June 21, 2001 by Gary Mortenson
Parnell grabs top spot in Co-Angler Division with whopping 20-pound, 4-ounce catch as VanDam tightens grip on Angler of the Year title
DETROIT - Fishing in the his first FLW tour event of the year, Chris Walker of Indianapolis, Ind., used an 18-pound, 8-ounce catch to capture the overall lead in the Pro Division at the $1 million Wal-Mart Forrest Wood Open on Lake St. Clair. But while Walker was definitely pleased with his performance, he clearly had something else on his mind as he walked off the weigh-in stage.
"It's truly an awesome experience. I don't know how to explain it," said Walker. "I can't wait to call my wife, Jenny, and tell her what happened."
While it is not uncommon for anglers to rush back to their hotel rooms and call their wives after a fantastic performance, this phone call would have extra special meaning for Walker.
"The reason this is only my first tour event of the year is because my wife was diagnosed with congestive heart failure at the start of the season," said Walker. "She was on life support for three months and I decided to drop out of the FLW tour to be by her side. I was signed up to fish the whole year, but I just couldn't leave her."
After an agonizing and tense first few months of the year, Jenny Walker finally recovered enough to leave the hospital. Relieved and exhausted, Walker continued to help his wife win one of the most important battles of her life.
"She's doing great right now and feeling much better," said Walker. "I told her that I would stay with her as long as necessary, but she insisted that I return to the tour. I think her exact words were, `Go out there and win this thing.' I'm just tickled to death."
Buoyed by Jenny's words of encouragement, Walker kicked off the start of today's competition by catching a limit by 9 a.m. on a combination of jerkbaits, tubes and soft plastics.
"I was really nervous in the beginning," said Walker. "But things started to go well for me very early on. I caught two big fish in the first 35 minutes and I guess I never really looked back. Hopefully, I can keep this up for the rest of the tournament."
Best of the rest
On the strength of a 16-pound, 11-ounce catch, Terry Baksay of Monroe, Conn., grabbed the second overall spot in the Pro Division while Scott Dobson of Waterford, Mich., finished the day in third place with a 16 pound, 8-ounce catch.
Rounding out the top five were Pat Fisher (fourth) of Stone Mountain, Ga., with a catch of 16 pounds, 7 ounces; and Rob Kilby (fifth) of Hot Springs, Ark., with a catch of 16 pounds, 5 ounces.
Clark Wendlandt of Cedar Park, Texas, last year's Kellogg's Angler of the Year, won the day's Big Bass award after landing a 5-pound, 1-ounce smallmouth. For his efforts, Wendlandt won a check for $1,250.
Angler of the Year award almost sewn up
Kevin VanDam used a 14-pound, 4-ounce catch to take a giant step forward in the race for the 2001 Land O'Lakes Angler of the Year title - awarded to the most consistent tournament angler over the course of a season. VanDam, who led all anglers heading into the Lake St. Clair tourney with 932 angler-of-the-year points, can win the award outright by finishing higher than 74th place, regardless of how the rest of the field places.
Although VanDam said he would be honored to win the award, he argued that his main objective is to win the tournament.
"Right now, my goal is to make the top 10," he said. "If I do my job, the title will come along with it. I have a plan that I'm going to implement tomorrow. I just need to go out and continue to execute."
VanDam is trying to hold off legendary angler Rick Clunn (currently in second place with 858 points) and Micky Bruce (third) of Buford, Ga., with 853 points. VanDam finished the day in 22nd place.
Parnell raises eyebrows with eye-popping stringer
Although Rick Parnell of Casselberry, Fla., isn't used to fishing in the cold, northern waters of Lake St. Clair, you would have never known it after the incredible performance he put on today. Using a whopping catch of 20 pounds, 4 ounces, Parnell blew away his closest competitor by a full 5 pounds, 5 ounces to claim the top spot in the Co-Angler Division heading into tomorrow's competition. Parnell, who turned in the largest stringer of the day, in any division, by far, said he was happy with his overall performance to date.
"It feels great. This is the biggest stringer of my life," said Parnell. "I had a great partner and he just got on some really nice fish. This is a great fishery, there's a lot of big fish out there."
Parnell, who also took home the Big Bass award in the Co-Angler Division after weighing in the largest bass of the day - a 5-pound, 7-ounce smallmouth - said that smallmouth fishing is quite a bit different than fishing for largemouth bass down south.
"For starters, smallmouths are a lot harder to get into the boat because they fight so much," said Parnell. "You also have to play them a lot longer. Also, it's a lot harder to find areas that have the big smallmouths in them. But overall, fishing for smallmouth bass is a lot of fun."
Parnell believes he can make the top-10 cut if he can land between 6 and 10 pounds of fish tomorrow.
"I just can't wait to get back out there," he said. "I just hope to God my partner puts me on fish."
Tommy Gaffney of Little Switzerland, N.C., finished in second place with a 14-pound, 15-ounce catch. Jim Blake of Lincoln, Neb., ended up in third place after recording a catch weighing 14 pounds, 2 ounces.
Rounding out the top five were Donald Cox (fourth) of Rochester, Ind., with a catch of 14 pounds; and Donald Tross (fifth) of Newport News, Va., with a catch of 13 pounds, 14 ounces.
Competition continues at 6:30 a.m. Thursday at Metro Beach Metropark in Mt. Clemens, Mich., followed by a 3 p.m. weigh-in at the same location. Only the top-10 anglers in each division after tomorrow's competition will survive to fish on Friday.
Quick Bites, Day 1