The Okeechobee fishing conditions toughened on Saturday and a strong northeast wind drastically affected tournament weights on day three of the Walmart FLW Tour on Lake Okeechobee presented by Mercury. Although he could not match his previous catch of 23 pounds from each of the past two days, pro Drew Benton of Panama City, Fla., still weighed enough to grab the lead heading into the final round of the four-day event that has competitors casting for a top cash award of up to $125,000.
Benton brought a five-bass limit to the scales totaling 15 pounds, 3 ounces, giving him a three-day total of 15 bass for 62 pounds, 3 ounces. He now holds a slim 1-pound lead over day 2 leader Rick Cotten of Guntersville, Ala., who weighed in three bass for 7 pounds, giving him a three-day total of 13 bass for 61 pounds, 3 ounces.
“I thought that I had caught enough to keep it close today,” said Benton who is fishing his rookie season as a pro on the FLW Tour. “I was very surprised that it was enough to take the lead.
“I made a long run south to start the day, and my first area was trashed,” Benton continued. “It was very windy and rough – the FLW camera boat even turned around. I knew within five minutes of pulling up that it wasn’t working. I was able to catch a couple of small keepers, but I decided that I needed to make the 25 mile run up north.”
Benton was able to boat a 5-pounder that he had located Friday while checking new areas. He stayed in that same area today and said he caught an estimated 25 keepers.
“Of the five fish that I weighed in, all came on Bass Assassin baits,” Benton said. “Two came on a Vapor Shad, two came on a Die Dapper and one came on a Pure Craw. In the open areas I throw the Vapor Shad, and when it’s nothing but thick stuff I buzz that Die Dapper. It’s pretty basic, really. I’m not doing anything really fancy.”
When asked how he felt heading into the final day of competition, Benton was as calm as an experienced veteran.
“I’m a rookie, but I’ve had a lot of success fishing,” he said. “I’m very comfortable fishing during the spring and spawn phase this time of year. I just feel confident whenever they’re moving up on to the beds. I feel pretty good about my chances tomorrow.”
The top 10 pros advancing to the final day of competition on Lake Okeechobee are:
1st: Drew Benton, Panama City, Fla., 15 bass, 62-3
2nd: Rick Cotten, Guntersville, Ala., 13 bass, 61-3
3rd: Keystone Light pro Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., 15 bass, 56-3
4th: Wade Hendricks, Thompsons Station, Tenn., 15 bass, 54-11
5th: Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 15 bass, 54-11
6th: Casey Martin, New Market, Ala., 15 bass, 53-9
7th: Chevy pro Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., 15 bass, 51-6
8th: Keystone Light pro Chad Grigsby, Maple Grove, Minn., 15 bass, 49-0
9th: Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., 15 bass, 48-10
10th: Castrol pro Philip Jarabeck, Lynchburg, Va., 15 bass, 45-13
Finishing in 11th through 20th are:
11th: Snickers pro Chris Baumgardner, Gastonia, N.C., 15 bass, 44-8, $12,500
12th: John Cox, Debary, Fla., 15 bass, 44-1, $12,500
13th: Shad Schenck, Waynetown, Ind., 15 bass, 42-8, $12,500
14th: Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., 15 bass, 42-3, $12,500
15th: EverStart pro Randall Tharp, Gardendale, Ala., 15 bass, 42-2, $12,500
16th: Brandon Coulter, Knoxville, Tenn., 15 bass, 41-12, $12,000
17th: Chevy pro Dion Hibdon, Sunrise Beach, Mo., 15 bass, 41-11, $12,500
18th: Tom Monsoor, La Crosse, Wis., 15 bass, 41-3, $12,000
19th: Straight Talk pro Scott Canterbury, Springville, Ala., 15 bass, 40-2, $12,000
20th: Rich Dalbey, Greenville, Texas, 13 bass, 35-6, $12,000
Final results for the remaining field can be found on FLWOutdoors.com.
Overall there were 96 bass weighing 214 pounds, 5 ounces caught by pros Saturday. The catch included 18 five-bass limits.
Pros are competing for a top award of up to $125,000 this week plus valuable points in the hope of qualifying for the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup presented by Walmart, the world championship of bass fishing. The top 35 anglers in the point standings from the six events on the 2013 Walmart FLW Tour will qualify. The 2013 Forrest Wood Cup will be in Shreveport, La., Aug. 15-18 on the Red River.
Justin Jones of Apex, N.C., won the co-angler division and $25,250 Saturday with a three-day total of 11 bass weighing 39 pounds, 4 ounces, followed by Richard Peek of Centre, Ala., in second place with 13 bass weighing 35-8 worth $7,500.
“I was sweating bullets,” said Jones, who earned the first victory of his career after leading all three days of this event. “It was a real tough bite out there today, and I was about to zero. The one fish that I weighed in today bit in the last 45 minutes of the day.”
That fish was the right one for Jones – a 6-pound, 5-ounce Okeechobee brute that was enough to slam the door and give Jones the win.
“I said a prayer, and kept asking the Lord to just give me one,” Jones continued. “I happened to throw to the right spot and He gave me a fish.”
Jones said all week he had been catching big fish – including the 9-pound, 7-ounce 3M Peltor Big Bass on Thursday – flipping a Bruiser Baits Intruder. His lone fish today however, came fishing a weightless Fluke.
“I hadn’t thrown the Fluke much at all this week,” Jones said. “It was a tough bite and I just had to slow down.”
The top 10 co-anglers finished:
1st: Justin Jones, Apex, N.C., 11 bass, 39-4, $25,250
2nd: Richard Peek, Centre, Ala., 13 bass, 35-8, $7,500
3rd: Brook Pauley, Morgantown, W. Va., 13 bass, 35-0, $5,000
4th: Mike Comeau, Winooski, Vt., 15 bass, 34-11, $4,000
5th: Anthony Goggins, Auburn, Ala., 15 bass, 34-8, $3,000
6th: Greg Scott, Dearborn, Mich., 14 bass, 33-5, $2,500
7th: Greg Knick, Ansonia, Ohio, 15 bass, 33-3, $2,000
8th: Jim Short, Ocean Pines, Md., 15 bass, 32-15, $1,800
9th: Bill Cowart, Kissimmee, Fla., 15 bass, 32-1, $1,700
10th: Ronnie Green, Tampa, Fla., 14 bass, 31-14, $1,600
For a full list of results visit FLWOutdoors.com.
Overall there were 72 bass weighing 128 pounds, 5 ounces caught by co-anglers Saturday. The catch included six five-bass limits.
In addition to the top award of $25,000, co-anglers were also fishing this week for valuable points that could help them qualify for the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup presented by Walmart. The top 35 co-anglers in the point standings from the six events on the 2013 Walmart FLW Tour will qualify.
The top 10 pros will take off from the Clewiston Boat Basin located at 709 Hoover Dike Rd. at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday. Sunday’s final weigh-in will be held at the Walmart located at 1005 W. Sugarland Highway in Clewiston beginning at 4 p.m.
Fans will also be treated to the FLW Outdoors Expo at the Walmart on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. prior to the final weigh-in. The Expo includes Ranger boat simulators, the opportunity to interact with professional anglers, enjoy interactive games, activities and giveaways provided by sponsors, and fans can learn more about the sport of fishing and other outdoor activities. All activities are free and open to the public.
Coverage of the Lake Okeechobee tournament will be broadcast in high-definition (HD) on NBC Sports Network when “FLW” airs April 7 from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. ET. The Emmy-nominated “FLW” is hosted by Jason Harper and is broadcast to more than 559 million households worldwide, making it the most widely distributed weekly outdoors-sports television show in the world.
For complete details and updated information visit FLWOutdoors.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/FLWFishing and on Twitter at Twitter.com/FLWFishing.