November 1, 2003 by Patrick Baker
2003 EverStart Series Championship
Old Hickory Lake, Gallatin, Tenn.
Saturday, final round
Good TV reception ... "FLW Outdoors" television viewers will once again be treated to an edge-of-the-seat tournament experience when they tune in to watch the drama of the 2003 EverStart Championship. The show - to air Nov. 8 and 9 on the Outdoor Life Network (OLN) - packs plenty of suspense and bass action. But what about the main characters in this angling reality show who sit through the experience, many literally on the edges of their seats, as they alternately try to one-up each other at the scale? The pressure could rattle some of the steeliest competitors around, especially if you are one of the last two men standing in contention for a lucrative prize package. However, pro Tony Christian of Hull, Ga., took the emotional roller coaster in stride and even enjoyed the ride - one that ultimately dropped him off in second place. "It just keeps the suspense riding high," Christian said. "You want to win and you're always wondering, `What's he got? What's in my livewell compared to his?'" The "he" in this scenario was Dick Shaffer of Celina, Ohio, champion of this year's EverStart Series. The sweat running down each man's face in the final minutes of the program, before either one knew who would come out on top, was visible - and the tension, especially while they waited through commercial breaks, was palpable. But Christian said the anxious experience didn't provide unwelcome stress, even after a long week of fishing. "Really, (the outcome) was decided at 2:15 p.m. It wasn't decided here," he said. Christian said he enjoys the theatrical elements of the final showdown, even when he comes in second. However, the affably confident Christian has every reason to smile and enjoy the show. He's usually in the winner's circle or close to it when the lights go down; in the last year alone, he won the prestigious All-American championship, three other BFL tourneys and an EverStart Eastern event. So much for the agony of defeat.
Jumpin' black bass ... Nobody can blame the finalists in a professional fishing championship for being a bit jumpy during the last weigh-in. But the bass? Today's finale looked like a flying-fish convention when the first several pros weighed in their bass. First Scott Sills of Dahlonega, Ga., dropped a sizable catch behind the announcers' table and had some difficulty picking it back up to deposit on the scale. "FLW Outdoors" co-host Charlie Evans laughed and asked, "Was it that hard to catch them out on the lake, Scott?" Then Shaffer's second fish slipped out of his hands before he could drop it in the weigh-in bucket. After that, one of Erie, Pennsylvania-angler Dave Lefebre's bass got into the Halloween spirit, albeit a day late, and tried to pull a Houdini, jumping several inches above - and almost escaping from - the receptacle. Troy Eakins of Nixa, Mo., brought a jumper to the scale as well.
Keeps going and going ... Sills lived up to the title of a contingency award he won today, presented by Energizer and titled the "Keeps going and going" award, the last time he fished Old Hickory Lake a couple years ago. He was fishing a tournament in another league with fellow pro Tim Horton when they ran aground on the morning of the first day of competition. Both men were hospitalized, and Sills was the recipient of 16 medical staples for his injuries. He said it was a bit difficult to get back in his boat and fish Old Hickory again this week, especially with the thick fog that delayed the first morning's takeoff. "It was kind of scary. That first day, it was a real foggy, eerie situation," he said. "I just kind of flashed back to (the accident)." But Sills kept on going, of course, and continued to fish competitively - all the way into the finals at this year's championship. The actual "Keeps going and going" award Sills won today was for coming from way behind after zeroing on day one to ultimately finish in seventh place, a truly remarkable feat.
16-12: Weight in pounds and ounces of the heaviest stringer caught in the championship - pro Jim Tutt on day two.
14-8: Weight in pounds and ounces of the second-heaviest stringer caught in the championship - pro champion Shaffer during the final round.
"I thought I was learning to speak Eastern Bass, but apparently I wasn't understanding today."
- EverStart Western pro Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz., explaining how he zeroed in Saturday's finals.
"Well yeah, I certainly am nervous."
- Championship winner Shaffer answering an essentially rhetorical question just seconds before he and Christian, each with one fish left, weighed in their last hopes.