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Standing before an arena filled to capacity with cheering, hometown bass-fishing fans, George Cochran of Hot Springs brought in a winning catch of five bass weighing 10 pounds, 3 ounces to pocket $500,000 in the Forrest L. Wood Championship presented by Castrol on Lake Hamilton. The half-million dollar check is the largest first-place award in professional bass fishing. Cochran entered the event as the No. 16 seed and displaced No. 33 seed Sandy Melvin of Boca Grande, Fla., at the end of the first round. During Friday's semifinal round, Cochran was paired against No. 9 seed Brent Chapman of Lake Quivira, Kan. There, he again brought in a limit of bass to defeat Chapman and advance to the final round where he ultimately claimed the half-million dollar prize. "When you get to be my age, it seems like the most important victories are at the end," Cochran laughed. "I don't think I'll have to worry about money for a while. "But money is just a tool. I love to fish, and I love competing against my friends." Cochran pointed out that in a tournament of this caliber, anglers need to have an "ace in the hole." "There are very few times that everything goes just like you plan," Cochran said, "but I had a bank where I knew I could catch some fish. I didn't touch it at all during practice or during the tournament until today. But I went in there this morning, missed one on the first cast and landed a keeper on the second cast. I had my limit in the boat by 9 o'clock. That bank was my 'ace in the hole.'" Cochran, well-known for being a master of shallow-water angling, threw topwater lures, including Baby Chug Bugs and buzzbaits, and a 5-inch trick worm. He concentrated on fish around boat docks in particular, where heavy, line-shredding cables made fishing with heavy, 15-pound monofilament a must. The bite was best early in the day before bass could get a good look at anglers' lures. Working the topwater lures at a quick pace was the key to getting strikes, according to Cochran, who fished within site of his lakeside home during the entire event. Cochran, a veteran of tournament fishing on the FLW Tour, as well as the Bassmaster Tour, had more than $1.24 million worth of winnings to his credit prior to this event, including two Bassmaster Classic wins in 1987 and 1996. Now, his career earnings come to a total of $1,742,509 - an increase of more than 40 percent. Cochran has qualified for the Forrest L. Wood Championship five times, but this was the first time he's ever won the event. Following this year's Bassmaster Classic, Cochran said he'll be exclusively fishing the FLW Tour in 2006. The top 48 anglers from the six-event 2005 Wal-Mart FLW Tour advanced to the championship. Anglers were seeded according to their year-end ranking, with the No. 1 pro fishing head-to-head against the No. 48 seed, the No. 2 seed fishing against the No. 47 seed, and so on. The twelve anglers who advanced to the final round fished for the heaviest weight of the day. Rounding out the top five pros were Chad Grigsby of Colon, Mich. (five bass, 6 pounds, 7 ounces, $50,000); John Murray of Phoenix, Ariz., (five bass, 5 pounds, 4 ounces, $40,000); Dean Rojas of Grand Saline, Texas (five bass, 5 pounds, 4 ounces, $35,000); and Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C. (five bass, 5 pounds, $30,000). Murray and Rojas had identical final-round totals, but Murray took third place because he was the higher seed entering the event. Friday's action saw the conclusion of the co-angler competition after the co-angler field cut down from 48 to 24 on Thursday. Trevor Janscasz of White Pigeon, Mich., walked away with a check for $25,000, thanks to his tournament-winning catch of three bass weighing 6 pounds, 10 ounces. Allen Tillery Chevrolet held a drawing to award a bass boat to one lucky fan. Army National Guard Sgt. Daniel Geremy Newman, 28, of Hot Springs won the new Ranger Z-20 Comanche worth $47,500. The boat is powered by Yamaha, EverStart Batteries, Garmin electronics and a Minn Kota trolling motor. Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, FLW Outdoors administers the Wal-Mart FLW Tour and seven other national tournament circuits offering a combined $30 million in awards through 214 events in 2005. The 27-year-old organization is the purveyor of America's largest and most prestigious fishing tournaments, including the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, EverStart Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye League, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour and Wal-Mart FLW Redfish Series. 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 on FLW Outdoors and its tournament circuits, visit FLWOutdoors.com. Day Four Notes: - Forrest L. Wood Championship winner George Cochran of Hot Springs, Ark., entered the event with $1,242,509 in pro bass-fishing earnings accumulated through his 26-year career - one of the most successful careers in the sport. With the $500,000 payday he collected Saturday in Hot Springs, Cochran boosted his career earnings by 40.2 percent to $1,742,509. - BFGoodrich Tires pro Chad Grigsby of Colon, Mich., finished the championship in second place. The top-10 finish was Grigsby's third of the year, and he ended the 2005 FLW Tour season with earnings of $102,000. - Once again, the fishing on Lake Hamilton was very tough. Only the top five pros caught 5 pounds or more. - The 12 pro finalists at the Forrest L. Wood Championship have career earnings totaling $9,290,185 and have 101 Forrest L. Wood Championship and Bassmaster Classic appearances, including five wins. - Cochran's final-round bass were worth $3,067.48 per ounce - more than seven times the current value of gold at $420 per ounce.

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