Sweet Vic-tory

CLEVELAND - Throughout the entire week, Lake Erie did everything in its power to put its stamp on the four-day Stren Series Northest Division event. And today was no different. After wreaking havoc on the field over the first three days of competition, Lake Erie made sure to save its best for last. Not only did anglers have to battle driving rains for seven straight hours, but the top-10 finalists in Saturday's competition also tangled with a combination of 7-foot waves, high winds and even a few waterspouts. Yes, waterspouts. And like the first three days of tournament action, Lake Erie claimed yet another first-place qualifier - actually, make that two. Kevin Bishop, who was leading the Pro Division heading into today's finals with a 21-pound, 2-ounce sack, only managed three fish in today's competition, falling all the way down to seventh place by the time weigh-in had concluded. "It was tough out there," said Bishop. "We saw two waterspouts today, and one went right over our boat. But honestly, I didn't lose any fish that hurt me. I just didn't get the bites today. Overall though, I had an awesome week." Throw in the saga of day-three co-angler leader Stephen Semelsberger Jr., who carried a nearly 4-pound cushion into the finals only to wind up losing by almost 5 full pounds, and it was clear that Lake Erie was the ultimate arbitrator in today's competition - as usual. Vatalaro survives game of attrition When the rain finally settled down at about 5:30 p.m., one pro was left standing on the podium in first place - hometown favorite Vic Vatalaro of Kent, Ohio. Bolstered by a two-day catch of 38 pounds, 10 ounces, Vatalaro claimed victory as well as his third Stren Series title on Lake Erie - a remarkable accomplishment to say the least. "I never thought I'd win my second title on Lake Erie, but to win a third one, that's just out of control," said Vatalaro, who walked away with the title as well as a brand-new Ranger boat and cash and prizes totaling nearly $65,000. "It was a long, hard ride, and it was really rough out there today. The funny thing is that I almost played it safe and stayed close (to the marina). But in the end I decided to go for it. But I'll tell you, I'm really tired right now. I'm completely worn out." Like seemingly ever angler to venture out onto Lake Erie this week, Vatalaro also managed to return to weigh-in with quite a story of his own. After making a brutal, 55-mile run, Vatalaro discovered that a number of boaters from a Wal-Mart BFL tournament were holed up on his prime spot. "I thought I was in real trouble when I got there, but the guys were great and let me fish," said Vatalaro. "But even still, I only had about two hours and 15 minutes to fish because I really wanted to make sure that I got back in time." With a decent sack in the boat, Vatalaro decided that he couldn't risk staying any longer and departed. "I still didn't think I had enough to win because I figured the fish were biting for everybody. And to be honest, I was hoping to God, at that point, I had enough time to get back," said Vatalaro. "It was really rough out there until I got about 25 miles away. And then, I finally started to relax." Pro Vic Vatalaro of Kent, Ohio, used a two-day catch of 38 pounds, 10 ounces to capture the 2006 Stren Series title on Lake Erie. Vatalaro won nearly $65,000 in cash and prizes in the process.Unfortunately for Vatalaro, Lake Erie was far from done with the Ohio native. "So we get to about three miles away from the marina, and I run out of gas," he said. "Luckily, I knew I'd saved some gas in my second tank. So I switched tanks, and wouldn't you know it? We ran out of gas again with like three-quarters of a mile to go. At that point there was nothing to do but hook up my trolling motor and try to get back in. And that's what I did. I trolled all the way back in on Lake Erie. Can you believe it? And to top it off, I got back with five minutes to spare!" Vatalaro, who has now won Stren Series titles on Lake Erie in 2001, 2003 and 2006, said he targeted smallmouth bass on deep ledges near 30-foot drop-offs with a combination of Mizmo Goby imitation baits, Berkley minnows and "thin" worms. "But I think the key was fishing with light line," he said. "I was using 10-pound-test line early in the tournament and wasn't catching anything. But after I switched to 6-pound-test, I started catching them." In the end, after battling the elements and overcoming seemingly every obstacle thrown his way, it was clear that Vatalaro earned every penny of his winning check. "Like I said, it's just been an unbelievable week," he said. Balog finds bittersweet success Pro Joe Balog of Harrison Township, Mich., recorded a two-day catch of 37 pounds, 12 ounces to fish the Lake Erie event in second place.Although Joe Balog of Harrison Township, Mich., is one of the most accomplished anglers on Lake Erie, he fell short yet again in his quest for a Stren Series title on his "hometown" lake - a pattern that's been repeated more times than he'd care to remember. "This is my home lake, so I really thought I'd have a chance this time," Balog said. "I've won about 12 or 13 major tournaments on this lake. And I've finished in the top 10 at least five times at Stren Series events here. But for whatever reason, I just can't seem to close the deal." According to Balog, his plan of attack during the four-day event worked out perfectly - with one small exception. "I made about a 120-mile roundtrip today, so I was fishing far away from everyone else," said Balog, who ultimately recorded a two-day catch of 37 pounds, 12 ounces. "I had the area to myself, the fishing was good, and the weather forecast looked decent today. I really thought I could outlast the competition. And everything went as planned. But the big difference was that over the last two days, I hooked five big fish, but only managed to get two of them in the boat. And that was the difference. When you have guys like (Vatalaro) and Lefebre in the field, you can't slip up at all. And that's what I did." Balog, who fished a combination of ISG Dream tubes and Poor Boy's Drop Shot Goby baits, walked away with a check for $9,200 for his efforts - not that that lessened the pain of seeing yet another tournament title slip through his fingers. "I really thought I was going to do it this time," he said. "It really is just a game of ounces." King survives harrowing trip to net third Pro Christopher King of South Amherst, Ohio, won $8,500 after finishing in third place with a total catch of 36 pounds, 13 ounces.Although Christopher King of South Amherst, Ohio, won $8,500 after finishing in third place with a total catch of 36 pounds, 13 ounces, he seemed just as happy to be standing on dry land by the time weigh-in had concluded. "It was really tough out there," said King. "We basically ran out there, got a few bites and ran back. We probably could have stayed longer, but at the time, we didn't know if we were going to make it back. At one point I looked at my co-angler, and his eyes just kept getting bigger and bigger. I told him, `I'm really not sure if we're going to make it back.' It was scary." Lefebre feels ache of finishing fourth Pro Dave Lefebre of Union City, Pa., finished the Stren Series Lake Erie event in fourth place.Pro Dave Lefebre of Union City, Pa., said he had some deeply felt pain after finishing the tournament in fourth place. However, if truth be told, it wasn't because he'd just lost out on a tournament title. "I think every muscle in my body hurts today. My teeth even hurt," said Lefebre, of the grueling nature of traveling 150 miles roundtrip each day on Lake Erie. "It was brutal out there. I was ready to call it quits after day two. I had a triple root canal a few days ago, and I'll tell you, that didn't help either." For his pain and effort, Lefebre (35 pounds, 10 ounces) walked away with $7,550 in prize money. Hoskings fifth Meanwhile, Mike Hoskings of Dumfries, Va., finished the tournament in fifth place with a catch of 33 pounds, 7 ounces. "This is some sweet revenge," said Hoskins, who claims that Lake Erie has been the bane of his fishing existence for quite some time. "This tournament was tough, but it's been very rewarding at the same time." Hoskins, who turned in his best-ever performance on Lake Erie, was rewarded with $7,050 in prize money. Best of the rest Rounding out the top 10 pro finalists at the Lake Erie event: Pro Chris Baldwin of Lexington, N.C., netted a catch of 31-pounds, 9-ounces to capture sixth place at the Stren Series event at Lake Erie.6th: Chris Baldwin of Lexington, N.C., 31-9 7th: Kevin Bishop of Hilton, N.Y., 31-3 8th: Nate Wellman of Jenison, Mich., 29-6 9th: Kenny Holloway of Eatonton, Ga., 25-15 10th: Ben Felton of Marshall, Mich., 21-3 Coming up The next Stren Series event is a Midwest Division contest on the Mississippi River at Fort Madison, Iowa, Aug. 9-12. The next Northeast Division tournament, the third event of the 2006 season, will be held on the Potomac River in La Plata, Md., Aug. 16-19.

Tags: headline-story  gary-mortenson 

/news/2015-04-25-morgan-maintains-his-lead

Morgan Maintains His Lead

One of Andy Morgan’s fishing mottos is to make the best of what you have got “in front of you” to survive and fish another day. Beaver Lake doesn’t give much. So when an angler as resourceful as Morgan gets to a lake that doesn’t give out many resources, the two work well together. Instead of worrying about hitting it out of the park or putting immense pressure on himself to come up with a grand winning strategy, Morgan just scraps, scrapes and claws at the ground right in front of him, making the best of what he’s got. Morgan’s performance on day three of the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Rayovac on Beaver Lake was a prime example of his “make the best of it” attitude. After burning up the spawning fish he had located in practice during the first two days of the tournament, he was forced to fish by the seat of his pants today – something he thoroughly enjoys. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-25-top-5-patterns-from-beaver-lake-day-3

Top 5 Patterns from Beaver Lake Day 3

Andy Morgan didn’t light up the world on day three of the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Rayovac on Beaver Lake, but he caught what he needed to maintain the lead and put a 1-pound, 9-ounce cushion between he and Matt Arey. Most of the rest of the top 20 scrambled today, abandoning their patterns and trying new options to try and make the final-day cut. Here’s how the top five got it done. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-25-gordon-and-gagner-crowned-tbf-champs

Gordon and Gagner Crowned TBF Champs

Two more anglers qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup today by winning the 2015 The Bass Federation National Championship on Grand Lake in Grove, Okla. Shawn Gordon of Russellville, Ark., earned the TBF crown on the boater side by catching a three-day limit of 50 pounds, 2 ounces, capped by the largest limit caught today – 18 pounds, 10 ounces. Gordon earned $5,000 for his win, but more importantly, he’ll be competing against the best pros in the business in August at the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Ouachita. Gordon also won the TBF “Living The Dream” package, which includes paid entry into the 2016 Walmart FLW Tour, a travel stipend, and use of a wrapped truck and Ranger bass boat. READ MORE »

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Beaver Lake Day 3 Coverage

Daily updates from the Walmart FLW Tour event on Beaver Lake presented by Rayovac. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-24-make-way-for-morgan

Make Way for Morgan

“Hidden largemouths” is quickly becoming the buzz term at the Walmart FLW Tour event on Beaver Lake presented by Rayovac, as those atop the leaderboard are using the term to refer to spawning largemouths that are so well hidden that other competitors never found them. These hidden fish are covered by thick brush, hidden so deep that they were only found during the very rare windows of sunshine during practice or located off the beaten path. The latter are not in obvious pockets or places where one would expect to find beds, but rather out on the main bluff channels where few ever look. On day one, Jacob Wheeler caught hidden largemouths to take the lead. On day two, former Beaver Lake champion Andy Morgan caught hidden largemouths to take over the pole position going into the weekend. His catch of 15 pounds, 7 ounces today gives Morgan a two-day total of 28-09 to take the lead by just 11 ounces. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-24-top-5-patterns-from-beaver-lake-day-2

Top 5 Patterns from Beaver Lake Day 2

At halftime of the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Rayovac, the top five reads like a who’s who of Beaver Lake. Leader Andy Morgan is a former Beaver Lake champion. Behind him, Darrel Robertson has been very close to winning here with a runner-up finish in 2005. In third is 2014 Beaver Lake champion Matt Arey. Bryan Thrift, in fourth, has never won on Beaver Lake, but has led here before. And finally, fifth-place pro Stetson Blaylock knows his way around this lake pretty well, too, with a couple of top 10s. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-24-heckman-heads-up-tbf-championship-field

Heckman Heads up TBF Championship Field

Some bass are still spawning in Grand Lake, and others are yet to make their way up to the shallows, but none of that interests Sam Heckman. Diligent commitment to his postspawn plan here Friday landed Heckman atop the boater field with 34 pounds, 3 ounces and locked up his Southwest Division win at the 2015 The Bass Federation National Championship. Saturday, the top boater from each of seven TBF divisions will vie for the TBF National Championship and the “Living the Dream” package that goes with it. The package includes paid entry in the 2016 Walmart FLW Tour as a pro, a Forrest Wood Cup berth and use of a custom-wrapped truck and Ranger boat on Tour for the year, as well as a travel stipend for each event. Seven non-boaters – one from each TBF division – also will fish in tomorrow’s final round for a chance at paid entry into a Rayovac FLW Series division of choice. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-24-beaver-lake-day-2-coverage

Beaver Lake Day 2 Coverage

Daily updates from the Walmart FLW Tour event on Beaver Lake presented by Rayovac. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-23-wheeler-with-a-slim-lead

Wheeler with a Slim Lead

Jacob Wheeler has a plan to win the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Rayovac on Beaver Lake this week. That plan involves primarily the largemouth species, a target weight of 14 pounds per day and a lot of fish management. Today, Wheeler surpassed his target by nearly 2 pounds with a 15-pound, 14-ounce catch that puts him in the driver’s seat at Beaver Lake, in the lead by just a scant 5 ounces over second-place pro Bryan Thrift. “Largemouths are the way to win here at Beaver Lake,” Wheeler says. “They are the fish to go the distance here, and that’s what I’m focusing on.” READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-23-top-5-patterns-from-beaver-lake-day-1

Top 5 Patterns from Beaver Lake Day 1

Though there were plenty of fish caught off beds at Beaver Lake on day one of the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Rayovac, the top five is rounded out by a group of anglers who relied on sight-fishing very little. Opinions on where exactly bass are in the spawning cycle at Beaver Lake vary greatly from angler to angler, but a few common denominators did come to light on day one. For starters, most agree that one major spawning cycle has already occurred. Plenty of empty beds and a lot of gaunt, postspawn fish at the scale were evidence of that. Second, there are still some bass (of all species) trying to spawn, but the ones left on beds are extremely wary. Finally, the order of difficulty to catch each species ranks as follows: smallmouth bass – extremely easy; spotted bass – not as easy; largemouth bass – extremely difficult. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-23-griffith-grabs-tbf-lead-

Griffith Grabs TBF Lead

By midday, the prospects were unclear for Jon “Scooter” Griffith here in The Bass Federation National Championship on Grand Lake, but in a roundabout way it provided just the clarity he needed to dial in a pattern that helped him take the day-one lead with an 18-pound, 13-ounce limit. Griffith began his day by sight-fishing the clear water down by the Pensacola Dam. This opening move, he says, gave him some early comfort, as it matched the transparent water he’s used to fishing near his home in Mesa, Ariz. Targeting windblown points, Griffith got his early bites with reaction baits in about 4 to 8 feet of water. Unfortunately, the plan turned out to be less productive than he had expected. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-23-beaver-lake-day-1-coverage

Beaver Lake Day 1 Coverage

Daily updates from the Walmart FLW Tour event on Beaver Lake presented by Rayovac. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-23-tbf-championship-tips-off

TBF Championship Tips Off

The spawn is on at Grand Lake, but that’s not the only game in town. As the 2015 The Bass Federation National Championship plays out for the next three days, anglers will find this northern Oklahoma impoundment abounding with lots of fishing options. Brian Maloney, the 2012 Walmart Bass Fishing League All-American champion, says he was impressed with what he found in practice. “The quality of fish on Grand is just amazing,” notes the Missouri angler. “This lake continues to put out 3- and 4-pounders, and right now there’s a variety of things we can do. “There are guys sight-fishing for spawning fish, and we’re probably looking at another wave or two of fish coming in soon. I’m sure the full moon coming up in another week or so will move them in.” Adding that the lake currently has fish in all prespawn, spawning and postspawn stages, Maloney thinks that TBF contenders will be greeted by a mix of water conditions typical for Grand this time of year. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-20-top-10-baits-from-lake-murray

Top 10 Baits from Lake Murray

Competitors in the FLW College Fishing National Championship mostly targeted bass feeding on spawning blueback herring on shallow points and main-lake pockets. Across the board, herring-imitating baits such as soft jerkbaits, swimbaits, topwaters, wake baits and umbrella rigs dominated the event. READ MORE »

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Jig Bite Carries Holmes on Wateree

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Bryan Slows Down for Chickamauga Win

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/news/2015-04-20-morfis-dominates-with-34-pound-limit

Morfis Dominates With 34-Pound Limit

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. – Joshua Morfis of Cape Coral, Florida, weighed a five-bass limit totaling 34 pounds, 14 ounces Saturday to win the fourth Walmart Bass Fishing League Gator Division tournament of 2015 on Lake Okeechobee. For his victory, Morfis earned $6,336. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-20-salzman-cracks-31-pounds-on-guntersville

Salzman Cracks 31 Pounds on Guntersville

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/news/2015-04-20-lanter-wins-on-rend-lake

Lanter Wins on Rend Lake

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/news/2015-04-19-top-10-patterns-from-lake-murray

Top 10 Patterns from Lake Murray

As contestants in the FLW College Fishing National Championship on Lake Murray discovered last week, fishing the blueback herring spawn can be backbreaking work. All that stooping over to grab a different rig to cast at bass busting their favorite forage, and then quickly straightening, is hard on the old spinal column. Flexing up and down is what it took to contend in the championship, however, as bass couldn’t make up their minds whether they wanted their grub served on the surface or closer to the bottom. Typically, the collegians were fan-casting Carolina rigs, umbrella rigs, hard jerkbaits and even crankbaits to likely looking points and broad flats. Sometimes they caught fish with such random prospecting, but perhaps more bass were taken when anglers found themselves within casting distance of blowups and were quick enough to grab a soft jerkbait rig or topwater lure and virtually spoon-feed it to the fish. READ MORE »