“I’m so nervous, so happy,” said Israel, a 58-year-old grandmother of two who moved from New York to Clewiston, Fla., and started fishing seven years ago. “I’ve dreamed about this moment for so long.”
Israel caught her bass Friday using a technique that she dreads – flipping. She stuck with the unfamiliar tactic using a borrowed flipping stick and a 4-inch Gambler tube with a 1/4-ounce sinker. She flipped the bait to wood cover while fishing clear water with veteran pro Dean Rojas of Grand Saline, Texas.
“I just try to learn as much as possible every time I go on the water,” Israel said. “If my partner is talkative, I ask a million questions. All of the great professionals I’ve fished with are part of this win.”
Israel, who is enjoying her third year of sponsorship by Land O’Lakes, advanced to the final round as the No. 5 seed with a two-day total of five bass weighing 10 pounds, 11 ounces. She will be fishing the EverStart Series Northern Division as a pro starting in June. Her $20,000 win here will further advance her status as the leading female money winner in FLW Tour history. She also collected a $500 Wal-Mart gift card from Castrol and $500 worth of Castrol products for the win.
Israel first made a name for herself in fishing circles in 1999 when she became the first woman to crack the top 10 in FLW Tour competition, finishing ninth on Lake Okeechobee in Florida.
Pro Chris Baumgardner of Gastonia, N.C., took the Pro Division lead Friday with five bass weighing 13 pounds, 4 ounces. He caught the bass by flipping hyacinth mats in clear water. His bait of choice was a Zoom Vibe craw in black sapphire with a 1-ounce tungsten weight.
“I tried everything else, and flipping is the only pattern that I could figure out,” said Baumgardner, and FLW Tour veteran who last made the top 10 in 1999. “I probably caught a dozen to 15 keepers today, and I’m getting more confident every day.”
Rounding out the top five pros are Fujifilm pro Sam Swett of Covington, La. (five bass, 12 pounds, 14 ounces); Tom Monsoor of La Crosse, Wis. (five bass, 12 pounds, 6 ounces); Steve Tosh of Waterford, Calif. (four bass, 8 pounds, 6 ounces); and Fujifilm pro Randy Blaukat of Lamar, Mo. (four bass, 7 pounds, 12 ounces).
Baumgardner caught eight bass weighing 26 pounds, 10 ounces during the opening round to advance to the finals as the No. 3 seed.
Rounding out the top three co-anglers are Donald Braud of Woodville, Miss. (two bass, 3 pounds, 13 ounces, $10,000) and Leon Williams of Fairdale, Ky. (one bass, 2 pounds, 7 ounces, $9,000).
So far, 1,215 bass weighing a total of 2,951 pounds, 13 ounces have been weighed in. More than 99 percent of the bass have been released alive, thanks in part to an all-new, state-of-the-art Crestliner release boat that will be used at every FLW Tour stop in 2004. If the tour maintains a 98 percent live-release rate throughout the season, Energizer will donate $25,000 to the Children’s Miracle Network.
Bill McDonlad earned the Energizer Keeps on Going Award and a $500 Wal-Mart gift card for advancing to the final round as the No. 10 seed after finishing 44th on opening day. He also earned the Schick Close Shave Award, a $100 Wal-Mart gift card and a selection of Schick products for advancing to the finals in the last qualifying position.
Tom Monsoor of La Crosse, Wis., earned the Shop-Vac Clean Sweep Award and a selection of four Shop-Vac products for advancing to the finals as the No. 1 seed with 10 bass weighing 32 pounds, 11 ounces.
The four-day tournament is the second of seven events that comprise the $6.8 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour, which culminates with the record-setting $1.5 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship and Outdoor Show in Birmingham, Ala., Aug. 11-14. At the championship, the winning pro earns the sport’s largest cash award, $500,000, and fishing fans are treated to hundreds of displays featuring special offers on everything from crankbaits to bass boats. The FLW Tour is the nation’s top tournament circuit.
Coverage of the Atchafalaya Basin tournament will be broadcast to 65 million Outdoor Life Network subscribers on the “FLW Outdoors” television program. A tournament preview featuring bass-fishing legend Hank Parker will air Feb. 29 at 1 p.m. Eastern time and March 4 at 5 p.m. Eastern time. Fishing fans can watch the tournament weigh-in with hosts Carlton Wing, Taylor Carr and Charlie Evans March 7 at 1 p.m. and March 11 at 5 p.m. Eastern time. Tournament veteran Larry Nixon will host a tournament wrap-up March 14 at 1 p.m. Eastern time and March 18 at 5 p.m. Eastern time.
Anglers take off at 7 Saturday morning from Belle River Park Landing in Belle River, and the final weigh-in at the Wal-Mart store located at 973 Highway 90 E. in Bayou Vista starts at 3 p.m. The FLW Tour’s Family Fun Zone featuring product giveaways, interactive displays and games for fishing fans of all ages opens in the Wal-Mart parking lot at 11 a.m.
The FLW Tour field expanded from 175 to 200 pros and 200 co-anglers for 2004. Pros and co-anglers are randomly paired each day, with pros supplying the boat, controlling boat movement and competing against other pros. Co-anglers fish from the back deck against other co-anglers. Anglers in both divisions competed for two days to determine the top 10 who advanced to Friday’s competition. Weights were cleared Friday, and the remaining co-anglers competed for one day to determine the winner. The top 10 pros continue competition Saturday, with the winner determined by the heaviest two-day weight.
Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, the Wal-Mart FLW Tour is administered by FLW Outdoors, the world’s leading marketer of competitive fishing. Other FLW Outdoors-sanctioned tournament trails are the EverStart Series, the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Tour, the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye League and the Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail.
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.