EverStart pro James Stricklin Jr., of Texarkana, Texas, took the early lead at the EverStart Championship presented by Castrol with a five-bass limit that weighed 12 pounds, 13 ounces. Stricklin Jr., leads second-place angler Koby Kreiger of Okeechobee, Fla., by a mere 8 ounces in this four day tournament taking place on the Ouachita River. Top pro and co-anglers from across the country are battling it out for the championship crown where pros are competing for $50,000 and a chance for a new Ranger boat with a 200-horsepower outboard engine plus a berth in the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup. Co-anglers are vying for a new Ranger boat with a 90-horsepower outboard engine and a chance for $5,000 plus a berth in the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup.

As predicted navigation turned out to be one of the biggest challenges of the day as a common complaint heard was that boats broke down and the day was cut short in order to make it back for weigh-in. Low water levels further challenged navigation into the backwater oxbows making it even more treacherous than normal to get into these prime fishing areas along the Ouachita River.

“It is tough, tough!” said day one leader Stricklin. “The river is very treacherous, I broke a piece on my lower unit today, you just have to take it slow and easy. It takes a lot of concentration getting in and out of these areas.

“I started in a backwater area where I caught four of my five bass then I went to the main river to fill my limit. I think the area that I am fishing has the potential of producing a 17 to 18 pound bag; tomorrow will tell the tale. I will start in the same place and see what happens. My gloves are off and I’m fishing to win.”

Hawaiian Punch pro Jim Dillard agrees that navigating the river is the toughest part of this tournament. “One wrong turn and you can tear something up”. That’s why he is fishing in a smaller aluminum boat with two push poles.

“Navigating this river takes time and patience,” said Dillard. “It took me a long time to get to my spot, but I am fishing a confidence area and I am going to stick with it. I know what lives in there and I think the bite is only going to get better as the water continues to warm-up.”

Dillard went on to say that it is going to take a lot of “jumpin’ stumps” to get into the backwater to win the tournament and staying mentally focused. According to both anglers the main river has an abundance of fish, but you’re going to have  to go through a lot of small bass before you get the keeper.

The top 10 pros after day one on the Ouachita River are:

1st:     James Stricklin Jr., Texarkana, Texas, five bass, 12-13

2nd:    Koby Kreiger, Okeechobee, Fla., five bass, 12-5

3rd:     George Kapiton, Inverness, Fla., five bass, 11-4

4th:     Larry Jones, Acworth, Ga., five bass, 10-13

5th:     Hawaiian Punch pro Jim Dillard, West Monroe, La., five bass, 10-11

6th:     Bill Chapman, Salt Rock, W. Va., five bass, 10-10

6th:     Ladd Shannon, Atkin, Ark., five bass, 10-10

8th:     Shane Long, Willard, Mo., five bass, 10-2

9th:     Cody Bird, Granbury, Texas, five bass, 9-12

10th:   Jeromy Francis, Magnolia, Texas, five bass, 9-10

10th:   Lamonte Loyd, Gilmer, Texas, five bass, 9-10

For a full list of results visit FLWOutdoors.com.

Michael Williamson of Fort Smith, Ark., caught Thursday’s big bass weighing 4 pounds, 12 ounces on the pro side to win $250.

Justin Sward of Birmingham, Ala., leads the Co-angler Division with five bass weighing 7 pounds, 11 ounces followed by Tony Spinks of Springfield, Mo., in second place with four bass weighing 7 pounds, 10 ounces.

Top-10 co-anglers are:

1st:     Justin Sward, Birmingham, Ala., five bass, 7-11

2nd:    Tony Spinks, Springfield, Mo., four bass, 7-10

3rd:     David Kelly, Goose Creek, S.C., five bass, 7-9

4th:     Gary Reimers, Taylor, Texas, five bass, 7-5

5th:     Steve Brown, Altamonte Springs, Fla., five bass, 7-0

6th:     Daniel Leue, Colusa, Calif., five bass, 6-15

7th:     David Kayda, Huffman, Texas, five bass, 6-14

8th:     Bill Fussell, Thibodaux, La., five bass, 6-12

9th:     Audie Brantley, N. Augusta, S.C., five bass, 6-10

9th:     Vince Denina, Willis, Texas, four bass, 6-10

9th:     Robert Russell, Smyrna, Tenn., five bass, 6-10

For a full list of results visit FLWOutdoors.com.

Dan Wilson of Pilot Point, Texas, caught Thursday’s big bass weighing 4 pounds, 11 ounces on the co-angler side to win $165.

The EverStart Series consists of five divisions – Central, Northern, Southeast, Texas and Western. Each division consists of four tournaments where competitors earn valuable points to help them qualify for the EverStart Championship. The top 40 pro and co-anglers from each respective division qualified for this event. Pros are competing for a top award of $50,000 plus a Ranger Z518 with a 200-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard if Ranger Cup guidelines are met. Co-anglers are fishing for a top award consisting of a Ranger Z117 with 90-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard and $5,000 if Ranger Cup guidelines are met. The EverStart Pro and Co-Champion will also receive a berth in the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup being held on the Red River in Shreveport-Bossier City, La., Aug. 15-18.

Anglers will take off from Forsythe Park located at 2401 Sycamore St. in Monroe, La., at 7:30 each morning. Friday’s weigh-in will be held at Forsythe Park beginning at 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday’s final weigh-in will be held at Walmart located at 2701 Louisville Ave. in Monroe beginning at 4 p.m.

Fans will be treated to the FLW Expo at Walmart on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. prior to the final weigh-ins. 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 EverStart Championship will be broadcast in high-definition (HD) on NBC Sports Network when “FLW” airs Jan. 6, 2013, from 1 to 2 p.m. ET. “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.

Image courtesy FLW Outdoors

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