Hite hooks richest bass cash prize South Carolina angler wins $250,000 in Illinois by margin of 12 ounces

September 20, 1998|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Davey Hite, a 33-year-old professional angler from Prosperity, S.C., pocketed $250,000 yesterday for winning the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship, the largest cash prize ever paid to the winner of a bass fishing tournament.

Hite weighed in 10 pounds, 13 ounces of bass at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Moline, Ill., to edge second-place Tommy Biffle of Wagoner, Okla. Biffle, who weighed in 10 pounds, 1 ounce, took home only $25,000.

Hite caught his winning stringer of five bass from an undisclosed area of the Mississippi River using a Gambler Super Tube jig, a Bulldog buzz bait and a top-water frog.

"When I found those fish in practice, I told my wife that I knew I could win," Hite said at the weigh-in. "I usually don't make predictions like that, but this time I really felt confident."

Gary Klein of Weatherford, Texas, finished third (4-4), followed by George Cochran of Hot Springs, Ark. (4-0), and Jerry Williams of Conway, Ark. (3-9).

If the weights seem low when compared to results from other professional bass tournaments -- or even multi-day club tournaments -- it is due to the format used on the 4-year-old FLW Tour.

For the first two days, the anglers fish for highest combined weight. But on the third day, the field is cut to the top 10, all of whom start at zero. At the end of Day 3, the field is cut to the top five weights, and the finalists start at zero again on Day 4.

Through the tournament, Hite placed first, first, second and first and caught more than 10 pounds per day. Cochran took first place on Friday by 3 ounces.

The FLW Tour events are geared toward television coverage, and on the final day of each tour event, the five finalists are accompanied by camera crews and interviewed as they fish for big bass and bigger bucks.

The film and interviews from the tour championship will be shown on ESPN on Oct. 18 at 1 p.m.

Tour organizers said the format has increased interest in professional bass fishing, and the total prize money for the seven-event 1999 tour will be raised to $3.97 million, an increase of $320,000 to be used to increase the payouts for sixth through 50th place.

"We have been successful in moving fishing from back-page news to headline news," said tour chairman Irwin Jacobs, who controls several of the fishing and marine businesses that sponsor the FLW Tour. "Fishing for the first time is receiving the notoriety a sport that has more than 55 million participants deserves."

And in November 1999, the Ranger Boat Co. will produce an offshoot of the FLW Tour, the Ranger Millenium Tournament, with a $1 million cash prize for first place and a purse of more than $3.5 million.

The Millenium Tournament will have a field of more than 400 anglers from more than 20 bass fishing organizations and will be the first time anglers from the nation's leading bass organizations have squared off in head-to-head competition.

"This tournament has been a dream of mine for many years," said Jacobs, chairman of Genmar Holdings, Inc., which owns Ranger Boat Co. " The extensive use of television in support of this event will help to enhance bass fishing as a major, high-profile competitive sport whose participants are some of the finest role models in our society today."

The FLW Tour has attracted major sponsors such as Eagle (marine electronics) and Evinrude Outboards, but it also has tournament sponsorship from Coca-Cola, CITGO, Wal-Mart and Wheaties, the cereal that put pro angler Denny Brauer on its box.

Brauer, the tour points leader and winner of four big-money bass tournaments in the last few months, placed second on the first two days of this championship, but finished eighth on Friday and missed the final cut.

On Friday, Todd Lee of Jasper, Ala., won the amateur side of the tournament (12 pounds, 14 ounces) and won $25,000. Organizers said no Maryland anglers qualified for the tournament.

Pub Date: 9/20/98

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