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Scary good

All-American champ Christian leads another one, lands over 10 pounds in EverStart Halloween semifinals

GALLATIN, Tenn. - Tony Christian's so good at this that it's starting to get a little spooky. The reigning BFL All-American champion from Hull, Ga., caught the day's only stringer weighing more than 10 pounds Friday and led the Pro Division in semifinal-round action at the EverStart Series Championship on Old Hickory Lake. Anchoring that stringer was a kicker bass weighing nearly 5 pounds, and, on this Halloween, that has to be one scary prospect for the other nine pros who will face him in tomorrow's finals.

It was another rough day of fishing on Old Hickory. Just two pros out of 22 managed to catch limits, and even those were light by five-bass standards. Second-place Steve Kennedy's limit weighed 8 pounds, 10 ounces and third-place Kevin Vida's rang in at 8-1.

But that's been about the norm all week at a stingy Old Hickory, which is why Christian's three bass weighing 10 pounds, 11 ounces took top honors today. Of course, you don't weigh in a three-bass stringer for 10 pounds unless you have at least one nice fish in there; and, indeed, it was his 5-pound kicker that made all the difference.

"I lost a good fish off a dock on the first day that broke my line," Christian said. "Today, I went back in there this morning and got him. It was the first one that I caught. After that, I started to relax, and it always seems that's when you start to fish better."

When Christian starts to relax near the end of a tough-bite tournament, look out, because that's when he starts to land his signature lunkers. In May at the All-American, he went out on the Mobile Delta and relaxed his way to an 8-pound victory over the rest of the field. That day, he also weighed in just three fish - worth an astonishing 16 pounds - anchored by a 6 1/2-pound monster. The Delta's tough; nobody else could muster more than 6 pounds total in the finals.

Before that, in March at Lake Martin - another tricky lake for big fish - he won his first EverStart Eastern Division tournament by over 7 pounds, catching a total over 19 pounds. In those finals, he brought in two kickers in the 6-pound range. In his short career, Christian has already cashed countless big-bass checks in the EverStart and BFL ranks.

So it was really no surprise to see the "Big-Fish Magician" working his mojo once again Friday. It is Halloween, after all, and much weirder things have happened.

But what is almost shocking, given his torrid track record, is that it took Christian three days to start really making some noise here this week. He has been fishing in shallow-water creeks "up toward the dam," he said, and he caught all of his fish in the semifinals on a ¾-ounce jig. Before Friday, he had been throwing a lizard, but decided to upsize his lure and get after the big ones in the semifinals.

"I have fished a thousand docks so far," he said. "But the fish here have been hit a lot. I haven't been able to get a limit all week. One dock we caught four fish on and mine just happened to be the big keeper. I quit fishing by 9:30."

So Christian hasn't been able to catch a limit and yet he leads some of the nation's top pro anglers heading into the final day of a $335,000 championship tournament. How good is this guy?

Consider this: "I only practiced two days for this tournament," he said.

Now that's just frightening.

Pro Steve Kennedy fishes near a rock wall in FridayThe two limits

Kennedy caught his limit using a Zoom trick worm and a Senko. He fished, like many competitors, around isolated trees on some flats.

Since Craig Powers, Clark Wendlandt and Wesley Strader all missed the cut Friday, Kennedy is the last remaining former FLW winner fishing in the EverStart Championship finals. Kennedy, who won at FLW Kentucky Lake earlier this season, isn't quite feeling as confident here at Old Hickory, however, as he did at that big-fish fest.

"No way," he said. "This one's almost painful compared to that."

While Vida wasn't exactly brimming with confidence about his 8 pounds, either, he was happy just to land a limit.

"We'll take that today," he said.

Rest of the best

Troy Eakins of Nixa, Mo., picked up where his father left off and qualified for the finals in fourth place with a four-bass weight of 7 pounds, 11 ounces. In 2001, Eakins' dad, Jim, finished the EverStart Championship in third place and cashed in a 21st place at the same tournament last year.

Eakins caught his fish by pitching his namesake jig, in brown-pumpkin color, on rock structure.

Dave Lefebre of Erie, Pa., rounded out the top five pros in fifth place with a three-bass catch weighing 7 pounds, 8 ounces.

Rounding out the rest of the top 10 pros to qualify for the finals were Dick Shaffer of Celina, Ohio, with four bass weighing 6 pounds, 10 ounces (sixth place); Scott Sills of Dahlonega, Ga., with two bass weighing 6-8 (seventh); Vic Vatalaro of Kent, Ohio, with three bass weighing 5-11 (eighth); Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz., with four bass weighing 5-6 (ninth); and Tommy Dillon of Manhattan, Kan., with three bass weighing 5-4 (10th).

The final round of the 2003 EverStart Series Championship begins at 7 a.m. as the top 10 pros take off from Bull Creek marina on Old Hickory Lake in Gallatin. Weights will again be reset to zero, and the winner after the one-day shootout will receive as much as $35,000 in cash and a fully rigged Ranger boat.

Click here for a preview of day four.

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