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Texas pros gunning for $1 million payday

A field of 77 pro anglers representing the best-of-the-best from FLW Outdoors affiliated bass tournaments will be fishing for a golden egg on July 30-Aug. 2 at the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup on the Three Rivers in downtown Pittsburgh, Pa. The one who finds it could walk away a millionaire.

The pro division angler who comes out on top after four days of competition is guaranteed a $500,000 cash prize. If the winner is running a Ranger bass boat, Ranger will kick in an additional $500,000 in contingency money that will be paid out at $50,000 annually over the next 10 years.

"Man, that's a lot of money," said David Curtis of Trinity. "It's pretty exciting just to be able to go somewhere and fish for a purse that big. The thought of winning it is overwhelming."

Curtis, a Ranger owner, is one of eight Texas pros who will compete for bass fishing's biggest prize at a tournament venue that promises to be among the toughest any of them has ever visited.

The Three Rivers system -- comprised of the Monongahela, Ohio and Allegheny rivers -- is not exactly bass central. There are no attractive grass lines, stump fields or boat docks to chunk at there. Instead, anglers will soak their baits around pillars, concrete slabs, barge ties and other types of structure typical of an industrial setting.

The infertile water produces puny bass. Single day tournament limits comprised of five bass frequently reflect the weight of one "good" fish caught here in Texas.

"A 2 1/2-pounder up there is like gold," said Jim Tutt, a four-time 'Cup qualifier from Longview. "The fishing is a lot different than it is in Texas. The fish are skinny, they don't weigh much and there aren't a lot of them. I caught a 12-inch keeper during pre-practice that weighed six ounces."

The lowest winning weight ever recorded at the Bassmaster Classic was turned in at the Three Rivers. Michigan's Kevin VanDam won the 2005 event with a three-day total of 11 bass that weighed a scant 12 pounds, 15 ounces.

The 'Cup is a four-day tournament with an entirely different format.

The full field of 77 pros and 77 co-anglers will compete for two rounds, then cut to the Top 10 with zeroed weights. The co-angler champ will be decided on Day 3 weights, while the pro angler with the heaviest combined weight from days three and four will take the crown.

It is impossible to say what kind of weight it will take to win the $1 million prize, but odds are good it won't take much. Tutt said a local team tournament held in Pittsburgh two weeks ago was won with 10 bass totaling around 15 pounds.

"What you have to remember is those guys had a five-pound smallmouth in their bag," Tutt said. "A fish like that is huge up there."

Some pros are saying any angler who manages to catch a limit each day will be in the hunt for the final cut. One who averages of 5-7 pounds a day will likely be a strong contender for the big prize.

"This tournament is definitely going to be a grind," Curtis said. "From what I saw during pre-practice, it is going to be real hard to catch them one day, much less for three more."

Clark Wendlandt of Leander will be making his 12th consecutive trip to the big show in Pittsburgh fresh after icing his third Land O' Lakes Angler of the Year title with a Top 10 showing at FLW's season finale at Lake Champlain earlier this month.

Wendlandt thinks an angler who catches around four pounds a day during the opening two rounds could sneak in on the bottom side of the Top 10 cut.

"My guess it will take 8 1/2 pounds to make the cut, but it is anybody's game from there on out," Wendlandt said. "This is going to be a tough tournament any way you look at it. We will be targeting small fish and it will be real important to do your best to catch a limit and hope you can catch at least one good one each day."

Other Texas pros who will compete at the 2009 FLW Cup include: Sean Hoernke of Magnolia, Keith Combs of Del Rio, Mike Hawkes of Sabinal, Shinichi Fukae of Mineola, and Takahiro Omori of Emory.

On the co-angler side, Texas will be represented by Keith Honeycutt of Temple and Mark Rouse of League City. Top prize in the co-angler division is $25,000, plus an additional $25,000 if contingency guidelines are met
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