BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Standing before an arena filled with cheering bass-fishing fans, Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif., brought in a winning catch of five bass weighing 15 pounds, 1 ounce to pocket $500,000 in the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship presented by Castrol on Lake Logan Martin. The half-million dollar check is the largest first-place award in professional bass fishing.
Ehrler entered the event as the No. 40 seed and dispatched No. 9 seed Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz., at the end of the first round with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 20 pounds, 11 ounces compared to Pirch’s catch of 10 bass weighing 15 pounds, 4 ounces. During Friday’s semifinal round, Ehrler was paired against No. 33 seed National Guard pro Ramie Colson Jr. of Cadiz, Ky., and he again brought in a five-bass limit to defeat Colson and advance to the final round where he ultimately claimed the half-million dollar prize. His semifinal round catch weighed 13 pounds, 4 ounces compared to Colson’s limit weighing 7 pounds, 10 ounces.
“It’s pretty amazing and I really don’t know how I feel right now,” Ehrler said. “I told myself at the beginning of the year, ‘I don’t care if I finish first or 100th, I just want to make the championship.’”
He fished a finesse worm on a jig head around docks and cranked a Lucky Craft RC 1.5 between the docks to catch the heaviest weight Saturday.
Ehrler qualified for the 2005 FLW Tour through the Stren Series Western Division after earning six top-10 finishes in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. In 2004, one of those top-10s was a win at the Stren Series Championship. He earned $25,000 in his rookie year on the FLW Tour and finished 73rd in the Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year Points race. With his championship win in Birmingham on Saturday, he has earned more than $612,000 since 2003.
Weed Eater pro Ray Scheide of Russellville, Ark., caught a five-bass limit weighing 14 pounds, 6 ounces to claim second place and $50,000 cash.
“Man, it’s bittersweet. I truly believe when it’s your time, it’s your time,” Scheide said. “Today wasn’t my time. It was Brent’s.”
Scheide fished two patterns through the entirety of the championship. When current was present, he focused on deep offshore structure with crankbaits and finesse gear. When the current was absent, he fished banks in the backs of creeks and pockets with wood and other submerged cover. His lures of choice were jigs, crankbaits and finesse gear.
Scheide entered the event as the No. 4 seed and displaced No. 45 seed Fujifilm pro Wesley Strader of Spring City, Tenn., at the end of the first round. During Friday’s semifinal round, Scheide was paired against No. 28 seed Sirius pro Chip Harrison of Bremen, Ind. He again brought in a limit of bass to defeat Harrison and advance to the final round where he ultimately finished in second place.
The top 48 anglers from the six-event 2006 Wal-Mart FLW Tour advanced to the championship. Anglers were seeded according to their year-end ranking, with the No. 1 pro fishing head-to-head against the No. 48 seed, the No. 2 seed fishing against the No. 47 seed, and so on. The twelve anglers who advanced to the final round fished for the heaviest weight of the day. Overall, 28 states and Japan were represented in Birmingham.
Rounding out the top five pros were Clark Wendlandt of Leander, Texas (five bass, 13 pounds, 9 ounces, $40,000); Shinichi Fukae of Mineola, Texas (five bass, 13 pounds, 5 ounces, $35,000); and Jay Yelas of Tyler, Texas (five bass, 13 pounds, 2 ounces, $30,000).
Friday’s action saw the conclusion of the co-angler competition after the co-angler field was cut from 48 to 24 on Thursday. Matt Arey of Shelby, N.C., walked away with a check for $25,000 thanks to his tournament-winning catch of five bass weighing 11 pounds, 15 ounces.
FLW Tour Championship anglers were not the only big winners Saturday, as Toby Hartsell of Livingston, Texas, won a new Ranger Z-20 Comanche worth $47,500. The boat is powered by Yamaha and equipped with EverStart Batteries, Lowrance electronics and a Minn Kota trolling motor. The names of three lucky contestants were drawn during each day’s weigh-in.
Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, FLW Outdoors administers the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Series, Stren Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail presented by Abu Garcia, Stratos Owners’ Tournament Trail, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye League, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Series, Wal-Mart FLW Redfish Series and Wal-Mart FLW Striper Series. These circuits offer combined purses exceeding $37.9 million through 249 events in 2006.
For more information about FLW Outdoors and its tournament programs, visit FLWOutdoors.com or call (270) 252-1000.
Wal-Mart and many of America’s largest and most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its tournament trails. Wal-Mart signed on as an FLW Outdoors sponsor in 1997 and today is the world’s leading supporter of tournament fishing. For more information about Wal-Mart, visit Wal-Mart.com.