SHREVEPORT, La. – John Sappington of Wyandotte, Okla., conquered a mean slot limit and competitive bracket format to claim $260,000 cash as the winner of the 2002 Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship presented by Castrol on Cross Lake in Shreveport, La.
Sappington fished head-to-head Saturday against Gerald Swindle of Hayden, Ala., for the top cash prize and defeated him with a four-bass catch weighing 9 pounds, 12 ounces. Swindle caught five bass weighing 9 pounds, 7 ounces to take second place and $55,000 cash.
“At some point you wonder when you are ever going to win,” said Sappington, who caught his fish using a shallow-running crankbait that he painted late Friday night. “With this shoot-out, it worked out perfectly. The good thing about this is I fished for $260,000 against one person when we normally fish against lots of guys.”
Sappington entered the championship as the No. 24 seed and became the No. 1 seed in the final round based on his three-day catch weighing 25 pounds, 6 ounces. He put together a string of top-15 finishes in 2002, including an 11th-place finish on Arkansas' Lake Ouachita in March, a 13th-place effort at the Wal-Mart Open on Beaver Lake in April and a fifth-place finish on Tennessee's Old Hickory Lake in May. This is Sappington's third year fishing the Wal-Mart FLW Tour as a pro and his second championship appearance. His Wal-Mart FLW Tour career earnings now total $347,762.
Swindle came into the championship as the No. 42 seed and climbed to the No. 2 seed in the final round based on his three-day catch weighing 23 pounds, 8 ounces. He has amassed $409,500 in seven years on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour. In 1998, he claimed $150,000 as the winner of the prestigious Wal-Mart Open on Beaver Lake near Rogers, Ark., and finished second in the same tournament in 2001. His Wal-Mart FLW Tour resume also includes top-10 finishes at two other venues.
“Coming into this, people said, ‘You only have to beat one guy,'” Swindle said. “But I was fishing against the only guy in the field who was catching them. It certainly was nerve-racking.”
Brent Chapman of Shawnee, Kan., conquered Pat Fisher of Stone Mountain, Ga., to take the third-place cash award of $34,500 thanks his three bass weighing 6 pounds, 13 ounces. Fisher earned $29,000 cash and fourth place with his three-bass catch weighing 3 pounds, 6 ounces.
Competing for fifth- and sixth-place prize money were Aaron Martens of Castaic, Calif., and Dion Hibdon of Stover, Mo. With a two-bass stringer weighing 2 pounds, 14 ounces, Hibdon took the fifth-place award of $25,500. Martens trailed him with one bass weighing 1 pound, 11 ounces to claim sixth place and $21,000 cash.
Bernie Schultz of Gainesville, Fla., and Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo., fished head-to-head for seventh- and eighth-place, and Schultz came out the victor with a three-bass catch weighing 3 pounds, 14 ounces for $19,500 cash. Clunn's two-bass catch weighing 2 pounds, 1 ounce netted him seventh place and $16,000 cash.
Takahiro Omori of Emory, Texas, overcame Kevin Vida of Clare, Mich., with one bass weighing 1 pound, 8 ounces to win the ninth-place cash award of $14,500. Vida came in empty-handed to finish 10th and earn $12,000 cash.
Fishing for 11th- and 12th-place cash prizes were Fuji pro Wes Thomas of Hanover, Ind., and Kellogg's pro Alvin Shaw of State Road, N.C. Shaw triumphed for 11th place and $11,000 with one bass weighing 13 ounces. Thomas took 12th and $10,000 despite bringing in an empty sack.
Competition began Wednesday with 96 anglers from more than a dozen states competing in two divisions, pro and co-angler. Anglers earned their championship berth based on points accumulated during six regular-season events. While Pro Division anglers fished bracket-style during the championship, Co-angler Division anglers fished against their field each day. Keith Pace of Monticello, Ark., took the co-angler crown Friday and won $30,000 cash.
Sponsors of the 2002 Wal-Mart FLW Tour are Wal-Mart, ALPO Pet Foods, BFGoodrich Tires, Castrol, Chevy Trucks, Conseco, Eagle Electronics, Energizer, EverStart Batteries, Evinrude, Faded Glory, Frito-Lay, Fujifilm, Kellogg's, Land O'Lakes, Maxwell House, Minn Kota, Newell Rubbermaid, Pepsi, Poulan, Ranger Boats, Shop-Vac, Snickers, Stanley Works, U.S. Bank, Weed Eater and Yamaha Outboards.