March 29, 2003 by Jeff Schroeder
Hometown favorite climbs the ladder, wins EverStart tournament
FLORENCE, Ala. - Jonathan Newton started the 2003 EverStart Series Central Division strong, finishing in sixth place at Texas' Sam Rayburn Reservoir in February. Coming home to Pickwick Lake this week for the second divisional event of the season, the pro from nearby Rogersville, Ala., just kept working his way up the ranks until he reached the top and won the Pro Division with a five-bass weight of 12 pounds, 2 ounces.
"It's exciting to win at home," said Newton. "But I'm ready to go home and rest because this has been a long week."
A long and storybook week it was for the 29-year-old pro angler who works as a plumbing contractor for his day job. After his promising finish at Rayburn - where he also led the field for a day - he again came out of the chute hot at Pickwick. And he never looked back: Wednesday, he placed fourth; Thursday, third; Friday, second.
Then came Saturday - and sweet victory.
"I fished as good as I ever could fish today," Newton said. "I was really focused, and I stayed in the zone all day."
Using his favorite baits, a spinner bait and a jig, Newton caught some 15 keepers Saturday, most of them shorter bass, and filled out his five-bass limit by 8 a.m. But he never felt comfortable with the fish he had in his livewell at any point.
"Anytime I fish shallow with a jig or a spinner bait, I'm confident about my chances," he said. "But I haven't been confident since about 10 o'clock this morning. I wanted to cull at least one fish, but I just couldn't get the right one to bite."
The winner focused on two productive pond areas that had filled his livewells throughout the week. Conditions Saturday cooled off and the wind picked up, but that wasn't really a problem for Newton.
"The conditions changed all week, but the water (level) falling was the biggest problem," he said. "My fish would move out as it dropped, then it would come up again. It was a constant battle of trying to keep up with them."
It was a battle he won, not just over the fish, but over some pretty tough competition. Seven out of the 10 pro finalists caught limits Saturday, and they were some established tournament pros with names like Wendlandt, Powers and Hackney.
"I would never have expected to win this," Newton said. "But it feels great. They're all great guys."
Expected or not, Newton ruled the day - and it was a profitable day. For his first EverStart victory, he collected $10,000 and a Ranger boat. Because he is the original owner of a Ranger boat, he also received a $10,000 bonus from Ranger Boats, and as the highest-finishing participant in the Ranger Cup incentive program, Newton was awarded another $3,000 from Ranger for a total of $64,900 in cash and prizes.
To top it all off, he seized control of the yearly standings as well. He leads all Central Division pros with 395 points.
Wendlandt sneaks into second
Clark Wendlandt, the pro from Cedar Park, Texas, better known for his prowess on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour where he has two Angler of the Year titles, finished in second place at Pickwick Lake Saturday and collected $10,000 with five bass weighing 9 pounds, 15 ounces.
While Wendlandt has no fewer than 16 top-10 finishes on the FLW Tour, this was his first top-10 finish in EverStart Series competition. Granted - and this is a testament to his ability - this was just the second EverStart event he's entered.
Wendlandt likes Pickwick, especially its smallmouth bass. He said the eye-popping 8-pound, 4-ounce smallmouth he caught Wednesday was the highlight of his week. But he found that the feisty brownbacks didn't want to bite as much as the week wore on.
"You need them to pull water (through the reservoir) to catch smallmouth, but they typically don't pull water on Saturday," he said. "I caught that big smallmouth on a jerkbait. But when the current quit and the water came up, that didn't work anymore."
So Wendlandt - who qualified for the finals in 10th place Friday - switched gears, targeted largemouth and spotted bass, and caught "probably 40 or 50 bass" on Saturday.
"When you're in 10th place coming into the finals, where they zero the weight, you have the chance to go for broke," he said. "I just had a really good day."
Rounding out the top five
While Newton claimed the top spot in the Central Division standings, the pro who placed third at Pickwick Lake is also pushing him hard in yearly points. Eric Holt of Galena, Mo., caught five bass weighing 8 pounds, 11 ounces and won $9,000. He also moved up to second in the standings with 394 points, just one behind Newton.
"I probably caught more keepers today than any other day here," said Holt, who finished in fifth place last month at Sam Rayburn.
Semifinal-round leader Troy Eakins of Nixa, Mo., worked his way into fourth place with a five-bass weight of 8 pounds, 7 ounces. Using his namesake Eakins jig, he won $8,000.
Another former FLW champion, Craig Powers of Rockwood, Tenn., claimed the fifth-place spot with a four-bass weight of 8 pounds, 6 ounces and collected $7,500.
And the rest
The rest of the Pro Division top 10 finished as follows: Greg Hackney of Oak Ridge, La., took sixth place with a four-bass weight of 8 pounds 12 ounces (worth $6,500); Chad Lynch of Birmingham, Ala., took seventh place with a five-bass weight of 7-15 ($5,500); Larry Steeby of Parsons, Kansas, took eighth place with a five-bass weight of 7-4 ($5,000); Roger Stegall of Iuka, Miss., took ninth place with a five-bass weight of 7-3 ($4,500); and Mark Richard of Bridge City, La., took 10th place with no fish ($4,000).
The next EverStart Series tournament is an Eastern Division contest at Santee Cooper lakes in Manning, S.C., April 2-5. The Central Division will visit Kentucky Lake in Gilbertsville, Ky., April 30-May 3 for its third regular-season event.
Off the waitlist into the winner's circle