DECATUR, Ala. – Since the Wal-Mart FLW Tour began in 1996, Alvin Shaw has been widely known as one of the most consistent anglers on tour without a victory. He changed all that Saturday by catching the only five-bass limit of the day and coming from behind to win $100,000 at Wheeler Lake.
“It really gets to eating at you,” Shaw said. “You try to go out and perform each and every tournament, and you keep telling yourself that it’s going to come sooner or later.”
Given his propensity for making cuts, this one came perhaps a little later than most for the pro from State Road, N.C. He has finished in the FLW top 10 no fewer than eight times over his career, including three in a row this season over the last three tournaments. But more impressive in terms of his consistency, Shaw has qualified for the FLW Championship every year since the tour began in 1996 except 2001.
“Man, I’ve been up there so many times without winning,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of close finishes.”
That includes this one in Decatur. Shaw began the day in fourth place, 4 ½ pounds off the leader, Kelly Jordon. Despite a shorter fishing day Saturday, all of the top contenders made the long run and lock back up to Guntersville Lake to go sight-fishing. However, Mother Nature, who had graced this tournament with sunny skies and calm winds the first three days, had different ideas for day four. When a storm front passed through later in the morning, the wind kicked up and blew almost everybody off their sight fish.
“Today the wind blew about 20 mph,” said Chad Grigsby, who was in third place but dropped to seventh after posting a zero Saturday. “Yesterday we had about five and a half hours to fish. Today we only had about three and a half hours. I was finding fish every day, but today I couldn’t find them because I just couldn’t see.”
“I was doing something a little different than the rest of the guys,” Shaw said. “I wasn’t really looking at them, and I think that really helped me out.”
Indeed. Shaw wasn’t fishing visually marked, individual bass on beds as much as he was fishing discernible, individual beds in the grass.
“A lot of times the grass was so thick that I wasn’t using my depth finder. It was just showing the top of the grass, so I would dip my rod in the water to check my depth,” he said. “I was looking for holes in the milfoil, and it had to be a clean bottom.”
So, with his visibility minimized by the wind and his depth finder giving false readings, Shaw went bed-fishing for $100,000. During the abridged fishing period, he caught all of his fish, except one, on a green-pumpkin Zoom brush hog with a 5/16-ounce bullet weight. The other he caught on a spinnerbait.
He hooked and landed just five bass Saturday, and even though he brought in the only limit of the day – weighing 11 pounds, 5 ounces – it turned out that he needed every single fish. Shaw’s winning weight in the final round was 24-8, just 4 ounces ahead of second place and within 2 pounds of the top four finishers.
Taking second place and collecting $36,000 was 21-year-old FLW Tour rookie Michael Bennett of Roseville, Calif. He caught three bass Saturday – weighing 9 pounds, 1 ounce – and finished with a final weight of 24 pounds, 4 ounces.
“I was hoping that, if I was going to lose, it was going to be by a lot,” Bennett said about his first experience in the FLW finals. “It took me about an hour to catch my first fish, but I caught every fish I had a shot at.”
Bennett managed to catch two bedding bass, but also used some West Coast savvy to combat the wind and land his third fish.
“I caught one on a swimbait,” he said.
Jordon blown out, takes third
When Jordon – the pro from Mineola, Texas, who led days two and three – hoisted a 5 ½-pound bass to the scale as his first fish, it looked like it was going to be a rout. He already had a 3 ½-pound lead on the field and had been talking about the big bedding fish he was saving all week.
But this time it was not to be for Jordon, who had already won an FLW Tour event earlier this season at Lake Okeechobee.
“Yeah, the wind got me,” he said. “And I had them lined up to win this tournament today. Without the wind, I could have easily had 19 or 20 pounds.”
Jordon’s fishing area consisted of bass beds on Guntersville’s main-lake flats. The stiff wind did his sight-fishing absolutely no favors, though, and that 5-pound, 8-ounce fish he weighed in turned out to be the only one he caught.
“The key to this tournament was main-lake flats,” he said. “It was like Texas Hold ‘Em; I was all-in on that one spot. But out in the open like that there were whitecaps, and I was doing all I could to keep the boat in one place. I couldn’t ever see the fish today.”
Jordon ultimately tallied a final-round weight of 23 pounds, 3 ounces and finished in third place. He collected $25,000.
Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., managed to land three keepers Saturday on Guntersville and took home his best FLW finish of the year, fourth place, with a final weight of 22 pounds, 8 ounces. He earned $20,000.
“I fished pretty good today,” Hackney said. “I just couldn’t see them today. It was like some of them were gone.”
And don’t look now, but Hackney – last year’s second-ranked pro – is back in the Angler of the Year business again. Despite this being the first FLW cut he’s made all season, he’s pieced together some decent finishes and has moved up to third in points with one tournament to go.
Toshinari Namiki of Tokyo, Japan, the winner of the Ouachita River FLW event, posted a final-round weight of 18 pounds, 9 ounce. He finished fifth at Wheeler and collected $18,000.
Namiki, too, has increased his points standing. He’s in fourth place, right behind Hackney.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros finishers at FLW Wheeler Lake:
6th: Scot Suggs, Bryant, Ark., 13-15, $17,000
7th: Grigsby, Colon, Mich., 13-13, $16,000
8th: Lendell Martin Jr., Nacogdoches, Texas, 13-3, $15,000
9th: Chip Harrison, Bremen, Ind., 10-3, $14,000
10th: Mike Hawkes, Sabinal, Texas, 7-12, $13,000
AOY standings update
With just one tournament left, this event shook up the Angler of the Year standings. J.T. Kenney of Frostburg, Md., is still on top, but not by much. He has 846 points, but Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C., has moved up right behind him in second place with 844 points. Third-place Hackney has 830 points, and fourth-place Namiki has 823. Trussville, Alabama’s Matt Herren (794 points) and Lakeland, Florida’s Bobby Lane (793 points) fell to fifth and sixth place, respectively.
The next Wal-Mart FLW Tour event, the fifth of the season, is scheduled for the Potomac River near La Plata, Md., June 22-25.
Editor’s note: Jennifer Simmons contributed to this report.