November 9, 2001 by Gary Mortenson
Pugh, Shumpert, Grosse and Balog join Missouri native in finals
FLORENCE, Ala. - It wasn't pretty. And it certainly wasn't easy. But when all was said and done, Jim Eakin's four-fish stringer was good enough to grab the top qualifying spot in the Pro Division heading into the all-important final round of competition at the 2001 EverStart Championship.
Despite some of the most difficult tournament-fishing conditions in recent memory, Eakins managed to parlay a modest 6-pound, 13-ounce limit into a golden opportunity to fish another day. And quite frankly, that's all that really mattered.
"I've struggled every day of this tournament," said Eakins, a native of Nixa, Mo. "On the first day, I had seven bites and lost three fish. Yesterday, I had four bites and lost one fish. And today, I had five bites and lost one fish. It's really tough out there. It's real tough. I'm just happy to get this far."
With every angler struggling mightily, Eakins argued that Saturday's final is as wide open as any in recent history.
"The fishing is so tough, anyone of us could win the whole thing or come up blank tomorrow," said Eakins. "It's going to be a shootout, that's for sure."
Eakins, who has been jig fishing around boat docks on Wilson Lake throughout the tournament, said he has no plans to change his strategy for tomorrow's finals.
"I'm doing exactly the same thing on Saturday that I've done all week," he said. "I've got to keep dancing with the one I came with."
Pugh goes for broke
With 90 miles and a four-hour round-trip standing between Greg Pugh and his favorite fishing spot, it's clear that the native of Cullman, Ala., likes to gamble. And so far, that gamble appears to be paying off. With difficult fishing conditions keeping tournament weights extraordinarily low, Pugh used a competitive 6-pound, 2-ounce stringer to grab second place heading into the finals.
"Today I felt like I had a shot to make the top five just because the weights have been so low," said Pugh. "But I never thought I'd have enough fish to come in second. I think we all kind of knew that if the water wasn't right, we were going to see some difficult fishing conditions. But I didn't think it was going to be this tough."
Pugh, who has been targeting bass with jigs and spinnerbaits in about 21 feet of water, said that any one of the five remaining anglers could win tomorrow's competition.
"It'll be a crapshoot tomorrow. It's completely up in the air," he said. "We'll just have to wait and see what happens on Saturday. Hopefully, I can bring something in."
Ricky Shumpert of Lexington, S.C., used a 4-pound, 11-ounce stringer to grab third place. And like the others, he acknowledged that the fishing conditions have seemingly worsened with each passing day of the tournament.
"It's a really tough lake out there right now," he said. "There's not a whole lot of fish being caught by anyone."
Richard Grosse of Hebron, Ohio, used a 4-pound, 6-ounce stringer to grab hold of the fourth qualifying spot. Joe Balog of Independence, Ohio, took the last spot in the finals with a 3-pound, 4-ounce catch.
Best of the rest
Although Darrel Robertson of Jay, Okla., had put on a dominanting performance during the first two days of the competition, his luck all but dried up today as he took sixth place with a catch of 2 pounds. Robertson won $9,000 for his efforts.
Terry Tucker of Gadsden, Ala., claimed the seventh spot and a check for $8,000 with a catch of 1 pound, 10 ounces.
Rounding out the top-10 were: Mark Mauldin (eighth) of Cleveland, Tenn.; Dave Lefebre (ninth) of Erie, Penn.; and Vic Vatalaro (tenth) of Kent, Ohio. Mauldin, Lefebre and Vatalaro all failed to catch a fish in today's competition.
Tournament action resumes tomorrow at 6:30 a.m. at the McFarland Park Marina located on James M. Spain Drive, just off Hwy. 20 in Florence. Championship weigh-in is scheduled to take place at 3:30 p.m. at the Florence Wal-Mart Supercenter on Hough Road. The final five anglers will by vying for the top prize of $25,000 and a new Ranger boat.
Quick Bites: Day 3