UPCOMING EVENT: FLW SERIES - 2020 - Toledo Bend Lake

Beller wins improbable title on Lake Shasta

Beller wins improbable title on Lake Shasta
Co-angler Matt Beller proudly displays his first-place check after winning the Stren Series event at Lake Shasta.

REDDING, Calif. - If you think being disabled and confined to a wheelchair is an impossible hurdle to becoming a tournament bass angler, don't tell that to Matt Beller. Not only did Beller successfully compete for four straight days under grueling conditions on Lake Shasta, but he also somehow managed to walk away with a tournament title.

To say Beller's achievement was remarkable would not even do justice to what the young man from Anderson, Calif., had just accomplished. Throw in the fact that this was Beller's first FLW Outdoors event of his entire career and you start to run out of words to put Beller's triumph in perspective.

Simply put - you had to be there to believe it.

Co-angler Matt Beller of Anderson, Calif., shows off his first-place catch."It means everything to me," said Beller, who ultimately recorded a total catch of 34 pounds, 2 ounces. "I'm on top of the world right now. I don't even know what to say. I just really wanted to do this for disabled veterans everywhere."

Beller, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps from 1994 to 1997, suffered a debilitating injury while attending the Mountain Warfare Training Center near Bridgeport, Calif. The injury not only left him confined to a wheelchair, but also left him wondering what he was going to do for the rest of his life. But to his credit, Beller never once used his injury as an excuse not to move forward. And what Beller wanted to do most of all was compete as a tournament bass angler.

"I couldn't have done this without all of the help I've had from friends and family," he said. "There are just a bunch of people who got me here today. I honestly wouldn't be here without them."

Amazingly, Beller said he didn't even think of registering for the Lake Shasta event until some friends tried to persuade him otherwise.

"I didn't even enter the tournament until 6:30 p.m. the night before," he said.

And that's where Beller's remarkable tournament journey began. Although he didn't do anything of note on the first day of competition, landing a modest catch of 4 pounds, 10 ounces, on day two things would change dramatically. While hundreds of pros and co-anglers were struggling with the tough conditions on Lake Shasta as well as the fickle bite, Beller landed a whopping 17-pound, 8-ounce stringer - the largest sack of the day in either division. In fact, during Thursday's competition, nobody - pro or co-angler - got within 4 pounds of Beller's stringer.

Although Beller ultimately won the title, it was far from easy. On day three, Beller only managed a catch of 1 pound, 8 ounces, which dropped him from first place to third heading into the finals. At that point, it appeared that the magical ending that so many fans had hoped for would only prove to be a mirage.

But then something amazing happened in the finals. Beller turned the tables on the rest of the field, parlaying a final-day catch of 10 pounds, 8 ounces - the largest of the day in the Co-angler Division - into an improbable tournament title.

"This was a nerve-wracking event for me to say the least," said Beller, who targeted bass by dragging a 6-inch Robo worm and blue crawler along the bottom of Lake Shasta throughout much of the four-day event. "I was up and down this whole tournament. There were so many highs and lows all week."

In the end, everything worked out perfectly.

"The fish just bit today," said Beller, more as a matter of fact. "And I couldn't be happier."

The same can be said for the hundreds of fans who came out all week in the hopes of seeing something very special unfold. And to be sure, Beller didn't disappoint.

Kraft nabs second place finish

Day-three leader Craig Kraft of Cottonwood, Calif., had to settle for second place in the Co-angler Division with a four-day catch of 32 pounds, 2 ounces.Although he was hoping for a tournament title, day-three leader Craig Kraft of Cottonwood, Calif., had to settle for second place in the Co-angler Division with a four-day catch of 32 pounds, 2 ounces.

"I struggled today," said Kraft, who earned a check for $3,400. "I caught four fish pretty early, but the afternoon bite just died on us. I just couldn't get that big bite today. And that was the key."

However, Kraft said he had no regrets. After all, on one of the most important fishing days of his career, he got to go fishing with one of his best friends - Chris Laskowski - who also happened to be his pro partner for the day.

"Chris and I are good friends," said Kraft. "We just had a ball out there fishing today."

Wright gets it right, lands in third

Michael Wright of Grass Valley, Calif., moved up from fifth place to third on the final day of competition as a result of a four-day stringer weighing 31 pounds, 14 ounces.

"The key was to go slow all week," said Wright. "I just used a Senko, threw it to the bank and dragged it back into about 40 feet of water."

For his efforts, Wright won $2,750.

Zanotelli snares fourth place

Co-angler Tony Zanotelli of Redding, Calif., shares the stage with his son, Zachary, during the Stren Series finals on Lake Shasta. Zanotelli finished the event in fourth place.Tony Zanotelli of Redding, Calif., used a four-day catch of 31 pounds, 9-ounces, to finish the day in fourth place.

"I'm really lucky," said Zanotelli. "I'm blessed. I had a great time. I look forward to this event every year."

Like many of the finalists, Zanotelli said the key to unlocking the mystery of Lake Shasta was to slow down the bait presentation.

"You pretty much had to work your bait really slowly to get a bite," he said. "That was definitely the key to everything all week."

Zanotelli said that he used a combination of jigs and worms in anywhere from 5 to 30 feet of water to land his catch. In the end, Zanotelli walked away with $2,100 in prize money.

O'Brien lands in fifth place

Joseph O'Brien of Spanish Springs, Nev., used a four-day catch of 31 pounds, 4 ounces to finish the finals in fifth place. O' Brien won nearly $1,700 for his efforts.

Best of the rest

Rounding out the top-10 co-angler finalists on Lake Shasta:

6th: Scott Burke of Oakdale, Calif., 30-9
7th: Aaron Agner of Anderson, Calif., 29-10
8th: Kyle Clement of Anderson, Calif., 29-6
9th: Brody Bramlett of Finley, Calif., 29-5
10th: Mike Krnaich of Petaluma, Calif., 28-12

Stren Series Western Division action continues Feb. 20-23 at Lake Havasu in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.

Tags: gary-mortenson  co-angler-headline  2008-01-09-lake-shasta 

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