SENECA, S.C. – Emil Wagner of Marietta, Georgia, a 25-year-old bass-fishing guide on Lake Lanier who competes in the BFL Bulldog Division, said after Thursday’s weigh-in that he would need at least18 pounds a day, with a 20-pound limit on at least one of the days to win this week on Lake Hartwell.
On Day 1 of competition on Wednesday, Wagner posted 18 pounds, 2 ounces. He got his 20-pound limit on Thursday but fell just short of his predicted 18-pound mark on Friday. However, his limit weighing 17-07, was still enough to win the 40th annual BFL All-American Championship on Lake Hartwell.
With the win, Wagner also earned a qualification into REDCREST 2024, Major League Fishing’s most prestigious event.
Wagner led after the second day of competition and sealed the deal Friday with a three-day total of 55-11 – a 1-05 margin of victory. He earned $122,300, including the $20,000 Phoenix MLF Contingency Bonus, and joined a list of heavy hitters such as Rick Clunn, Shaw Grigsby, Clark Wendlant, Jacob Wheeler and Jeremy Lawyer who call themselves BFL All-American champions.
“It’s crazy,” Wagner said with a laugh. “I’ll buy dinner for anyone who wants it. That’s more money than I’ve ever had, that’s for sure.
“I’ve been waiting for this event ever since it was announced,” Wagner continued. “This is the one tournament that’s been on my mind the entire time. I put a bunch of hard work into it, and to have it pay off is unreal, especially in front of my buddies. It’s unreal.”
Wagner said he prepared for the All-American from “daylight to dark”, probing the water with his graph looking for structure on banks and points.
“A lot of my better fish didn’t even come off of brush piles, which I think is what a lot of people were fishing,” Wagner said. “They were coming off of drops, really shallow, like 6 to 10 feet where it drops to 20, and they’d just be on top of the drop.”
Wagner said he used baits that mimicked blueback herring, and caught every fish he weighed during the tournament on either a Sebile Swimbait, a chrome and purple 6th Sense Catwalk Topwater Walking Bait or a Texas-rigged Zoom Fluke on a 4/0 Gamakatsu worm hook. He said he fished from Green Pond Landing to the dam and “everywhere in between.” Wagner’s largemouth came from Anderson Island to Green Pond and his big spotted bass came near the dam.
“Today I put some weight on the fluke because it was so tough and they didn’t want to come up on anything,” Wagner said. “If you could twitch it and it stay a foot or two below the surface, they’d see it better, and that made them eat it.
“Any time I had wind, I threw the swimbait,” Wagner added. “But I got way less bites on it. You’d throw over 10 schools and not catch anything, but when you did catch one it was usually a good one.”
Although Wagner said he’s excited about his All-American win, he’s already looking forward to one weekend in 2024 – REDCREST on Lay Lake in Birmingham, Ala, March 13-17.
“Obviously the money is awesome, but I’m more excited for REDCREST than anything, “Wagner said. “To get to fish against those guys – the pros on the Bass Pro Tour – that doesn’t even seem real.”
The top 10 boaters were:
1st: Emil Wagner, Marietta, Ga., 15 bass, 55-11, $122,300 (includes $20,000 Phoenix MLF Contingency Bonus)
2nd: Matthew O’Connell, Brooks, Ga., 15 bass, 54-06, $35,500 (includes $15,000 Phoenix MLF Contingency Bonus)
3rd: Buddy Benson, Dahlonega, Ga., 15 bass, 47-10, $25,000 (includes $10,000 Phoenix MLF Contingency Bonus)
4th: Anthony Johnson, Excelsior Springs, Mo., 15 bass, 42-09, $21,000 (includes $7,000 Phoenix MLF Contingency Bonus)
5th: Jesse Wiggins, Addison, Ala., 15 bass, 41-06, $13,000
6th: Tyler Trent, Nathalie, Va., 15 bass, 39-09, $14,000 (includes $2,000 Phoenix MLF Contingency Bonus)
7th: Brian Laclair, Denton, Md., 15 bass, 38-05, $11,000
8th: Jimmy Neece, Jr., 15 bass, 37-12, $10,000
9th: Ian Leybas, McAlester, Okla., 15 bass, 37-05, $9,200
10th: Nick Ubelhor, Jasper, Ind., 13 bass, 32-10, $8,000
The highest-finishing boater from each Regional Championship (including the Wild Card) at the All-American now advance to the Toyota Series Championship for a shot at winning $235,000.
The eight boaters who finished highest from their region were:
Edward Gettys, Dover, Tenn.
Anthony Johnson, Excelsior Springs, Mo.
Brian LaClair, Denton, Md.
Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo.
Ian Leybas, McAlester, Okla.
Chandler Todd, Wake Forest, N.C.
Emil Wagner, Marietta, Ga.
Jesse Wiggins, Logan, Ala.