Jeremy Starks Takes First BASS Win at Alabama’s Wheeler Lake

DECATUR, Ala. – With the odds stacked against him, Jeremy Starks of Charleston, W.Va., outlasted perennial favorite and three-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam to take his first BASS victory Sunday with a four-day total of 78 pounds, 10 ounces, at the Southern Challenge presented by Advance Auto Parts.

West Virginia’s Jeremy Starks Takes First BASS Win at Bassmaster Elite Series Event at Alabama’s Wheeler Lake

DECATUR, Ala. – With the odds stacked against him, Jeremy Starks of Charleston, W.Va., outlasted perennial favorite and three-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam to take his first BASS victory Sunday with a four-day total of 78 pounds, 10 ounces, at the Southern Challenge presented by Advance Auto Parts.

Starks played the role of David to VanDam’s Goliath at the seventh Elite tournament of the season. VanDam’s considerable credentials include two Bassmaster Classic titles, 13 BASS wins and the title of all-time BASS career earnings leader. With the victory, Starks earned $100,000 and moved to 70th place in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.

"You couldn’t script it any better than this," said Starks, 35. "If you’re going to beat somebody, it can’t get any better than beating the best in the world."

Fans can catch all of the action from Wheeler Lake on The Bassmasters, which airs Saturday, June 14, on ESPN2 at 9 a.m. ET. Additionally, live, streaming video of the remaining 2008 Elite Series weigh-ins, photo galleries and analysis can be accessed at

After Starks, the top five shook out with VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., (78-2) in second; Terry Scroggins of Palatka, Fla., (67-1) third; John Murray of Phoenix (66-0) in fourth and Matthew Sphar of Pavilion, N.Y. (65-2) fifth. Only the top-12 anglers qualified for Sunday.

Despite narrowly missing out on his fourth Elite Series title, VanDam moved to second in the 2008 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year rankings. Todd Faircloth, who finished sixth at Wheeler, reclaimed the top spot and leads VanDam by just 18 points. Skeet Reese, the reigning AOY, is third and previous leader Mike McClelland of Bella Vista, Ark., slipped to fourth. The full standings can be found below.

In the "Trail to the Trophy" the Elite field is competing for a $250,000 top prize and the majority of qualifying berths into the 2009 Bassmaster Classic. The race will culminate with the final Elite Series event of the 2008 season, the Aug. 7-10 Champion’s Choice on Oneida Lake out of Syracuse, N.Y.

Most anglers in the field were skeptical of Starks’ strategy. He found a "magic spot" in practice and didn’t fully attack until the final day, opting to manage his fish. In fact, before the final day, he only threw 25 casts to his best spot.

The strategy almost backfired, however; when Starks pulled to his spot Sunday morning he found a local angler there. Starks fumed for 30 minutes, not throwing a cast. Eventually the local pulled off, leaving Starks alone.

In the end, his patience paid off and he boated 21 pounds, 15 ounces, Sunday, the biggest limit of the day. Throughout the tournament, he caught every fish he weighed on a 10-inch Berkley power worm in plum color. He described the winning spot as an "old submerged creek feeding a main channel that had subtle bends in it".

"I was thinking about VanDam all day," said Starks, who had a best finish of ninth before Sunday. "I was having a lot of fun out there talking smack. It’s just competition. Now I can’t wait to win another one."

Like Starks, VanDam, 40, managed his bite throughout the four days and focused on one spot. He felt he made a bad decision Thursday in not maximizing his opportunities. He used a Strike King sexy shad to boat most of his fish but mixed it up with five to six other lures.

He felt the Sunday bite was much tougher than he anticipated, but he still managed to catch 20 pounds, 0 ounces. His BASS career earnings, now more than $2.8 million, are inching closer to the $3 million mark.

"I had the opportunities to win it," said VanDam, who estimated he lost six fish Sunday. "It’s tough to get in position to win, so when I let one slip away I’m definitely disappointed."

Japan’s Morizo Shimizu finished in seventh while Elite rookie Corey Waldrop of Fort Worth, Texas, finished ninth.

Next, the Elite Series circuit heads to Kentucky Lake and Gilbersville, Ky. The event will be the eighth of the Elite season and will take place next week, June 12-15.

With 1,063 miles of shoreline, Wheeler is the largest of three Alabama lakes that connect with the Tennessee River. It has been the host of nine BASS events, including the 1974 Bassmaster Classic.

Daily weigh-ins and launches at the Southern Challenge took place at Ingalls Harbor, 701 Market St. NW, Decatur, Ala.

Meanwhile, BASS, celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2008, conducted the first BASS tournament June 5-7, 1967, on Arkansas’ Beaver Lake. The first event, called the All-American Bass tournament, was held by BASS founder Ray Scott, who officially created BASS in 1968 following the success of this first tournament.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208 or visit Visit for ESPN’s latest releases, schedules and other news, plus photos, video, audio clips and more.

The local sponsor of the Southern Challenge is the Decatur-Morgan County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Sponsors of the Bassmaster Elite Series include Toyota Tundra, Advance Auto Parts, Berkley, Lowrance, Mercury, Purolator, Skeeter, Yamaha, Evan Williams Bourbon, Longhorn, OPTIMA Batteries, Triton Boats, Costa Del Mar, MotorGuide and Ramada Worldwide.

Location and Field
Southern Challenge presented by Advance Auto Parts
Wheeler Lake
Decatur, Ala.
June 5-8, 2008

107 pros, 107 co-anglers
Cut to top-50 pros and co-anglers after Day 2
Cut to top 12 pro anglers after Day 3

Ingalls Harbor
701 Market St. NW
Decatur, Ala
6 a.m./ 3 p.m.

2008 Bassmaster Elite Series Event Tournament Locations/Dates

March 6-9 Sunshine Showdown Harris Chain of Lakes Leesburg, Fla.

March 13-16 Citrus Slam Kissimmee Chain Lake Wales, Fla.

April 3-6 Lone Star Shootout Falcon Lake Zapata, Texas

April 10-13 Battle on the Border Lake Amistad Del Rio, Texas

May 1-4 Pride of Georgia Clarks Hill Lake Evans, Ga.

May 15-18 Carolina Clash Lake Murray Columbia, S.C.

June 5-8 Southern Challenge Wheeler Lake Decatur, Ala.

June 12-15 Bluegrass Brawl Kentucky Lake Gilbertsville, Ky.

June 26-29 River Rumble Mississippi River Fort Madison, Iowa

July 31- Aug. 3 Empire Chase Lake Erie/Niagara River Buffalo, N.Y.

Aug. 7-10 Champion’s Choice Oneida Lake Syracuse, N.Y

About BASS

For 40 years, BASS has served as the authority on bass fishing. With its considerable multi-media platforms and expansive tournament trail, BASS is guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans. Through its industry leading publications Bassmaster Magazine, BASS Times and Fishing Tackle Retailer and comprehensive web properties in and, the organization is committed to delivering content true to the lifestyle. Additionally, television programming on ESPN2 continues to provide relevant content from tips and techniques to in-depth tournament coverage to passionate audiences.

The organization oversees the prestigious Bassmaster tournament trail which includes the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bassmaster Opens, Women’s Bassmaster Tour and the Bassmaster Classic, the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing. Through its grassroots network, the BASS Federation Nation, BASS sanctions more than 20,000 events annually.

BASS also offers an array of services to its more than 525,000 members while spearheading progressive, positive change on issues related to conservation and water access. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.

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