MOBILE, Ala. – Tony Christian of Hull, Ga., landed the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League All-American crown and $100,000 Saturday in front of an enthusiastic crowd at the Mobile Convention Center after a tough week on the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. His final catch of three bass weighing 14 pounds gave him a 7-pound, 15-ounce edge over runner-up Gary Brown of Gautier, Miss., who earned $25,000 with five bass weighing 6 pounds, 1 ounce.
Christian won the event by targeting quality bass instead of fishing for limits of smaller fish. His final-round catch included a 3-pounder, a 4 1/2-pounder and a 6 1/2-pounder – the largest bass of the tournament. In fact, he caught more weight in the final round than the second, third and fourth place finishers combined.
“I fished hard all week,” said Christian, who led the $345,000 championship from start to finish after qualifying through the Savannah River Division and winning the Lake Gaston regional. “I wasn’t catching a lot of fish, but the fish I was catching were quality fish. It was a dream of mine just to be here. To win is awesome.”
The All-American capped an incredible BFL season for Christian in which he won five of the seven qualifying events he fished.
Each year more than 30,000 participants fish BFL tournaments in the hope of earning a berth in the prestigious All-American, which provides unique opportunities for anglers looking to launch professional bass-fishing careers. Former All-American contenders who have become fishing superstars on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour include Kellogg’s pro Clark Wendlandt, Chevy pro Tommy Biffle and four-time FLW Tour champion David Fritts.
As the All-American champion, Christian has the option to advance directly to the FLW Tour in 2004.
Rounding out the top five boaters are Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla. (three bass, 3 pounds, 7 ounces, $10,000); Butch Kartesz of Roanoke, Va. (two bass, 3 pounds, 7 ounces, $8,000); and David Wright of Lexington, N.C. (three bass, 3 pounds, 6 ounces, $7,000).
Scott Sevier of Corbin, Ky., claimed victory and $50,000 cash in the Co-angler Division Friday thanks to a 6-pound, 8-ounce catch and a tiebreaker that put him ahead of John Howard of Alexander City, Ala., who earned second place and $12,500.
Sevier zeroed Thursday while fishing with boater John Green of Lakeville, Ind., but rebounded Friday with four bass that he caught on a black and blue Baby Brush Hog while fishing behind boater Chris Welch of Fall River, Wis. The healthy catch gave him the edge over Howard, who caught two bass weighing 4 pounds, 3 ounces Thursday and one bass weighing 2 pounds, 5 ounces Friday. The heaviest one-day catch broke the tie.
The Delta and its feeder systems challenged competitors throughout the three-day championship, as water levels hovered above flood stage throughout most of the region, filling the fishery with mud and debris. Three five-bass limits were brought to the scale on opening day, and two limits were turned in Friday. One limit was produced by the 10 finalists Saturday.
To cope with the tough conditions, Christian targeted a large, half submerged tank in the Tensaw River about 35 miles from the launch site at Chocolotta Ramp. The tank disrupts the flow of muddy water down the river, creating an eddy where Christian flipped a 1/2-ounce jig fitted with a black and blue Zoom Swimmin’ Chunk. Christian’s 3-pounder and his 6 1/2-pounder in the final round came from this spot. Christian’s secondary targets in the final round were cypress trees growing in Hurricane Creek off the Tensaw River.
In addition to his $100,000 payday, Christian also earned a new 519 VS Comanche bass boat from Ranger Boats as the highest placing All-American contender in the Ranger Cup incentive program. Ranger Cup participants are also eligible to win up to a $1,000 bonus in each regular season Wal-Mart BFL tournament. If the winner’s boat in any regular season tournament is equipped with a fixed-mount GARMIN GPS/Sounder, they also receive a $1,000 bonus from GARMIN. More than $6 million is being offered to BFL anglers in 2003.
Christian, who moved up to the EverStart Series this season and currently leads the Eastern Division points race, also earned the Yamaha Be the Best Award and a $10,000 bonus Saturday as the regular-season points champion who advanced farthest in the Boater Division at the All-American. In the Co-angler Division, John Howard of Alexander City, Ala., earned the Yamaha Be the Best Award and a $5,000 bonus. Yamaha will award $1,000 to the Boater Division points champion and $500 to the Co-angler Division points champion in each of the BFL’s 24 divisions in 2003 following the end of regular-season competition.
David Wright of Lexington, N.C., earned the Stanley Accuracy Cast Award, $500 and a selection of Stanley tools Saturday for pitching his jig closest to a specified target.
One lucky member of the audience also left the All-American as a winner Saturday. Steve Morgan from Grand Bay, Ala., won a Ranger R61 bass boat rigged with a 90 horsepower Johnson outboard in a free drawing.
Each of the BFL’s 26 divisions hosted five regular-season tournaments in 2002. The top 30 boaters and top 30 co-anglers following these events advanced to regional competition. Anglers who entered all five regular-season tournaments but did not qualify for the regional were eligible to compete in the Chevy Trucks Wild Card. All-American qualifiers earned their spot by finishing in the top six in one of six regionals or in the Chevy Trucks Wild Card tournament. Additionally, three boaters and three co-anglers advanced through the Lake Havasu Regional.
As the nation’s leading provider of affordable, close-to-home weekend tournaments, the BFL is widely credited with opening competitive bass fishing to the masses.
The 2003 Wal-Mart BFL All-American is hosted by the Mobile Area Sports Commission and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.