November 4, 2006 by Jennifer Simmons
2006 Stren Series Championship
Wheeler Lake, Decatur, Ala.
Final round, Saturday
The Cup runneth over ... As promised, the Stren Series Championship will send five pros to the $2 million 2007 Forrest Wood Cup, the richest tournament in the history of the sport. The pro field in that event - which will feature competitors from all FLW Outdoors bass-fishing trails as well as from The Bass Federation - will be competing for a top prize of $1 million, an unprecedented amount. This week's tournament yielded the first five pros and co-anglers to qualify for that event, and the five pros are Ricky D. Scott from the Stren Series Central Division, Ott Defoe from the Southeast Division, J.T. Kenney from the Northeast Division, Stacey King from the Midwest Division and Jason Borofka from the Western Division. Some, like King and Kenney, could be considered veterans of the sport. But some are young guns like Defoe, who is enjoying not only a Forrest Wood Cup berth but also a solid performance at the Stren Series Championship. "I'm extremely excited," Defoe said. "This fourth-place finish and what I've won is great, but (making the Cup) means a whole lot more." Interestingly, Defoe entered this week's tournament unaware of what all was on the line. "I didn't even know you could qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup through this tournament," he said. "It actually never crossed my mind I could be one of them." Well, Ott, welcome to the club.
Southeast showdown ... Making Defoe's qualification all the more impressive is that he is the last man standing of five Southeast Division competitors who made the top-10 cut here at Wheeler Lake. The rules dictated that the highest-finishing pro from each of the five Stren Series divisions would advance to the Forrest Wood Cup. Three pros, King, Borofka and Scott, had their Cup slot wrapped up Thursday, as they were the only final-round pros from their respective divisions. But out of 10 final-round contenders, half of them were from the Southeast Division, making it by far the most competitive of the five in terms of Cup qualification. The young Defoe beat Thanh Le, Bobby Lane, Mark Shepard and Sam Bass for the slot. When he realized what he had accomplished, he admitted the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship - the Forrest Wood Cup's predecessor - was something he had avoided out of superstition. "I didn't want to jinx myself by going and watching one," he said. Now he'll be watching from one of the best seats in the house, and it's found on the weigh-in stage.
J.T. to the F.W.C. ... In addition to the Southeast Division competition, a notable head-to-head competition was going down between the two Northeast Division finalists, eventual qualifier Kenney and well-known pro Dave Lefebre. Both have put forth some of the hottest performances on nearly all FLW Outdoors bass-fishing trails in the last several years, making for some fierce competition. But though Kenney walked away from this tournament with the Forrest Wood Cup qualification, Lefebre will in all likelihood wrap up his own slot in the next couple of weeks at the final Wal-Mart FLW Series event on Lewis Smith Lake. "I'll be there with J.T., I'm sure," Lefebre said.
The Bass-man ... Sam Bass came out of the gate swinging this week, busting 19 pounds the first day to lead the tournament, a lead he held onto through the second day. Though he's performed well in the BFL in years past, Bass, with his magnetic personality and obvious skills, definitely put his name on the map with his performance this week - and his appropriate last name doesn't hurt. If Bass is one of bass fishing's next big stars, he's also a terrific role model for those out there looking to start their own careers. Bass is a product of the system, meaning he worked his way to the Stren Series and ultimately a championship performance by way of the BFL, and he's hoping to parlay Stren Series success into a big-time career on the level of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour and FLW Series. "I fished the BFL, and I did that as practice," he said. "This is my first year in the Stren. I fished the Southeast Division, which was a really tough division. I finished 28th, which was OK, but I'm working my way forward." Though Bass did not qualify for either the 2007 Tour or FLW Series, he's still hoping he can get in a few via the waiting list. "I'm going to fish the Strens next year, but I'm going to try to fish the Series," he said. "My goal is to do this for a living."
Central tops ... In 2006, the championship glory was concentrated in one division, and that is the Central, as the mainly Texas-based division churned forth two champions - Scott on the pro side and Monte Knight of Quitman, Miss., on the co-angler side. Knight was a Central Division rookie this year, but Scott - the son of a Bass'n Gal - is a Central Division veteran. To take the crown, Scott had to overcome lots of big names and better-known veterans, but he remained undeterred by keeping things in perspective. "When I put the trolling motor on in the morning, I don't worry about anybody but me," said the soft-spoken pro. It is obviously a mindset that is paying off big time.
A Gift to remember ... The end of a tournament season always brings accolades for a chosen few, and this year Bill Gift is among those being lauded. Gift, a co-angler from Alix, Ark., is this year's recipient of the Evinrude/Stren Co-angler Award, and he took home a certificate for a brand-new Ranger boat for the accomplishment. The award is given to the divisional co-angler of the year - Gift was tops in the Central Division - who performs the strongest at the Stren Series Championship. Gift took 16th place at this event, easily the highest of the five co-anglers of the year. "I've been really fortunate," Gift said. "I had a few breaks this year, and I had good partners. I was fortunate to catch enough." ... Gift is known as one of the strongest co-anglers around these days, as he is also a force on the FLW Tour. He pointed out that he drew a check in all four Stren Series Central events this year, including a win on Lake Texoma. In fact, this is the second time he has finished a Central Division season ranked No. 1. He's tickled with his new rig, but the competitor in him still wishes he had been onstage yesterday as a final-round co-angler. "I really wanted to make the cut, but I'm happy I won the award," he said.
3-2: Weight, in pounds and ounces, that Scott needed to bring in to topple Kenney after Kenney had weighed out.
7-6: Weight, in pounds and ounces, that Scott ultimately weighed in.
4: Number of top 10 pros who brought in a five-bass limit on both days three and four.
21: Age of No. 4 pro and Forrest Wood Cup contender Defoe.
38,195: Amount, in dollars, earned by Scott in 74 events before today.
75,000: Amount of dollars Scott earned today as the championship winner, not counting the value of the fully rigged Ranger he earned as well.
"You guys have a dangerous lake. There's a lot of stuff to hit here." - Borofka, on Wheeler Lake's many stumps and debris that make navigation difficult.
"I've been all over the world, but never have I seen anybody as nice as those people." - Le, regarding the citizens of Decatur, Ala.
"I felt like royalty the last two days." - Bass, on his first big-time competitive-fishing experience.
"My middle initial, it's D. I may just change it to Decatur." - Scott. No word on what the D actually stands for, so Decatur it is.