It shone with extra warmth on California's Charlie Weyer, who brought home 8 pounds of hard-won bass to win his first BASS event. His four day total of 32 pounds 10 ounces put him comfortably above the rest of the field, with a margin of 4-3 over second-place finisher Mark Tucker of Missouri.
Weyer, who has been fishing with BASS since 1997, was overwhelmed with excitement about the victory.
"I'm so excited," Weyer said. "I can't believe all these people want my autograph. It's unbelievable. I don't know what to say."
To earn the $100,000 winner's purse, Weyer stuck to his strategy from Day 3, Carolina rigging a Fred Head shaky head worm on 10-pound test line in backwater areas still swollen from Thursday's torrential rainstorms.
"These were some of the toughest conditions I've seen in a tournament," Weyer said. "I thought if I could at least catch three fish a day, I could possibly make the top 12. Today, at 12 o'clock I didn't have a fish and I ran to a spot where I caught three fish yesterday and I got three fish in two hours.
"I knew with the weather and the lake coming up, that the run-ins were going to be the key in this tournament. The water came up about 10 or 12 feet in the tournament. Friday, I found two of them and those couple of creeks are where I caught all of my fish."
Weyers picked up an extra $1,000 when his 8-pound sack proved to be the largest of the day, making him Sunday's Busch Heavyweight. If that 8-pound sack winds up being one of the top 10 heaviest sacks of the Tour and Elite 50 events, Weyer will go on to a mystery lake on Sept. 18 to compete in the first Busch Shootout Tournament.
Mark Tucker came into the final day of competition in the third spot, but brought in 5-2 to give him second place with a four-day total of 28-7. Tucker had been fishing deep for most of the first three days, and although his water was muddy, decided to stick with it for day four.
"For the fish I broke off this week and the fish that I lost, it's amazing that I'm still here," he said. "It was tough fishing. This morning I fished for two hours and had to engage my reel with my thumb. It wouldn't work, it was froze up and the water just kept coming up too much. I couldn't visualize where I've been catching my fish the last two days. All I needed was one of those big bites today and I might have had a chance."
Alabama favorite Gerald Swindle ended the tournament with 22-6, putting him in fifth. Swindle said he was thrilled with a top six finish, but is hungry for his first BASS win.
"It's pretty awesome to see everybody here," he said. "You want to do better. When I go to Guntersville, I've got to win, man. That's all there is to it. I have to come back and make the cut. The fire is going to burn deeper and deeper every day, and hotter and hotter."
Sunday's Purolator Big Bass went to Weyer, who reeled in a 3-pound, 12-ounce lunker that earned him $1,000. Tucker added an extra $1,000 to his tournament earnings when his 6-11 Big Bass from Friday's round proved to be the Purolator Big Bass of the Tournament.
The CITGO Bassmaster Tour heads to Lake Guntersville in two weeks for the third event on the 2004 Tour, Feb. 26-29.
Fans can catch a telecast of the Smith Lake tournament on Saturday, Feb. 14 at 10:30 a.m. ET/9:30 a.m. CT on ESPN2.
Thousands of fans were on hand Sunday afternoon to take part in the highly interactive and family friendly BASS Sponsor Expo area. Sponsors presented interactive exhibits and provided a fun family experience for all ages.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, BBerkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Associate Sponsors include G3 Boats and Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning.
Local Sponsors include the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.