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Fantasy Fishing

Armchair anglers can win 1.7 million

Armchair anglers can win 1.7 million

That first fishing trip of 2008 may seem light-years away for boaters in northern climes. Well, the folks who run the nation’s most successful fishing tournaments have come up with a contest to get you through the winter — and give you a chance to win up to $1.7 million.

FLW Outdoors, known for the popular Wal-Mart-sponsored bass, walleye and kingfish tourneys, has launched a fantasy fishing contest that gives anyone a chance to win cash, boats, trucks and other prizes.

“FLW Fantasy Fishing will have the richest payout of any fantasy sport — and it’s free to play,” said Dave Washburn, FLW vice president of communications.

Players log on to and create and rank their own pro angler team they think will place the highest in each of the seven fishing tournaments in the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, which kicks off Feb. 28 on Lake Toho in Kissimmee, Fla. The season culminates Aug. 14-17 at the Forrest Wood Cup in Columbia, S.C.

Players don’t have to participate in every event. “You can jump in anytime,” said Washburn. “There are multiple ways to win.”

For each event, players will earn points based on their top 10 selections. At the end of the season, points will be tallied and the winner will receive $1 million cash. Fantasy Fishing organizers point out that this prize is significantly more than other fantasy sports leagues. For instance, the Ultimate Fantasy Football League with Mike Ditka awards $300,000 to the top finisher.

There are also prizes for players who finish second, third, fourth, etc. These prizes include Ranger boats, Chevy vehicles, Yamaha ATVs and personal watercraft, Wal-Mart gift cards and BP gas cards.

The FLW will also hand out $100,000 to the top finishers of each tournament.Finally, players who signed up early — before Dec. 28 — have a chance to win a jaw-dropping $5 million. It won’t be easy, though. To win, you must pick the top seven anglers in the correct order for any tournament.

Forrest L. Wood, the founder of the Ranger Boat Company, is the namesake behind FLW Outdoors and its fishing tournaments. Freshwater bass boats and runabouts dominate the builder’s lineup, but Ranger also offers 14 saltwater bay boats from 16 feet, 8 inches to 23 feet, 7 inches. Genmar Holdings acquired Ranger Boats in 1991.

The FLW fishing tournaments took off in 1996 after Genmar took over FLW Outdoors and landed Wal-Mart as a sponsor. In 1996, the FLW fishing tournaments paid out less than $1 million in winnings. Today that number has skyrocketed to $9.5 million, with the winner of the 2007 Forrest Wood Cup taking home $1 million.

“With the popularity and profile of professional angling on the rise, we knew it was time to give the public an opportunity to win just like professional anglers,” says Genmar chairman Irwin Jacobs, who is also chairman of FLW Outdoors.

The pros are excited about Fantasy Fishing. They realize it’s a sign that their sport’s popularity continues to grow.

“It’s great because you have millions of people playing,” said Scott Suggs, winner of the 2007 Forrest Wood Cup. “Some are going to be huge fishing fans and others may have never been fishing at all. For myself and the other guys, the fantasy fishing gives us that much more exposure.”

If you know little about freshwater bass fishing, you might want to purchase the “Players Advantage.” For $39.95 you’ll get access to information that will help you make smarter pro picks, such as angler profiles, reports on who the experts are picking and podcasts containing angler interview and expert analysis.

The program also tells you how anglers have performed on the lakes that will be fished in this year’s events. For anglers, familiarity with a lake is key, said Suggs. He had a distinct advantage over his competitors in last year’s Forrest Wood Cup. “It was my home lake, so I knew how to deal with changing weather conditions,” he said. “The local knowledge helped. But this year the lake [LakeMurray in South Carolina] is similar to my home lake, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Fantasy Fishing List of Lakes:

Feb. 28: LakeToho in Kissimmee, Fla.

April 3-6: LewisSmithLake, Jasper, Ala.

April 24-27: LakeNorman, Charlotte, N.C.

May 15-18: BeaverLake, Rogers, Ark.

June 19-22: Ft.Loudoun (TellicoLakes),

Knoxville, Tenn.

July 10-13: DetroitRiver, Detroit

Aug. 14-17: Forrest Wood Cup, LakeMurray, Columbia, S.C.