HENDERSON, N.C. – It wouldn't have been any fun, but everyone else could just as well have stayed home this week. After a so-so (for him) first day where Arlie Napier finished in fourth place, the Middlesboro, Ky., angler cranked it up, literally, to dominate the last three days of pro competition and win the final $185,000 EverStart Eastern Division tournament of the year.
Okay, that's not giving nearly enough credit to the other Pro Division anglers who fished their tails off this week at Kerr Lake, but Napier was eerily Tiger Woods-like in terms of his masterful four-day tournament performance.
On Wednesday, Napier was just less than 3 pounds off the lead, but he made it up Thursday and won the qualifying opening round by almost 4 pounds. Then he won the semifinal round Friday by 3 ounces and qualified for Saturday's finals.
Today he reeled in five bass weighing 14 pounds, 7 ounces and won the tournament by nearly 2 pounds over runner-up Joel Richardson. Napier collected $15,000 and a new Ranger boat for his efforts.
For the 27-year-old Napier, the victory couldn't have been sweeter. Coming into this event, he already had three wins to his name, but they were all Red Man one-day tourneys. He also already had four top-10 finishes on the EverStart Series, including a second place at West Point, Ga., in 1999. He even had a runner-up finish on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour last year at Pickwick Lake, Ala.
But this was his first big-time win.
“I've been in every position in the top 10. From day one, this is what I've been going for,” he said, though he admitted that the FLW second place was pretty sweet, too.
The difference between Napier and his competitors this week was mainly his technique. Many anglers arrived at Kerr Lake to find water levels up and lots of fish still hanging around in shallow water. The majority of competitors stuck to flipping jigs, lizards and tubes in and around the bushes along the bank. It worked, too. Many heavy sacks of fish were brought in because the angler went flipping.
But Napier knew it's also summertime in North Carolina, and that bass were likely to be found in deeper water as well. He came armed with his trusty crankbait, found a hole about 15 feet deep filled with good-size bass, and just kept plucking them out of there all week long.
“I don't care where I'm at, as long as it's hot weather, I can beat anybody,” he said, admitting that the warm season probably had more to do with his success than anything else.
But dominance in a four-day fishing tournament like this one doesn't come without its share of luck. On day three, the one day that it rained and cooled off significantly, Napier was forced to go flipping in shallow water when his deepwater bass scattered. Even doing that, he managed to stumble upon a string of 3- and 4-pound bass that gave him the lead.
But today, he went back to his favorite crankbaits and he wasn't disappointed. However, he was worried before the weigh-in. Napier incurred an 8-ounce penalty (his total catch actually weighed 14 pounds, 15 ounces) because one of his fish became entangled in his co-angler partner's line and didn't make it through the weigh-in alive.
“When I came in, I was sick as a dog because I thought I blew this tournament,” he said.
Asked how he was able to use the crankbait so well when other top pros couldn't this week, Napier responded simply, “By putting a crankbait in my hand for 12 hours a day every day.”
Richardson battles rising water
Runner-up Richardson came into this tournament thinking he would win it. It wasn't immodesty on his part; it was just common sense. From Kernersville, N.C., Richardson had a slew of top-10 performances already on Kerr Lake, including a victory. Plus, this is his home lake. He makes his living here as a fishing guide.
“I had fish found before the tournament started,” he said. “Before the water came up, I was just about sure I was going to win this thing. But when that water came up, I had to restart.”
He restarted by finding shallow-water fish not far from Napier's prime area, within three miles.
“The difference was, I was flipping,” Richardson said.
But he flipped successfully, catching five bass weighing 12 pounds, 10 ounces Saturday and collecting $10,000 for second place. He said the key this week was his bait. He used a June bug-colored Hawg Caller craw tube.
“It worked really well. I mean, I caught three or four good fish behind guys in the top 30 who were flipping (the same area),” he said. “I really believe it was the bait that had a lot to do with it.”
Robert Walser of Lexington, N.C., said he had problems finding fish each day because of changing conditions. Still, he managed five bass weighing 12 pounds, 2 ounces to capture third place and $9,000.
“It's been taking me until lunch to figure them out,” he said. “(The fish) are switching the way they use the cover every day.”
Fourth-place pro William Smith of Moncks Corner, S.C., found his big fish by way of a topwater lure. “On the second day, I stumbled onto a topwater bite,” he said. “If they bit it, they were big ones.” Smith weighed in five bass for 11 pounds, 3 ounces and collected $8,000.
David Wright of Lexington, N.C., also weighed in five fish for 11 pounds, 3 ounces, but placed fifth behind Smith by virtue of a tiebreaker because Smith placed higher in the opening round. Still, it was quite a run for Wright, who didn't even practice coming into the tourney because he was at school until the Monday before. He won $7,500.
Rogers takes points title
Had Frank Poirier of Hopewell, Va., finished in first or second place, he would have overtaken Mark Rogers of Naples, Fla., for the Eastern Division standings title. As it turned out, Poirier ended his bid for the title with a sixth-place finish in this tournament. He caught five bass weighing 10 pounds, 3 ounces and collected $6,500.
Poirier, who ended the season with 755 points, fell just four points short of Rogers' mark of 759. Rogers led this tournament on day one and eventually finished in 13th place on Friday.
Rounding out the top 10 pro finalists were Wally Szuba (seventh place, $5,500) of Cary, N.C., with four bass weighing 7 pounds, 8 ounces; Mark Inman (eighth, $5,000) of Henderson, N.C, with three bass weighing 5 pounds, 2 ounces; Sean Stickler (ninth, $4,500) of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with two bass weighing 2 pounds, 8 ounces; and Wayne Jeffcoat (10th, $4,000) with no bass.
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