SENECA, SC. – The Phoenix Bass Fishing League Presented by T-H Marine All-American on Lake Hartwell might as well be on Lake Lanier with the way the standings are shaping up. Three Bulldog Division anglers who call Lanier their home lake are in the top positions. They are led by Emil Wagner, with a two-day total of 38 pounds, 4 ounces.
Wagner blasted 20-2 today to jump a spot to first place and holds a 12-ounce lead over Matthew O’Connell, who had a tournament-best 20-4 today. It’s setting up for a shootout between these two and Day 1 leader, Buddy Benson, who’s well within striking distance with 35-0.
The seat time that Wagner put into preparing for this event is paying off and he’s rotating through multiple spots a day, hoping to catch the feeding windows.
“Today was just like yesterday and it was all fishing offshore,” he said. “I spent seven days before the cutoff graphing for this event and that’s what I did the entire official practice. I’m hitting about 40 spots a day.”
Wagner’s morning produced a quick limit, but the lunchtime bite got him over 20 pounds.
“I tried getting on one of my spots this morning and there was already a boat there, so I went to another and caught quite a few fish to start the day,” he said. “I kept catching keepers, but my biggest fish came midday. I caught a 4 ½-pound spot at around 11 o’clock and then my two big largemouth bit within 10 minutes of each other around noon.”
He feels good about being in the lead, but knows he must continue to catch them with the anglers behind him.
“The fish move a lot here and the good spots change daily,” he said. “Even though I caught them in some places, I’m sure I’ll have to adjust again tomorrow to stay on them.”
Coming into the day in fourth with 17-4, O’Connell beat that bag by an even 5 pounds thanks to two big bites in the same location.
“I got lucky in a way because I got one of my spots to fire for me multiple times,” he said. “It’s usually just one bite, but I caught a 4 and 5 on the same spot. If you can make that happen and get two big bites out here right now, you make your day a lot better.”
He’s running more than 50 spots a day and hoping to run into the fish at the right time by fishing typical herring-imitating baits.
“You just have to run the spots and see what you can get out of them,” he said. “It’s not a time of day deal, but there are clearly bite windows when you get on a one-hour flurry and cull a few times and then it’s nothing for an hour. It’s all blueback fishing, and I’m catching fish on topwaters, swimbaits, flukes, and throwing a little bit of all it.”
He believes it will take another monster bag to have a shot to win against his fellow Bulldogs.
“My guess is Emil or Buddy are going to catch another big bag tomorrow, and I’ll need to have one to have a shot,” he said.
Young Benson slipped a little today, but he’s just a little over 3 pounds back of the lead. The difference between today and yesterday was losing a pair of fish.
“I lost one in the trolling motor and it broke my line,” he said. “I had the bites for another early big bag, but didn’t get them in the boat.”
He also plans to adjust his pattern slightly to account for the sunshine in tomorrow’s forecast.
“With it getting brighter outside, the fish don’t stay up as high in the water column,” he said. “I have been catching them on topwaters and swimbaits, but I think I will have to slow it down tomorrow and pick up a spoon or jig and try to catch them that way. At the very least, I think I will need 21 or 22 pounds to catch up to those guys.”
After catching two consistent limits, Tennessee’s Keith Gunsauls holds a 2-6 advantage over Chris Wilson in the race for the $50,000 top prize. He bagged 8-10 yesterday while fishing with Virginia’s Michael Downes and added 10-13 today while paired with Jason Lambert.
A veteran with MLF, Gunsauls has fished from the back of the boat at all levels and from coast to coast. This experience aided him greatly this week.
“The whole key as a co-angler is fishing what is in front of you and trying to fish for bass that your boater isn’t fishing for,” he said. “Yesterday, I caught a few on ChatterBaits and the rest on worms. Today it was all on worms. Neither day has been easy at all. I caught five keepers yesterday and six today.”
Gunsauls has fished Hartwell twice before and likes the lake setups and the spotted bass that live here. He got here by winning the Lewis Smith Lake regional last fall with spots and hopes to have another good bag of them tomorrow.
“I really like Hartwell and love catching spotted bass,” he said. “I’m going to fish hard tomorrow, it’s all I can do, but I could zero tomorrow because it’s not easy. I’m paired with Wagner tomorrow and like him; he’s a good guy. I’d like to see him pull it out and win it.”
So far, Gunsauls’ first All-American experience has been splendid.
“This is my first one and it’s incredible,” he said. “I’d always heard people making such a big deal about this event and never understood it until now. It’s a great tournament they put together for us.”
1. Emil Wagner – 38 – 4 (10)
2. Matthew O’Connell – 37 – 8 (10)
3. Buddy Benson – 35 – 0 (10)
4. Jesse Wiggins – 31 – 3 (10)
5. Anthony Johnson – 30 – 12 (10)
6. Tyler Trent – 27 – 10 (10)
7. Jimmy Neece Jr. – 26 – 14 (10)
8. Nick Uebelhor – 26 – 9 (10)
9. Brian LaClair – 26 – 4 (10)
10. Ian Leybas – 25 – 5 (10)