October 30, 2003 by Jeff Schroeder
GALLATIN, Tenn. - Art Ferguson III leads the Pro Division by almost 2 pounds after the first day of the 2003 EverStart Series Championship, but even he was surprised by the results of Wednesday's competition. The fishing was tough enough at Old Hickory Lake that he led with just a four-bass weight of 12 pounds, 3 ounces, which is unusually light for competition at this level.
"I didn't think I had enough to lead," Ferguson said. "I thought maybe I'd make the top 20."
The St. Clair Shores, Mich., pro topped second-place Clark Wendlandt of Cedar Park, Texas, who weighed in four bass worth 10 pounds, 7 ounces. Given the low catch totals, Ferguson's 1-pound, 12-ounce lead appears to be a big one. Just two anglers out of the entire 298-person tournament field caught five-bass limits Wednesday, and both of them were pros. For the record, the 20th-place weight on the pro side was 5-13.
"I feel great," said Ferguson, who qualified for the championship via the Northern Division. "I'm just in disbelief in the sense that I thought I had a good weight, but nothing like this."
Ferguson caught his four keepers, which included three bass in the 3- to 3 1/2-pound range and one smaller fish, by using a variety of techniques. The key, he said, was a hot spot he found and his decision to slow way down.
"I caught all four bass on four different lures," he said. "I really slowed down on an area where I knew a couple of fish were. I even mentioned to my partner that maybe I was fishing a little too fast. It was just a choice of going with my original plan to run and gun or sitting still and figuring things out. I really learned a lot today. That's one of the greatest things to do in a tournament: to find a good area and learn from the area as you go. So that was exciting."
Ferguson's four-bass-on-four-lures story was a familiar tune at Wednesday's weigh-in. Many anglers remarked how difficult it was to find a single pattern or bait that the bass liked. Due to the unpredictable fall fishing conditions and the pressure that Old Hickory receives, anglers reported catching fish on anything from spinner baits and jigs to plastics and crankbaits. There doesn't seem to be a magic bullet here.
Two-time FLW Angler of the Year Wendlandt, on the other hand, seems to have found one. He caught his four fish mainly by flipping a 3/8-ounce, black-and-brown Gambler Ninja jig and seemed content with the way things turned out on a difficult day.
"I lost a couple today," he said. "Tomorrow I've just got to catch a 2-pounder. If I can do that, then I can practice a little."
Landing in third place in the Pro Division was Western Division angler Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz. He caught a four-bass stringer weighing 10 pounds, 2 ounces, including a kicker largemouth weighing 6-7. He won the $625 Snickers Big Bass award on the pro side.
"I had fun out there today," Pirch said. "We see fishing pressure like this all the time where I'm from, so this lake kind of fit for me. After I caught that big one, I was able to be more aggressive and more mobile. I was able to move around and hit a lot of areas. I was hitting a lot of different water and fishing pretty fast."
Fourth place went to Central Division pro Tommy Dillon of Manhattan, Kan., who landed one of the day's two limits. His five bass weighed 9 pounds, 13 ounces.
"It's very hard to draw a pattern on this lake right now, and I don't really know why," he said. "It's a beautiful lake with a lot of beautiful fish. Still, it feels great. I knew that if I could catch a limit I would probably have a chance to stay here until Friday."
Fifth place went to the intimidating Tony Christian of Hull, Ga., for a four-bass weight of 9 pounds, 10 ounces. Christian is coming off a season in the BFL where he thoroughly dominated the Savannah River Division and won this year's All-American. He fell just short of winning this year's EverStart Eastern Division standings, as well, finishing second in points.
Christian caught his bass Wednesday by flipping docks.
Rounding out the top 10 pro anglers are Dick Shaffer of Celina, Ohio, with four bass weighing 9 pounds, 6 ounces (sixth place); Gerald Beck of Lexington, N.C., with three bass weighing 8-12 (seventh); Wesley Strader of Spring City, Tenn., with three bass weighing 8-5 (eighth); Dan Morehead of Paducah, Ky., who caught the day's other five-bass limit, which weighed 7-15 (ninth); and Lou Treat of Flippin, Ark., with two bass weighing 7-7 (10th).
Baldwin's big bass
Ken Baldwin of Needles, Calif., led the Co-angler Division with a weight of 7 pounds, 3 ounces.
Astonishingly, all of that weight came in one fish. His 7-3 largemouth was by far the biggest bass of the day in either division and earned him $250 for the Snickers Big Bass award. He caught the lunker on a Yamamoto grub.
Mario Ringo of Arcadia, Calif., placed second on the co-angler side with three bass weighing 6 pounds, 6 ounces.
Hyougo, Japan's Kohigashi Kazuhiro and Jasper, Texas' Bill Rogers tied for third place, each with three bass weighing 5 pounds even.
Fifth-place Bob Snyder of Marion, Ind., rounded out the top five co-anglers with three bass weighing 4 pounds, 14 ounces.
The opening round of the EverStart Series Championship continues with its second half Thursday as anglers take off from Bull Creek Marina at 7 a.m. - depending, of course, on the weather. The full fields will be cut down to the top 20 anglers apiece following tomorrow's action.
Click here for a preview of day two.