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Consistent Clausen wins Classic

When it comes to big-money tournaments, the conventional wisdom is that nothing beats local knowledge.

But in the 36 years of the Bassmaster Classic, an event that has been dubbed the "Super Bowl of Fishing," no angler has won in his home state.

Pundits believed that streak might end when two of the top four anglers in Sunday's final were from Florida. But a cold front barreled out of the north, giving an edge to Luke Clausen of Spokane Valley, Wash.

"I'm still pretty much in disbelief," said Clausen, 27, after claiming the $500,000 top prize. "It is like a dream."

Clausen, the youngest to win bass fishing's most prestigious event and only the seventh winner to lead wire to wire, also broke two Bassmaster Classic records.

His first-day, five-fish catch totaled 29 pounds, 6 ounces, shattering the record by nearly 8 pounds. And his tournament total of 56 pounds, 2 ounces topped the 1999 record of 55 pounds, 10 ounces.

Rick Morris of Virginia climbed atop the leaderboard late Sunday and held the position until Clausen weighed in before an estimated 10,000 people in the Orange County Convention Center to close the tournament. Morris finished second with 51 pounds. Arkansas pro Ron Shuffield finished third with 47 pounds, 14 ounces and Terry Scroggins of nearby Palatka was fourth with 46-15.

Scroggins entered Sunday in third and was thought to have a homefield advantage on Lake Tohopekaliga, the northernmost lake in the Kissimmee chain. In 1977, the lake was the site of the seventh Bassmaster Classic, the only other occasion the event was held in Florida.

"When you have 50 of the best fishermen in the world in one place, there are no favorites," Scroggins said. "On any day, anybody can win."

Lake Toho made headlines five years ago when angler Dean Rojas caught a record five bass in a day totaling 45 pounds, 2 ounces. In 2004, the 13-mile lake underwent a $9-million restoration that biologists hoped would increase Toho's population of big fish.

And the possibility of big bass is why so many fishing fans wanted the Classic to return to Florida. With a long, warm growing season, the state has long been known for trophy-sized fish.

After a disappointing 2005 Classic in Pittsburgh that saw a winning three-day total of just 12 pounds, 15 ounces, organizers were thrilled to have Palatka's Preston Clark weigh an 11-pound, 10-ounce hog on opening day - the biggest bass in tournament history.

Clark weighed in five fish totaling 29 pounds, 1 ounce, putting him in second behind Clausen. But on Saturday, Clark weighed just 10 pounds, 2 ounces, dropping him to fourth.

Scroggins, Clark's former teammate, rallied after a disappointing start with a creel of 28 pounds, 6 ounces to vault from 37th to third.

Defending Classic champion Kevin VanDam had the day's biggest sack at 15 pounds, 7 ounces and finished fifth with a three-day total of 44-8.

Said VanDam of his effort: "The first place I went Scroggins was already there so I left. Then that wind started blowing so I just grabbed a spinner bait and started fishing the bank."