Clifton crowned champion

Pro Wayne Clifton of Goose Creek, S.C., shows off part of his winning 12-pound, 7-ounce stringer.

Bowen's streak of three consecutive first-place finishes comes to an end

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. - Despite a dominating performance by Billy Bowen Jr., throughout the first three days of the tournament, it was Wayne Clifton of Goose Creek, S.C., who managed to put together the winning formula when it mattered most. On the strength of a 12-pound, 7-ounce catch, Clifton claimed victory in the first EverStart Eastern Division tournament of 2002.

Not surprisingly, Clifton was more than happy to walk away with the title - the biggest accomplishment of his angling career.

"It's just awesome," said Clifton, who earned a check for $15,000 as well as a brand new, fully equipped Ranger boat valued at $35,000. "I'm so elated right now. This is by far the biggest win of my career. It's just a huge win."

Clifton, who used a 10-inch Gambler worm for the majority of tournament, said success on Lake Okeechobee didn't come easily.

"It was a really tough week of fishing," he said. "I just looked for one or two big bites per day. And as it turned out, I got them. Today's fishing conditions were the best I'd seen all week by far. I probably caught 10 keepers."

A game of ounces

Russ Bringger of Pompano Beach, Fla., finished right behind Clifton with a 12-pound, 6-ounce stringer - a mere 1 ounce behind the eventual champion.

"At 10:30 a.m. I still didn't have a fish in the boat and I started getting really nervous," said Bringger, who took home a check for $10,000. "But I wound up getting five bites and I managed to land four of them. So, overall, I had a really good week."

Bowen, who had led the field for the first three days of the tournament, finished in third place after recording an 11-pound, 14-ounce catch.

"I did everything I could have done today," said Bowen, who took home a check for $9,000. "I went to the spot I had had success at all week and I had trouble getting bites. Then I went to a spot I'd been saving for the finals, but it was too muddy. It just didn't happen today. But overall, I really enjoyed myself. I had a great time and caught plenty of fish."

Mark Lamb of West Palm Beach, Fla., turned in an 8-pound, 10-ounce catch to capture fourth place and a check for $8,000.

"I had a really great week," he said. "But I never could get that big bite today."

J.T. Kenney of Forstburg, Md., finished in fifth place. Kenney won $7,500 for his efforts.

Best of the rest

Rounding out the top 10 were Wesley Strader (sixth place) of Spring City, Tenn., with a catch of 7 pounds, 5 ounces; Jonathan Newton (seventh) of Rogersville, Ala., with a catch of 5 pounds, 3 ounces; Brian Randall (eighth) of McCalla, Ala., with a catch of 4 pounds, 11 ounces; Jim Dalrymple (ninth) of Tavernier, Fla., with a catch of 3 pounds, 11 ounces; and Vince Ingle (tenth) of Maryville, Tenn., with a catch of 0 pounds.

The next EverStart Eastern Division tournament is scheduled to take place at Lake Eufaula from March 20-23 at Eufaula, Ala.

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