November 1, 2003 by Jeff Schroeder
GALLATIN, Tenn. - All week long, top-tier tour veterans with already well-stocked trophy cases dominated the leaderboard at a tough-fishing Old Hickory Lake. But in the end, it was a 44-year-old concrete contractor from Celina, Ohio, who barely qualified for this week's tournament taking home the 2003 EverStart Series Championship trophy.
Dick Shaffer won Saturday's final round with an astonishing five-bass total weighing 14 pounds, 8 ounces, crushing the rest of the pro finalists. He collected $25,000 in cash plus a new Ranger boat for his efforts.
"It feels great," he said. "I wasn't expecting anything like this. Somebody was definitely looking out for me this week. Whether it was Connie or whoever, somebody was looking out for me."
"Connie" is Connie Stakely, the wife of EverStart Series tournament director Jerry Stakely who passed away the day before the championship began. This week's tournament was dedicated to her and the Stakely family.
And it was a memorable event. A tough bass bite stymied the pros all week long on Old Hickory. The Nashville-area lake receives a lot of fishing pressure and, combined with the unpredictable fall fishing patterns, it proved difficult to catch sacks weighing in the double digits. A mere 12 pounds, 3 ounces by Michigan's Art Ferguson led on day one, and Texan Jim Tutt's 16-12 sack on day two turned out to be the heaviest one-day catch of the tournament. Tony Christian of Hull, Ga., led day three with just a three-bass catch of 10-11.
With the field pared down to just 10 pros for the final round, few expected many limits, much less a limit weighing 14 1/2 pounds. But Shaffer pulled off just that Saturday after three days prior where he failed to catch more than 10 pounds, but he caught enough to make the cuts.
"I just had a great day today," he said. "It was a beautiful day to go fishing."
The winner caught his limit using a 3/8-ounce black-and-blue rattleback jig with a blue Zoom Superchunk trailer. He pitched the jig around laydown logs and focused mainly on water less than 4 feet deep. His winning fishing spot? Well, Shaffer's not saying, but he did admit that it was "out on the main lake" and that he "fished pretty much the same area all week."
Wherever it was, the location was key for Shaffer Saturday. Interestingly, he found the spot by doing some reconnaissance at the Wal-Mart BFL Regional that was held here two weeks ago. After zeroing the first two days of that tournament, he followed the leader the third day out to the spot that would ultimately give him the EverStart Series Championship trophy.
He had to work for it, though. Shaffer has five BFL tournament victories to his name, but has only sniffed at an EverStart final round once before when he finished 10th in the championship last year. He just barely qualified for this year's championship by finishing 38th in the Central Division standings.
In today's finals, he had a limit by late morning - one of only two caught on the day - but it was the 4-pound kicker he caught around noon that may have made all the difference. Shaffer beat the always-dangerous Christian by just over 3 pounds.
"It kept entering my mind," Shaffer said about the prospect of winning his first EverStart tourney at the championship. "But I just didn't let it affect me."
Christian's double whammy defeated
Shaffer's 14 pounds surprised no one else more than Christian. His bid to become the first person ever to win both the BFL All-American and the EverStart Championship in the same season seemed a good bet when he came off the water Saturday - that is, until Shaffer weighed in his fifth fish and Christian came up just one short.
Christian caught four bass weighing 11 pounds, 3 ounces and collected $20,000 for second place.
"I had a good finish. I had a good weight for the last day," he said. "On a lake like this, a good bag like that is usually a winning bag. I lost one (bass) at the end that got hung up in a tree, but I thought I still had it. I thought it was no big deal. I mean, I already had 11 pounds."
Christian caught the bulk of his fish on docks using a 3/8-ounce root-beer jig with a green-pumpkin swimming chunk trailer.
"I was keying on docks all week," he said. "Especially when the sun came up, those fish needed a place to hide."
For a while, it looked like the "Big-Fish Magician" from Georgia who romped through the BFL Savannah River Division into the EverStart Eastern Division over the last year and a half was ready to put on another show, especially when he heaved another one of his signature lunkers on the scale Saturday. But, he ultimately needed that fifth fish.
"I couldn't quite pull that rabbit out of the hat this time," he said.
He did, however, win an extra $10,000 for being the highest-placing Ranger Cup finisher of the championship. He also won the Shop-Vac High Performance award for notching the heaviest total weight over the first three days, which was 24 pounds, 1 ounce.
Dave Lefebre of Erie, Pa., has contended for FLW and EverStart titles throughout the 2003 season, but he couldn't quite win one. He came up short again this week by finishing third and collected $15,000 with four bass weighing 8 pounds, 1 ounce.
"You don't know just how bad I wanted this one," he said. "It was a tough day for me, but I thought I had a chance. It's not bad, though, for the last tournament of the year. Man, (Shaffer's) 14 pounds is stout. At least that's better than losing by a couple of ounces, which has happened to me before."
Eakins, Vatalaro round out top five
Nixa, Missouri's Troy Eakins finished fourth and collected $12,500 by catching the only other limit of the day on his namesake Eakins jig. His five bass, however, were of the smallish variety and weighed a total 7 pounds, 10 ounces.
"I'm tickled to death," he said. "I just came up a little short."
Vic Vatalaro of Erie, Pa., took fifth and collected $10,000 for his two-bass effort weighing 5 pounds, 11 ounces Saturday.
"I was using a Mann's Minus-1 crankbait and fishing across the outside of a flat," he said. "But we needed more wind today."
Rest of the best
Rounding out the rest of the top 10 pro finishers at the 2003 EverStart Championship are Tommy Dillon of Manhattan, Kan., with two bass weighing 3 pounds, 5 ounces (sixth place, $9,000); Scott Sills of Dahlonega, Ga., with two bass weighing 2-7 (seventh, $8,000); Steve Kennedy of Auburn, Ala., with two bass weighing 2-0 (eighth, $7,000); Kevin Vida of Clare, Mich., with one bass weighing 1-6 (ninth, $6,000); Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz., with no bass (10th, $5,000).
- Dedicated to the memory of Connie Stakely