Vida Loca!

Kevin Vida of Clare, Mich., shows off part of his winning 20-pound, 13-ounce stringer. Vida took $15,000 and a brand new Ranger boat after taking first place in the Pro Division at the EverStart tour event on Lake Ontario.

Kevin Vida outduels fellow Michigan natives to take EverStart title on Lake Ontario

CLAYTON, N.Y. - Although normally quiet and reserved, Kevin Vida of Clare, Mich., could hardly contain his excitement after taking home top honors at the EverStart Series tour event on Lake Ontario. Leading the weigh in with a total recorded catch of 20 pounds, 13 ounces, Vida had to sweat out the final few moments as Neil Vandebiezen - the last and final angler standing between him and a championship - walked to the scales. With all eyes focused on the two Michigan natives, Vandebiezen carefully weighed in his five-fish limit.

Suddenly, EverStart tournament director Robert Vannerson yelled out Vandebiezen's weight - 20 pounds, 12 ounces. Amazingly, Vida had held onto first place by a mere 1 ounce. As Vandebiezen placed both hands on his head in disbelief, Vida walked over to his friend and shook his hand. Victory was finally his.

"It feels tremendous. I can't believe it," said Vida, who won $15,000 and a fully equipped Ranger boat valued at $35,000 for his efforts. "I'm exhausted, both mentally and physically. I feel bad for Neil. If you're going to lose, you don't want to lose by 1 ounce. But he's a great competitor and I'm sure it will be his turn to win very soon."

In addition to facing difficult fishing conditions throughout the week, Vida also had to put up with some critical equipment problems that almost cost him dearly on the final day of competition.

"My day really did not start out so well," said Vida, who is fishing in his first full season on the EverStart circuit. "I think I had some fouled plugs in my motor and I really didn't think I was going to be able to get to my fishing spot. Later in the day, I thought I blew my motor, but eventually, it started up again. I drove about 35 mph the whole way home. I was never quite sure if I was going to make it back."

However, despite the problems, Vida said he wouldn't trade his overall experience on Lake Ontario for anything.

"It was a lot of fun fishing with my friends," said Vida, who shared the same fishing spot with three other Michigan natives, including Vandebiezen, throughout the week. "We've been friends for a long time and we really helped each other out. Overall, it's been one of the most phenomenal weeks of fishing of career. I had a great time and the fishing was tremendous."

Heartbreak and happiness

Despite one of the most painful losses of his career, Vandebiezen said he was pleased with his performance and relieved that one of his friends took home the title.

"I've had a great time," said Vandebiezen, a native of Portage, Mich. "It's good to see one of my friends win it all. I knew one of us (Michigan natives) was going to come out on top. It was just a question of who was going to get the bigger bites. I lost two fish today and that's what probably cost me the title."

Fishing in only the second EverStart event of his career, Vandebiezen was able to put the loss in perspective.

"My goal was to make the final cut and I did that," said Vandebiezen, who walked away with a nice consolation prize totaling $10,000. "Each day the fishing seemed to get better and better. It's a beautiful area. And I fished well all week. I really can't complain."

On a roll in the east, central and north

With his third-place finish on Lake Ontario, Koby Kreiger can probably lay claim to being the best all-around angler on the entire EverStart circuit as of late. Boasting a fourth-place finish in the EverStart Eastern Division point race, a victory last May at the EverStart Central Division tour event on Kentucky Lake and a top-three performance today in the second Northern Division event of 2001, Kreiger has clearly put the rest of the league on notice.

Of course, you'd never know it from talking to Kreiger.

"I really didn't fish that well today," said the native of Osceola, Ind., after posting a final-day catch of 19 pounds, 13 ounces. "I had a pretty good week, but I lost a fish today that probably cost me the tournament."

Despite the "setback," Kreiger acknowledged that he had a lot of fun fishing with his friends from Michigan.

"I had a great time fishing with those guys," said Kreiger. "I knew that one of us was going to win the tournament. And that's exactly what happened. I would have liked to have finished first, but when you make the top three, you really can't complain too loudly."

For his efforts, Kreiger took home a check for $9,000.

Gerald Beck of Lexington, N.C. finished in fourth place with a total catch of 19 pounds, 9 ounces. Beck netted a check for $8,000. In fifth place was Art Ferguson III of Saint Clair Shores, Mich., who turned in a 19-pound, 4-ounce catch while walking away with $7,500 in prize money.

Best of the rest

Rounding out the top 10 were Mark "Z-Man" Zona (sixth) of Sturgis, Mich., with a catch of 18 pounds, 15 ounces; Bob Izumi (seventh) of Burlington, Ontario, - representing the only Canadian to make it to the finals - with a catch of 16 pounds, 2 ounces; David Hayward (eighth) of Sylvania, Ohio, with a catch of 14 pounds, 11 ounces; John Green (ninth) of Lakeville, Ind., with a catch of 11 pounds, 1 ounce; and Ernie Freeman (tenth) of Waldorf, Md., with a catch of 6 pounds, 8 ounces.

The next EverStart Northern Division event will take place at Sandusky Bay, Ohio, Aug. 22-25.

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