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  • Updated: 04/12/04


    SPRING VALLEY, Ill. (April 1, 2004) – It may have been April Fools’ Day, but fishing the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Tour season opener on the Illinois River was serious business Thursday for 340 anglers from 19 states and Canada who are trying their best to trick just a few sauger into biting despite high, debris-filled water. At stake in the state’s most lucrative walleye tournament to date is $401,750 in cash and prizes and valuable points toward a return trip to Illinois to fish the $1.4 million Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Championship on the Mississippi River in Moline Sept. 29-Oct. 2. 
        Ranger pro Steve Lotz of Lena, Ill., and co-angler Wally Neumann of Morris, Ill., landed a five-fish limit weighing 12 pounds, 6 ounces Thursday to give Lotz a two-day total of 10 sauger weighing 25 pounds, 4 ounces and the lead heading into Friday’s semifinal round of 20 pros and 20 co-anglers. Neumann is currently in 11th place in the Co-angler Division after blanking on opening day.
        Weights are cleared Friday and only the top 10 pros and top 10 co-anglers will advance to Saturday’s final round for a shot at $90,000 in cash and prizes, including a Ranger, Crestliner or Lund boat powered by Evinrude or Yamaha, in the Pro Division and $15,000 cash in the Co-angler Division. The winners are determined by the heaviest two-day weight. 
        “It was definitely an improved bite for everyone today,” said Lotz, who entered Thursday’s competition as the No. 1 seed after catching five sauger weighing 12 pounds, 14 ounces on opening-day with co-angler Tony Jaworski of Chicago. “That’s the scary part. Several guys are charging hard, so it’s going to be a tough couple of days.”
        Lotz caught his fish working a three-way rig around current breaks. His setup included a 1-ounce jig tipped with a minnow. 
        “We fished a different area today and had a limit by 9:30, but we only caught eight fish all day,” Lotz said. “Tomorrow I’m heading back to my prime area and hitting them hard. The bite is definitely going to be better over the next two days.”
        Despite improving conditions, the Illinois River, which is widely regarded as a world-class sauger fishery, was stingy for a second straight day, as just 92 of 170 boats weighed 211 fish totaling 536 pounds, 13 ounces. On Wednesday, 56 boats brought a total of 91 fish weighing 231 pounds, 5 ounces to the scale. All of the fish were weighed in alive Thursday. 
        Rounding out the top five pros are Mark Courts of Harris, Minn. (eight sauger, 19 pounds, 12 ounces); Brian Ernat of Seatonville, Ill. (six sauger, 18 pounds, 11 ounces); John Campbell of Marco Island, Fla. (eight sauger, 16 pounds, 6 ounces) and Tom Giachetto of Ladd, Ill. (six sauger, 15 pounds, 15 ounces).
        RCL Tour rookie Daniel Smola of Wonder Lake, Ill., holds the co-angler lead with a two-day total of six sauger weighing 19 pounds, 13 ounces. He and pro Rick LaCourse of Port Clinton, Ohio, caught five fish weighing 15 pounds, 11 ounces Thursday to compliment the single sauger weighing 3 pounds, 8 ounces that Smola caught Wednesday with pro David Kolb of Riverview, Mich.
        “This is my first major tournament, and it’s just exceptional,” said Smola, who was among a handful of pros who handlined Thursday. “This is more than I could have asked for. I just can’t stop smiling.”
        Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Glen Prochnow of Hartford, Wis. (five sauger, 16 pounds, 14 ounces); Troy Nelson of Lombard, Ill. (seven sauger, 16 pounds, 5 ounces); Scott Koenigsfeld (eight sauger, 16 pounds) and Carolyn Brandon of Greenville, Ohio (six sauger, 15 pounds, 12 ounces).
        Daily takeoffs on the Illinois River start at 7 a.m. at Spring Valley Boat Club in Spring Valley. Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins start at 3 p.m. at the Wal-Mart store located at 1650 38th St. in Peru. The community is encouraged to attend daily takeoffs and weigh-ins. 
        Pros and co-anglers fish for a combined boat weight and are randomly paired each day. Anglers compete in four regular-season tournaments in their quest to qualify for the $1.4 million Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Championship where the world’s top pros will fish for as much as $400,000 cash and co-anglers will chase as much as $150,000 cash. 
        The RCL Tour is administered by FLW Outdoors and named after boat manufacturers Ranger, Crestliner and Lund. FLW Outdoors, the world’s leading marketer of competitive fishing, is named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood. Other FLW Outdoors-sanctioned tournament trails include the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye League for weekend anglers; the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, the world’s most lucrative bass-tournament series; the EverStart Series, designed as a pathway to the FLW Tour; the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League for weekend anglers; and the Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail.
        Wal-Mart and many of America’s most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its six tournament trails. Wal-Mart has been the title sponsor of FLW Outdoors since 1997. 
        For more information about the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Tour, visit FLWOutdoors.com or call (270) 252-1000

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