Wilson, Feldermann tied at the top on Day 1 of the All-American - Major League Fishing
Wilson, Feldermann tied at the top on Day 1 of the All-American
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Wilson, Feldermann tied at the top on Day 1 of the All-American

Image for Wilson, Feldermann tied at the top on Day 1 of the All-American
Brian Wilson (left) and Mike Feldermann both took a share of the lead on Day 1. Photo by Rob Matsuura. Anglers: Brian Wilson, Mike Feldermann.
May 29, 2024 • Jody White • Phoenix Bass Fishing League

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – The early going of the Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American Presented by T-H Marine on Lake Cherokee has not been easy for the anglers. Rising water has the fish in a tricky mood, and most of the 49 boaters and Strike King co-anglers have struggled to figure them out.

On the boater side, more than half the field failed to weigh a limit on Day 1, and nobody cracked 13 pounds. Still, the cream always rises, and Brian Wilson of Kentucky and Mike Feldermann of Illinois both boated 12 pounds, 15 ounces to tie for the lead. They are narrowly ahead of Tyler Ivie, Paul Marks Jr. and Lucas Murphy, each of whom caught bags in the 12-pound range.

On the Strike King co-angler side, Pop Catalin leads with 12-1 — a massive bag considering the circumstances. Caleb Welch sits second after sacking up 10-13 on the opening day.

Day 2 of the All-American will winnow the field to the Top 10, and Championship Friday will be streamed live on MLFNOW! from 6:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

Feldermann walks a fine line on Day 1

If there’s a common thread among the early leaders, it’s that experience is paying off. Though Feldermann had never been to Cherokee before pre-practice, the Mississippi River legend has pretty much seen it all during 171 tournaments and 12 wins (the most recent coming in April) across FLW and MLF competition. So, as usual, Feldermann went out, fished hard and came back with five.

“It seems like every tournament is a little different,” he said. “Some tournaments, when you do really good in practice, you seem to get a little more nervous throughout the day. But, when you know it’s a grind, you just settle in and let the chips fall. The other thing is, I’ve been fishing tournaments since 1989 — you could call it seasoned.”

Today, the seasoned angler got away from the tech wizards pestering the smallies mid-lake.

“I went up the river, and I had one rod on the deck, and I just flipped the whole day,” he said. “I fished about a 10-mile section. I was catching them off isolated bushes in practice, and I waypointed them and ran them today and threw at a few new spots.”

Flipping for fish that have nearly infinite cover options, Feldermann didn’t get many bites, but he covered enough water and made enough presentations to fill out his limit.

“I snapped the big one off today and just caught five keepers,” he said. “Pretty basic — just running and gunning, hitting pockets and points and different bushes.”

Mixed bag plays for Wilson

Brian Wilson played for largemouth and smallmouth on Day 1. Photo by Jody White

Competing in his 199th tournament with MLF, Wilson’s old Kentucky home is less than 100 miles from Cherokee. Though he doesn’t fish the lake a lot, he’s got plenty of experience on similar highland impoundments and knows his way around the conditions the field is facing this week.

“I keep expecting some of the fish to show up in the bushes, and I did catch almost a 4-pounder flipping, but for some reason, they’re not jumping up there,” he said. “It may take ‘em a little while to get there. But, usually when the water comes up really fast, I try to concentrate on steeper banks.”

Steep banks and being in the right zone put Wilson in the mix early.

“I didn’t have a very good practice, but I got a couple bites in an area of the lake,” Wilson said. “Normally, when I have a practice like that, I just hunker down and work it real good. It worked for me today and enabled me to go chasing the smallmouth.”

Running a combo pattern, Wilson started the day looking for a limit before striking out in search of the smallmouth Cherokee is best known for.

“The largemouth, I’m concentrating on steeper banks, and I’ve got a little deal to try to get them to trigger, because they’re not wanting to bite very much,” he said. “I went smallmouthin’ late in the day after the wind got up, throwing a swimbait.”

Despite his experience with similar conditions, Wilson did not expect the fishing to be as tough as it was.

“It surprised me; I thought 15 to 17 pounds would be leading,” he said. “I don’t think someone can catch that all three days, but I really expected to see a bag like that, especially late in the day when I saw the bigger smallmouth were biting. It’s surprising to be tied for the lead, but I’ll take it.”

While Feldermann is no stranger to the winner’s circle, Wilson has earned more than $97,000 in his career with MLF at just about every non-pro level imaginable but never actually hoisted a trophy. This would be a good week for the first one.

“This is my third All-American, and I’ve never won an FLW or MLF tournament,” he said. “I’ve had some seconds, top fives, but I’ve never got the W. It would be nice for my first one to be this, but we’ll see.”

Top 10 pros

1. Brian Wilson – 12 – 15 (5)  
1. Mike Feldermann – 12 – 15 (5)        
3. Tyler Ivie – 12 – 13 (5)            
4. Paul Marks Jr. – 12 – 11 (5) 
5. Lucas Murphy – 12 – 9 (5)                
6. Dillon Falardeau – 11 – 5 (5)          
7. Jordan Hartman – 10 – 14 (5)           
8. Brett Carnright – 10 – 13 (5)               
9. Jason Barnes – 10 – 10 (4) 
10. Matt O’Connell – 10 – 5 (5)

Compete results