February 2, 2003 by Gary Mortenson
Brett Hite out-duels Art Berry in dramatic fashion to capture the EverStart title on Lake Pleasant
PEORIA, Ariz. - Bass-fishing enthusiasts waited a long time for the EverStart Series to head out West. But as it turns out, it was well worth the wait - and then some. In one of the most exciting weigh-ins in recent memory, Brett Hite of Phoenix, Ariz., used a 13-pound, 12-ounce catch to snatch the title on Lake Pleasant and go down in the record books as the first tournament champion in the history of the Western Division.
"I thought I had enough to win, but I also thought that (Berry's) fish were going to die a little bit out there today. But they didn't," said Hite, shortly after being crowned champion. "That was really nerve-wracking. I think my blood pressure went up a couple of degrees today."
Weigh-in for the ages
Heading to the stage as the 10th-place qualifier to open the weigh-in was Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif. Wasting little time, Ehrler quickly established the fact that he was by no means going to put on a 10th-place performance. With a five-fish limit of 8 pounds, 14 ounces, Ehrler dramatically raised the bar for the rest of the pro field. And as it turned out, none of the other finalists could answer the California native's stringer - that is, until Hite walked onto the stage.
Pulling out one lunker after another to rousing applause from the crowd, Hite put together the third-largest stringer of the tournament as well as a seemingly insurmountable lead - given the stingy limits recorded on Lake Pleasant over the previous three days. In short, it appeared that Hite was going to cruise to victory.
(Photo by Gary Mortenson)" BORDER="1" ALIGN="right">However, Art Berry of Ramona, Calif., was about to demonstrate why he had failed to relinquish his first-place standing atop the leaderboard over the tournament's opening three days of competition. As Berry walked up onto the stage with a world-class poker face that masked what was in store for the crowd, EverStart tournament host Charlie Evans painted a dismal picture.
"You've got a real mountain to climb," said Evans of the seemingly impossible odds facing Berry at this point.
But without blinking an eye, Berry responded.
"Yeah, but I have a lot of gas in the tank," he said as a roar of anticipation went up from the crowd.
The battle was on.
Like Hite, Berry seemingly pulled out one monster bass after another until Evans made the California native take a deep breath after weighing in his fourth fish. The tension was already palpable.
"Four fished weighed in at 9 pounds," said Evans. "Now, Art, you know what you need to win this - 4 pounds, 13 ounces."
Then, as the crowd waited in breathless anticipation, Berry wrenched his fifth and final fish out of the bag. It was big. In fact, it was huge. The only question remaining was how huge.
Berry carefully placed his fish onto the scales as Evans shouted to the crowd.
"So who do you think is going to win this," he asked.
The crowd, taking Evans' cue, began shouting out the names of both finalists.
Finally, Evans released his hand from the scales as both anglers crowded together to see the results.
"Thirteen pounds," Evans paused. "Five ounces."
As a smile broke across Hite's face, both anglers engaged in a genuine embrace. However, as Hite breathed a sigh of relief, it was clear that Berry was still in a state of disbelief.
After leading the tournament for the first three days of competition, Berry was understandably disappointed with the outcome. After all, he'd fished like a champion only to finish the tournament in second place.
"If someone would have told me that I have needed to catch 13 pounds, 5 ounces to win this tournament, I wouldn't have believed them," said Berry. "This is really hard. I went out there and I had a good day of fishing. I did everything I could. I really don't have any regrets. But to tell you the truth, I'm kind of at a loss for words right now."
Berry, who nearly won the tournament targeting suspended bass on submerged timber for four straight days, acknowledged that it was in his best interest not to dwell on the past.
"It's just the way things happen sometimes," said Berry of his defeat. "I'm going to the next tournament on Lake Mead and that's my lake. I've won a lot of tournament's there. I'll be back."
Although Berry likely won't forget this tournament for a long time to come, he did managed to walk away with a nice consolation purse of $9,500 including prize money and contingency bonuses.
Hite revels in victory
On the other end of the spectrum was Hite. After watching Berry grab all of the headlines over the first three days of the tournament, Hite put together a top-notch performance when it counted most.
"I felt really good about today. Everything just clicked," said Hite, who walked away with more than $50,000 in cash and prizes, including a brand new, fully equipped Ranger Comanche boat. "It was just tremendous. It's a great feeling."
However, according to Hite, his day on the water didn't go nearly as smoothly as planned.
"I went to my first spot and caught a 3-pound fish right away," said Hite, who fished a combination of Robo worms with a drop-shot technique to land the majority of his catch. "But then my fish kind of dried up. I went about 2 1/2 hours without another bite and I stared to get a little nervous. So I went with my gut and decided to go to my secondary spot. It was a risk. But when I got there, the fish were biting like crazy. I wound up catching two limits today."
In the process, he also netted a place in the record books that he won't soon forget.
Best of the rest
Although Ehrler didn't manage to stay around long enough to become a participant in the final battle, the California native did manage a third-place finish and $7,000 in prize money.
Fourth place belonged to Phil Strader of Glide, Ore., who used a 7-pound, 10-ounce catch to earn $6,000 in winnings. Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz., walked away with fifth place after registering a total catch of 7 pounds, 9 ounces. Pirch won $5,500 for his efforts.
Rounding out the top 10 finalists were: Tim Klinger (sixth) of Boulder City, Nev., with a catch of 6 pounds, 4 ounces; Gary Boyd (seventh) of Reseda, Calif., with a catch of 5 pounds, 4 ounces; Jim Jeffords (eighth) of Hillsboro, Ore., with a catch of 2 pounds, 11 ounces; Scott Reason (ninth) of Covina, Calif., with a catch of 1 pound, 13 ounces; and Larry Cross (tenth) of Calimesa, Calif., with a catch of 0 pounds.
EverStart Western Division action resumes March 5-8 at Lake Mead, located in Las Vegas, Nev.
Results of day-four pairings