads like a moving bait," he said. "My co-angler caught about 50 sheepsheads and that's a nightmare. You have to play that big fish and try not to snap your rig off. By keeping the bait in one place, it seemed to catch the bass and not the sheepsheads."
Rounding out the top five pros are Joe Balog of Harrison Township, Mich. (10 bass, 37 pounds, 12 ounces, $9,200); Christopher King of South Amherst, Ohio (10 bass, 36 pounds, 13 ounces, $8,500); Dave Lefebre of Union City, Penn. (10 bass, 35 pounds, 10 ounces, $7,550); and Mike Hoskings of Dumfries, Va. (10 bass, 33 pounds, 7 ounces, $7,050).
Stephen Domonkos of Middleburg, Ohio, won the Co-angler Division thanks to a final-round total of eight bass weighing 32 pounds, 4 ounces. Domonkos earned a 519VX Ranger plus $4,700 cash for a total award of $34,700.
Domonkos opened the tournament Wednesday with five bass weighing 15 pounds, 14 ounces. On Thursday he added another five bass weighing 14 pounds, 3 ounces to his catch to make the top-20 cut in third place with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing, 30 pounds, 1 ounce. He then caught three bass weighing 12 pounds, 4 ounces Friday to make the top-10 cut in third place. On Saturday he caught five bass weighing 20 pounds to secure his first Stren Series win.
"This is just phenomenal," said Domonkos, competing in his first Stren Series event. "When everything settles down and finally sinks in, it will be one of the best times of my life."
Domonkos drop-shotted gobies and Erie Darters, while fishing with Balog in the final round.
"The wind was blowing like crazy and made it really bad out there, but Joe kept us in position and on top of the fish," he said. "I'm just glad everyone made it back safe and sound today. If it were for these Ranger boats, I'm sure a few of them wouldn't have made it through those seven-foot waves."
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Stephen Semelsberger Jr., of Mt. Airy, Md., (seven bass, 27 pounds, 5 ounces, $3,700); Larry Drewett of Sterling, Va. (seven bass, 21 pounds, 9 ounces, $3,320); Rob Webber of Elyria, Ohio (five bass, 17 pounds, 14 ounces, 2,320); and Dick Parker of Amherst, Ohio (six bass, 16 pounds, 6 ounces, $1,820).
Stren Series tournaments are four-day events consisting of two rounds. The entire field competes Wednesday and Thursday, and the top 20 pros and co-anglers - based on two-day accumulated weights - advance to Friday. Anglers start at zero Friday and compete for 10 spots in each division Saturday. Winners are determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from Friday and Saturday.
The top 40 pros and top 40 co-anglers from each of the Stren Series' five divisions - Central, Midwest, Northeast, Southeast and Western - following four tournaments in each division will advance to the $1 million Stren Series Championship on Wheeler Lake in Decatur, Ala., Nov. 1-4 where they will fish for top awards of $140,000 and $70,000, respectively. The highest-finishing pro from each division at the Stren Series Championship will also earn a spot in the new $2 million 2007 Forrest Wood Cup where they will compete against top pros from the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League and Ranger owners' tournaments for bass fishing's first $1 million top award.
Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, FLW Outdoors administers the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Series, Stren Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail presented by Abu Garcia, Stratos Owners' Tournament Trail, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye League, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Series, Wal-Mart FLW Redfish Series and Wal-Mart FLW Striper Series. These circuits offer combined purses exceeding $37.9 million through 249 events in 2006.
For more information about FLW Outdoors and its tournament programs, visit FLWOutdoors.com or call (270) 252-1000.
Wal-Mart and many of America's largest and most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its tournament trails. Wal-Mart signed on as an FLW Outdoors sponsor in 1997 and today is the world's leading supporter of tournament fishing. For more information about Wal-Mart, visit Wal-Mart.com.