Originally created 05/17/98

Couch Hartwell champion



HARTWELL, Ga. -- Tony Couch, a bass guide from Buckhead, Ga., rallied from third place on Saturday to win the $200,000 BASSMASTER Georgia Eastern Invitational by a six-ounce margin.

Couch, who guides on Lakes Oconee and Lanier, weighed in his third consecutive 14-pounds-plus limit in the final round on Lake Hartwell.

He won a $40,000 prize package including a fully rigged bass boat.

Chris Toole of Gloverville, S.C., who had led after the second day, fell to sixth and won $5,500. First-day leader Royce Railey of Thomson, Ga., finished ninth and won $4,000.

Couch's catch came on a Heddon Zara Spook and a Carolina-rigged Zoom Centipede on 14-pound-test line. Fishing over a sandy flat, Couch's strategy involved throwing the Spook at schooling bass that appeared periodically on the surface and dragging the Centipede along the bottom when the fish were not visible.

Tony Couch, Buckhead, Ga., 42 pounds, 13 ounces, $40,000; Gerald Swindle, Warrior, Ala., 42-7, $26,000; Fish Fishburne, Indian Rocks Beach, Fla., 38-0, $22,000; Mark Hardin, Canton, Ga., 37-13, $9,000; Tracy Watkins, Williamston, S.C., 37-5, $7,000; Chris Toole, Gloverville, S.C., 36-15, $5,500; Fanny Kirk, Jasper, Ga., 36-11, $5,000; Mike Auten, Benton, Ky., 35-15, $4,500; Royce Railey, Thomson, Ga., 33-6, $4,000; George Cochran, Hot Springs, Ark., 33-4, $3,700. Scores of interest: 20th, Davy Hite, Prosperity, 29-3, $2,000; 52nd, Scott Martin, Saluda, S.C., 21-15.