November 11, 2001 by Jeff Schroeder
2001 EverStart Series Championship
Pickwick Lake, Florence, Ala.
Day four, Pro finals
Couldn't be closer ... Ricky Shumpert of Lexington, S.C., needed his last fish to weigh 1 pound, 14 ounces to tie Joe Balog and 1-15 win the championship. On the scale the feisty smallmouth wouldn't settle down, and Shumpert watched in anguish as the scale bounced around - 1-13, 1-14, even 1-15. Eventually, the scale settled on 1-13 and Balog took home the victory by 1 ounce. Balog's total weight was 4-5 while Shumpert's was 4-4. "Man, I lost it by 1 ounce!" Shumpert lamented afterwards. A bitter pill it was. That 1 ounce was worth $5,000 plus a $35,000 new Ranger boat to Shumpert. Balog took home the winner's prize of $25,000 and the boat while Shumpert settled for $20,000 for second place. Still, there's not a better sport in fishing than Shumpert, a rising star and perennial top-10 finisher on both the EverStart and FLW circuits. He said, "I'm looking forward to next year. In a month we start all over again."
The adage goes: Never give up ... Today Balog said, "I thought I was out of it yesterday. I shouldn't even be here." In reality, he was just being modest. He has been consistently strong all week long. He placed third Wednesday and moved up to second Thursday. Of all five finalists, Balog's opening-round weight of 21-11 beat the next closest competitor by almost 7 pounds. In the semifinals Friday, Balog qualified for the finals in fifth place with one nice bass weighing 3 pounds, 4 ounces. Fortunately for him, the fishing has been so tough that 3-4 was actually a quality total catch Friday. Shouldn't be here? Then who should?
Lessons from the master ... Balog, of Independence, Ohio, says his biggest inspiration in pro bass fishing is legendary Rick Clunn and his mental approach to the sport. It is a fitting tribute, then, that Balog wins at Pickwick Lake where Clunn last won an Operation Bass tourney, the Wal-Mart FLW Tour in June 2000. Not surprisingly, Balog had nothing but good things to say about Pickwick Lake and the entire Shoals area. "I can't find anything to complain about," he quipped, "which is odd because I usually do."
Early Eakins ... Maybe the hardest hit by today's two-hour fog delay was Friday's leader Jim Eakins of Nixa, Mo. He was fishing docks and had been catching his competitive stringers mostly before noon throughout the week. "I really needed the early morning bite," he said. Eakins finished third with one bass weighing 3 pounds, 8 ounces.
All the way to Wheeler ... Tournament followers watched as Greg Pugh took off and wondered whether he would make his monumental run to his fishing location in light of this morning's fog delay. The run was about 90 miles round trip and took him through two time-consuming locks upriver to Wheeler Lake. He did it anyway. "I don't approach those two (Pickwick and Wilson lakes)," the Cullman, Ala., native said about fishing this stretch of the Tennessee River. "I go to Wheeler." He finished fourth with two bass weighing 3 pounds, 2 ounces.
Grosse estimate ... When Richard Grosse of Hebron, Ohio, lost a fish early in the morning he didn't seem too fazed by it. "I didn't think it would really matter because I thought I would (catch) four or five fish." He didn't, catching only one more keeper weighing 1 pound, 6 ounces for fifth place. Still, it was a stellar tournament for the rookie pro fishing his first season on the EverStart Series.
14: Difference, in ounces, between the total weight caught by all five pro finalists at the 2001 EverStart Series Championship - 16 pounds, 9 ounces - and the total weight caught by Rick Clunn at the 2000 Wal-Mart FLW Tour finals at Pickwick Lake - 15 pounds, 9 ounces. Needless to say, this tourney was really tough.
"I'm going to frame my underwear."
- Joe Balog, who superstitiously wore the same pair of underwear during all four days of competition, on how he would commemorate his EverStart Series Championship victory.
Quick Links, Day 4:
Not your average Joe