A unique NCAA-style bracket system in which Pro Division anglers are seeded according to their year-end ranking and fish head-to-head matches rather than against the entire field has produced some formidable pairings. Former Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year winners Clark Wendlandt of Cedar Park, Texas, who fishes for Team Kellogg’s, and David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn., who fishes for Team Stanley Works, will compete in the opening round with the winner facing either 2001 Bassmaster Classic champion and former Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., or Yamaha pro Terry Bolton of Paducah, Ky. Another high-profile pairing pits veteran Chevy pro Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., against Lake Murray champion Chris Elliott of Gloucester, N.C., with the winner facing either 2000 FLW Tour champion Dion Hibdon of Stover, Mo., or 2002 FLW Tour champion John Sappington of Wyandotte, Okla., who fishes for Team Snickers.
Like Elliott, John Crews of Jetersville, Va., is a another young gun who will be tested early when he squares off against one of the sport’s all-time greats, Rick Clunn of Ava., Mo., in the opening round.
This year’s pro field includes six FLW Tour rookies – Elliott; Todd Auten of Lake Wylie, S.C.; Toshinari Namiki of Tokyo, Japan; Todd Ary of Birmingham, Ala.; Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala.; and Tim Carroll of Owasso, Okla. – and two bass-fishing legacies, Stanley pro Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla., and Land O’Lakes pro Keith Williams of Conway, Ark.
Fourteen qualifiers will be making their first FLW Tour championship appearance. At the other end of the spectrum, five anglers – Kellogg’s pro Alvin Shaw of State Road, N.C.; Hibdon; Wendlandt; Castrol pro David Dudley of Manteo, N.C.; and Chevy pro Tommy Biffle of Wagoner, Okla. – will be making their seventh FLW Tour championship appearance, which means they have missed only one championship since the tour’s founding in 1996.
In all, 26 states and Japan will be represented in the championship.
Following the two-day opening round, 24 anglers advance to the semifinal round based on their two-day accumulated weight. Head-to-head competition continues in the one-day semifinal round, after which 12 anglers advance to the final round. The 12 finalists start from zero and compete for one day to determine the winner of a record-setting $500,000 cash award.
Co-anglers, who fish from the back of each pro’s boat, compete for two days, and the top 24 anglers based on their two-day accumulated weight advance to the third and final day of co-angler competition. Weights are cleared for the co-angler final round.
Eighteen co-anglers will be making their first FLW Tour championship appearance, and six co-anglers – Quint Bourgeois of Knoxville, Tenn.; David Hudson of Jasper, Ala.; Darrell Stevens of Roseland, Va.; Troy Pickett of Roberta, Ga.; Todd Lee of Jasper, Ala.; and Doug Caldwell of Kane, Pa. – have qualified for five or more FLW Tour championships. Only Hudson and Lee have qualified for seven championships as co-anglers.
Team Stanley co-angler Mary Parnell, the only woman who qualified for the championship, is making her third appearance.
An outdoor show with 140 exhibits covering 150,000 square feet at the Greater Richmond Convention Center will accompany the FLW Tour world championship of bass fishing. The outdoor show will feature free daily giveaways sponsored by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a free country music concert by one of Nashville’s biggest stars and great buys on everything from plastic worms to Ranger Boats.
Sept. 10 is hat and T-shirt day at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. The first 1,500 children 12 and under accompanied by an adult to visit the outdoor show after 3:30 p.m. receive a free FLW Outdoors hat and T-shirt. The first 2,000 children through the door after 3:30 p.m. Sept. 11 receive a free tackle box, and the first 2,000 children through the door after 3:30 p.m. Sept. 12 receive a free tackle kit. Free rod-and-reel combos will be given to the first 3,000 children visiting the outdoor show Sept. 13, and a one-of-a-kind Chevy Rocks Ranger Comanche bass boat will be given away by the Richmond Times-Dispatch to one lucky member of the audience following the final weigh-in. Daily takeoffs start at 7 a.m. at Osborne Landing followed by 5 p.m. weigh-ins at the convention center.
On Sept. 8, the FLW Outdoors Celebrity Challenge, a charity tournament to benefit prostate cancer research at City of Hope in Los Angeles, will pair championship anglers with corporate donors and celebrities like 2002 NASCAR Rookie of the Year Ryan Newman for a team event on Lake Chesdin. The public is invited to attend the Celebrity Challenge weigh-in from 2 to 4 p.m. at Seven Springs Marina in Matoaca.
Named after Ranger Boats founder Forrest L. Wood, the Wal-Mart FLW Tour is run by FLW Outdoors, the world’s leading marketer of competitive fishing. Wal-Mart signed on as title sponsor of the FLW Tour in 1996 and has since expanded its sponsorship of FLW Outdoors tournaments to include the EverStart Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail, Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Tour and Wal-Mart RCL Walleye League. FLW Outdoors will award anglers as much as $20 million in 2003 through 175 tournaments nationwide.
For more information, including a complete schedule of events and complete list of qualifiers, visit www.FLWOutdoors.com. To plan your trip to Richmond for the historic $1.5 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour world championship of bass fishing and outdoor show Sept. 10-13, visit www.Virginia.org.