Area anglers to participate in big-money fishing tournaments


Published: Friday, January 14, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 14, 2005 at 1:22 a.m.
Four North Central Florida bass anglers will be on Lake Okeechobee next week for the season-opener of the $7.6 million FLW Tour. At stake is a total payout of $900,000 and a $100,000 top prize. The first two tournaments in the FLW's 10th season will be at Okeechobee and Tohopekaliga.
The most notable is longtime Gainesville tournament pro Bernie Schultz, 50, whose resume includes qualifying for seven Bassmaster Classics and four FLW Championships, as well as earning nearly $600,000 on both tours.
"Fishing two tours is definitely a challenge," he said. "Fishing two tours is brutal. With both schedules starting in January and running through June, there's hardly any time for other things like sponsor obligations, sports show appearances or even family. But it's what I do, and I plan to do the best I can."
Schultz is looking for his first victory this season on the FLW Tour.
Billy Bowen, 47, of Ocala has been one of the region's top tournament anglers since he started fishing Florida tournaments in 1985. During that time, he has won four BFL Gator Division tournaments, a BFL Regional event, the 20002 Florida points title and collected $142,251 in FLW-affiliated tournaments at all levels. He has also qualified for four BFL All-Americans.
Bowen has high hopes for the 2005 FLW season.
"The main thing is to stay in the top 50, if not win Florida twice," said the pro, who works in his brother's plumbing supply business when not competing. "My main goal is to win Okeechobee and Toho.
"I've done well (on the FLW Tour). I've had some good tournaments. This past year wasn't real good for me, but that comes with the territory. So I'm looking for '05 to be a good year. The schedule is super with two Florida tournaments to start the season."
Bowen's running buddy is Glenn Browne, who was one of the top rookies on the FLW Tour last season. In 2004, Browne qualified for the championship event. In all FLW-associated tournaments, he has earned nearly $80,000.
"I had a pretty good year," said Browne, 28, who owns a commercial floor cleaning business in Ocala. "I can't complain about how I did. And I should do well this year. Heck, we've got two tournaments on lakes that I've grown up on and fished all my life. So I'm excited.
"I've gotten a lot more experience from last year. I've seen a few different things out of state. So I feel really good going into the season because a lot of the lakes will play into how I like to fish. Flipping is primarily my deal, but I also like throwing topwater."
Also, among the FLW Tour rookies this season will be Walt Starling of Live Oak.
One fisherman that won't be at the FLW season-opener is Rick Couch, who is sitting out his second consecutive FLW season. "I took last year and this off because I've recently taken over my parents RV dealership (Tradewinds RV in Ocala)," he said. "I'll probably fish FLW next year using a sponsor (exemption) from either Ranger or Evinrude.
"It's been extremely hard because both of fishing buddies, Glenn Browne and Billy Bowen, live about a mile from me, and I visited with them once or twice a week. They get to go and play, and I had to stay home and work. It was real tough."
Last season, Couch, who has fished FLW Tour events for four years and qualified for its championship in 1996, had second-place finish on Lake Okeechobee is 2002.
  • GOFC MEETING: Capt. Wiley Horton will present a program on marine communications at the Jan. 25th meeting of the Gainesville Offshore Club at 7 p.m. at the Girl's Club at 2101 NW 39th Ave. in Gainesville Wiley is a GOFC past president and an accomplished offshore and inshore fisherman with extensive experience with boats of all sizes.
    The GOFC is a nonprofit family organization with a membership of more than 140 families who have a common interest in both inshore and offshore saltwater fishing in North Central Florida. Despite the name, the club really has about an equal mix of inshore and offshore anglers with club meetings and programs equally divided between both types of fishing.
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