November 8, 2001 by Gary Mortenson
Flesh uses gutsy performance to grab lead in Co-angler Division
FLORENCE, Ala. - Darrel Robertson did it again. While the other 323 anglers were trying unsuccessfully to unlock the mystery of Pickwick Lake over the last two days, Robertson was busy putting on a fishing clinic. Showing a remarkable amount of consistency and skill, Robertson became the only angler to record consecutive five-fish limits during the first two days of the 2001 EverStart Championship.
Once again, Robertson proved that when it comes to fall fishing, he is clearly the man to beat.
"I'm happy to be in this position," said Robertson, a native of Jay, Okla. "I feel like I can catch 10 pounds every day. Anything over that is a bonus. But I'll tell you what, 10 or 11 pounds over the next two days just might be all that a guy needs to win this thing."
Robertson, who has been alternating between crankbaits, rattletraps and fluke baits, said that he has been concentrating primarily on the shallow waters of Pickwick Lake.
"Basically, I'm targeting schooling bass in the shallows," said Robertson, who turned in a two-day total of 24 pounds, 4 ounces. "As long as they continue to school, I'll catch them. But you never know what these bass are going to do. If they stop schooling tomorrow, I could be out of luck."
Although Robertson didn't land two bass on one incredible cast as he did yesterday, the Oklahoma native clearly didn't need any "luck" this afternoon. After the first 15 minutes of today's competition, Robertson had already boated three keepers - clearly enough fish to advance to the next round.
After that, it was all downhill.
"I just messed around the rest of the day looking for some other (locations) to fish," said Robertson. "But late in the afternoon, I started getting worried that I would need one more fish to make the cut. So, I started fishing again."
A few minutes later, Robertson boated his next two fish. Just like that, he became the only angler to land a limit all day. However, if that wasn't discouraging enough for the competition, Robertson acknowledged that he isn't even fishing for smallmouth bass - the predominant fish in the lake.
"I've never been able to figure those smallmouth bass out, especially down here," said Robertson. "So, I've been mostly fishing for largemouth."
If the trend continues, he could be fishing for $25,000 and a new Ranger boat as early as Saturday morning.
Balog logs another strong finish
Joe Balog of Independence, Ohio, turned in the next strongest performance to date. After recording one of only three limits in yesterday's competition, Balog finished strongly again - landing four fish weighing in at 9 pounds, 2 ounces. While Balog's two-day total of 21 pounds, 11 ounces put his solidly in second place, the Ohio native acknowledged that the conditions aren't getting any easier as the tournament wears on.
"It was a lot tougher out there today," said Balog, who was in third place after the first day of competition. "It took me all day to catch those four fish. But if I can get some good current tomorrow, I think I can do well. The key for me is finding that current."
Mark Mauldin of Cleveland, Tenn., finished the day in third place with a two-day catch of 18 pounds, 4 ounces. Terry Tucker of Gadsden, Ala., took the fourth spot with a total catch of 17 pounds, 10 ounces. Dave Lefebre of Erie, Penn., grabbed fifth place with a total catch of 15 pounds, 8 ounces.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top 10 were: Jim Eakins (sixth) of Nixa, Mo., with a total catch of 15 pounds; Greg Pugh (seventh) of Cullman, Ala., with a catch of 14 pounds, 13 ounces; Vic Vatalaro (eighth) of Kent, Ohio, with a catch of 14 pounds, 1 ounce; Ricky Shumpert (ninth) of Lexington, S.C., with a catch of 13 pounds, 14 ounces; and Richard Grosse (tenth) of Hebron, Ohio, with a catch of 13 pounds, 8 ounces.
Bill McDonald of Indianapolis, Ind., won the day's Big Bass award in the Pro Division after landing a 5-pound, 3-ounce fish. McDonald, who finished in 26th place, won $625 for his catch.
The pro field will be whittled down to the top-five competitors after tomorrow's competition. The five remaining finalists will fish for the championship on Saturday.
Sole survivor lands in first place
By her own account, Renee Flesh's performances topped her wildest of expectations. Not only did she put on a stellar showing, turning a two-day total of 10 pounds, 9 ounces to grab first place in the Co-angler Division, but her hard work also allowed her to become the only woman in the entire tournament to advance to the semifinals.
What made the feat even more amazing was the fact that this is only her first year on the EverStart Series circuit.
"I'm speechless right now," said Flesh. "I've never fished here before and I knew that it was going to be tough. I really thought I'd be going home on Friday. But my partners have been great. And so far, everything has worked out."
To be sure, Flesh won't be going anywhere on Friday with the exception of Pickwick Lake - possibly the most important fishing trip of her career.
"If I can just hold on tomorrow, I should be okay," she said.
Unlike the pros, the co-angler championship will be decided after tomorrow's competition.
Flesh, who ranked an amazing 13th place overall in the Northern Division in only her rookie year of EverStart competition, had finished as high as 5th place during the 2001 season. However, while this is the biggest EverStart tournament of her career by far, the young woman didn't seem fazed by the pressure.
"Tomorrow, I'm just going to stick with my instincts," said Flesh. "If I catch them, I catch them. If I don't, I don't. It's just great to get this far."
Gary Collins of Russell Springs, Ky., finished the day in second place after posting a two-day total of 10 pounds, 3 ounces. Fellow Kentucky native and day-one leader Jeffery Carman (of Liberty) was in third place with a two-day catch of 9 pounds, 5 ounces.
Bo Standley of Silsbee, Texas, was in fourth place after landing a two-day total of 8 pounds, 10 ounces. Standley also won the day's Big Bass award in the Co-angler Division after boating a 5-pound bass. The fish earned Standley a check for $250.
Chuck Welch of Knoxville, Tenn., finished in fifth place after recording a two-day catch of 8 pounds, 7 ounces.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top 10 were: Guy Lindstrom (sixth) of Horseshoe Bend, Ark., with a catch of 7 pounds; Ken Keys (seventh) of Evansville, Ind., with a catch of 6 pounds, 12 ounces; 2000 EverStart Co-angler Champion Wesley Burnett (eighth) of Hot Springs, Ark., with a catch of 5 pounds, 15 ounces; David Bailey (ninth) of Churubusco, Ind., with a catch of 5 pounds, 10 ounces; and Claude Broomes (tenth) of Indianapolis, Ind., with a catch of 5 pounds, 9 ounces.
Tournament action resumes tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. at McFarland Park Marina located on James M. Spain Drive, just off Hwy. 20 in Florence, Ala.
Quick Bites: Day 2