ARIZONA'S JOHN MURRAY WINS INAUGURAL BUSCH SHOOTOUT

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - John Murray waited longer than anyone else to compete in the inaugural Busch Shootout, having qualified by catching the heaviest single-day stringer at the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship presented by Busch Beer nearly a year ago, months before the next qualifier was named.

And it was worth the wait.

Murray, of Phoenix, Ariz., caught three bass in Saturday afternoon's final round for a total of 9 pounds, 9 ounces, and a $100,000 payday, the biggest of his BASS career.

"I guess I've been amped up since I first found out about the Shootout," said Murray, who won the Open Championship in December. "The concept of just showing up with no prefishing was just killing me. I've been excited for a year to go to a tournament where you just launch and fish.

"So many times it's a situation where you go to a place, and whoever has the best spots wins. This was about instinct."

Murray needed his instincts to win the Busch Shootout.

After fishing two half-day sessions on the James River on Friday and Saturday, tournament officials threw anglers a curveball by staging Saturday afternoon's final on a small lake at the Kingsmill Resort and Spa.

Anglers fished a series of three holes, with pairs of anglers alternating through them every 80 minutes. For the final hour of competition, "The Busch Happy Hour," anglers were allowed to fish anywhere on the 35-acre impoundment.

"Any of the 13 of us could've won it," Murray said.

Murray used a creature-style bait to catch his three bass in the final, sticking with the strategy he used in the preliminary rounds on the James River.

"I ran out of baits," Murray explained. "I started out with a Yamamoto Creature bait, then I went to a Brush Hog, and I finally ended up using a Reactions Innovations Beaver."

Murray used a quarter-ounce tungsten weight with green pumpkin- and watermelon-colored creature baits, throwing them on 20-pound fluorocarbon line.

"I was keying on a little deeper logs," Murray said. "They'd just tick it. They weren't real aggressive."

Murray's day ended well, and it started well, too. He anchored his bag with a 5-4 bass that he caught on his second cast of the day.

"I turned to my observer and said, 'This is going to be the best lake ever," Murray said. "Twenty minutes later, I caught another one that went about 2 pounds."

For the next four hours, though, Murray caught only one more fish.

"It was the longest four hours of my life," Murray said.

Thad Takes of Center Point, Iowa, who qualified at the CITGO BASS Federation Championship, took second in the Busch Shootout with two bass that weighed 4-10.

"It just wasn't in the cards," Takes said. "I hope I made my Federation brothers proud. About as much as I could've asked for was a good showing, and if I'd won, it would've been icing on the cake."

Kevin VanDam, who had the heaviest weight of the preliminary round, finished third with a single 3-8 bass.

"The lake looked beautiful, lots of big trees,"  VanDam said. "But it was brutal out there."

Ben Matsubu of Hemphill, Texas, was the only other angler among the six finalists who caught a fish, registering a 1-14 bass.

"There was a tremendous amount of cover," Matsubu said. "And that made them hard to find."

Full of laydowns and brushtops, Wareham's Pond looked like a bass angler's dream, and anglers said they were excited when they saw it for the first time.

But looks were deceiving.

"There's so much cover out there, it's like a needle in a haystack concept," said Stacy King of Reeds Spring , Mo.  King and Texas angler David Wharton also advanced to the final round, but were unable to bring in a bass.

All 13 Busch Heavyweights competed for half a day Friday and then fished four hours Saturday morning on the James River. The anglers with the six best weights advanced to the final.  Second- through 13th-place finishers took home $5,000 each.

For additional information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.