February 11, 2001 by Gary Mortenson
Nuckols wins Pro Division, Johnson takes second as both anglers duplicate day-three finish
CLEWISTON, Fla. - James Nuckols Jr. picked up right where he left off on Friday. Registering a final-day catch of 20 pounds, 6 ounces, Nuckols squeaked by "best friend" Rufus Johnson by a mere 4 ounces to capture the $185,000 EverStart Series Eastern Division tour event on Lake Okeechobee. The victory represented the first-ever EverStart series win for Nuckols.
"This is awesome. It feels great," said an elated Nuckols shortly after the final weigh-in. "I've finished in the top 10 several times, but I was never able to win an EverStart until today. I can't tell you how happy I am."
Making the victory even sweeter for Nuckols was the fact that he edged out Johnson, his best friend and long-time fishing partner.
"This is almost like fishing a local tournament back home with Rufus," said Nuckols. "I can tell you that I wouldn't be standing here today if it wasn't for Rufus' help. We tell each other everything we're doing. And we didn't hold (any information) back this tournament. We worked together the whole time and we even made a deal last night that we would split the prize money. He's just a great friend."
Nuckols, a native of Rockwood, Tenn., won $15,000 in prize money and a brand new Ranger boat valued at $35,000. However, Nuckols said that if it weren't for some fortuitous circumstances during the final 30 minutes of competition, he wouldn't have come close to finishing in first place.
"At about 1:30 p.m. I had about 7 or 8 pounds of fish. That's when I started getting really nervous" said Nuckols. "But about 2:30 p.m. the fish started biting again. And as luck would have it, I landed four of my five keepers in the last 20 minutes. It was close."
Johnson, a native of Strawberry Plains, Tenn., finished in second place with a final-day catch of 20 pounds, 2 ounces. Although he walked away with $10,000 in prize money, his accomplishment was bittersweet.
"I wanted to win the tournament, but I'm really happy for (Nuckols)," said Johnson, who was bolstered by a last-minute decision by his family to drive all night from Tennessee to get to the final-day weigh-in. "I did great all week, so I didn't really expect to catch the amount of fish I did today. But I had a couple of really good spots and it worked out in the end."
Johnson, who missed out on the prize money in two previous EverStart tournaments on Lake Okeechobee, said he was amazed at the quality of fishing at the Big O.
"This lake is just a fishing factory," said Johnson, who also caught the majority of his fish during the final 30 minutes of competition. "Overall, it's been a great experience."
Mark Rogers of Naples, Fla., appeared to have the competition won after registering a catch of 19 pounds, 8 ounces. However, he was forced to settle for third place after Johnson and Nuckols brought up back-to-back sacks weighing 20-plus pounds each.
"I was on some really good fish all day," said Rogers, who won a check for $9,000. "It worked out well."
Mike Glazier of Frederick, Md., finished fourth with a catch of 15 pounds, 9 ounces - an effort good enough to win a check for $8,000.
"It's been a blast all week," said Glazier. "I've had a great time and some great partners. Lake Okeechobee is just fantastic."
However, Glazier admitted that he had one moment that nearly took the fun out of the entire tournament.
"Today, my partner hooked into a gator and I almost broke my neck running away from it," Glazier joked. "I thought he had a fish on and when I went down to net it, I saw this giant head come out of the water. I jumped up and told my partner, `There is no way I'm taking that thing off, you're on your own.'"
Roger Crafton of Boca Grande, Fla., finished in fifth place with a final-day catch of 15 pounds, 5 ounces. Crafton, who won a check for $7,500, said he loved every minute of his trip.
"It's been a lot of fun," said Crafton. "The fishing was fantastic and everyone has been great. What more can you say."
Rounding out the top 10 were Rodney Sorrell (sixth) of Stokesdale, N.C., with a catch of 15 pounds, 2 ounces; Chris Daves (seventh) of Spring Grove, Va., with a catch of 14 pounds; Dwayne Horton (eighth) of Knoxville, Tenn., with a catch of13 pounds, 11 ounces; Greg Pugh (ninth) of Cullman, Ala., with a catch of 12 pounds, 5 ounces; and Dan Jackson of Youngsville, N.C., with a catch of 10 pounds, 13 ounces.
Kimball scores co-angler victory in first EverStart competition
Although Jim Kimball was fishing in the first EverStart Series tournament of his life, you would not have known it by the outcome. Kimball, a native of Okeechobee, Fla., used a 13-pound, 4-ounce catch to beat out rival competitor Tom Turner by one ounce and capture the Co-Angler Division.
Kimball, who put in dominating performances all week, won $6,000 and an automatic bid to the 2001 EverStart Series Championship next November.
"Oh man, this is great," he said. "This tournament has been a ball. I've had great partners all week and I've really learned a lot. It's just been fantastic."
Ironically, Kimball wasn't even sure he was going to be able to participate in the tournament until just a few days before the event.
"I was number 50 on the waitlist," he said. "And I really didn't think I had a chance to make it. But then I got a call about three days before the tournament was supposed to start and they asked me if I wanted to fish. Believe it or not, I actually hesitated. But at the last minute I decided to enter. I'm sure glad I did."
Turner, a native of Bowie, Md., finished in second place with a catch of 13 pounds, 3 ounces. The effort was good enough to earn him a check for $4,000.
"It's been a fantastic experience," said Turner, despite losing the championship by a mere 1 ounce. "All of my partners have been exceptional guys. It's just been a great tournament. I'm happy."
Dale Warren of Newton Grove, N.C. finished in third place with a catch of 12 pounds, 4 ounces. Warren won a check for $3,500. Roy Altman, Jr., of Augusta, Ga., finished fourth with a catch of 11 pounds, 4 ounces and won $3,000. Lloyd Block of Caruthersville, Mo., took home fifth place and a check for $2,500 with a catch of 10 pounds, 9 ounces.
Rounding out the top 10 were Ralph Mulleins (sixth) of Cumberland, Va., with a catch of 7 pounds, 13 ounces; Roger Phillips (seventh) of Delta, Ala., with a catch of 7 pounds, 9 ounces; Dave Schneider (eighth) of Indianapolis, Ind., with a catch of 6 pounds, 8 ounces; Allen McKinney (ninth) of Tobaccoville, N.C., with a catch of 4 pounds, 12 ounces; and Greg Lineberry of Galax, Va., with a catch of 1 pound, 12 ounces.
The next EverStart Series Eastern Division tour event will take place Feb. 2 - March 3 on Lake Eufaula in Eufaula, Ala. The first EverStart Series Central Division tour event of the season is scheduled for March 7-10 on Ft. Gibson Lake in Wagoner, Okla.