Georgia Boater Buddy Benson leads Day 1 of Phoenix All-American Presented by T-H Marine at Lake Hartwell - Major League Fishing
Georgia Boater Buddy Benson leads Day 1 of Phoenix All-American Presented by T-H Marine at Lake Hartwell
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Georgia Boater Buddy Benson leads Day 1 of Phoenix All-American Presented by T-H Marine at Lake Hartwell

Bulldog Division angler catches 19-pound, 9-ounce limit to take early lead
Image for Georgia Boater Buddy Benson leads Day 1 of Phoenix All-American Presented by T-H Marine at Lake Hartwell
May 31, 2023 • MLF • Press Releases

SENECA, S.C. – Cool weather greeted anglers Wednesday morning at Lake Hartwell and the bite started out slow, but after the scales were closed, one angler stood alone atop the leaderboard at the 40th annual Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American Championship on Lake Hartwell Presented by T-H Marine in Seneca, South Carolina. Anchored by a stout 5-pound largemouth, 18-year-old boater Elijah “Buddy” Benson of Dahlonega, Georgia, brought a five-bass limit to the scale Wednesday weighing 19 pounds, 9 ounces, to jump out to the early lead.

Benson, who competes in the Bulldog Presented by Mystik Lubricants Division, will start Day 2 with a slim 1-pound, 7-ounce advantage over second place boater Emil Wagner of Marietta, Georgia, who caught five bass totaling 18 pounds, 2 ounces. Of the 98 competitors – 49 boaters and 49 Strike King co-anglers – competing in the event, 50 anglers weighed in a five-bass limit.

Link to Photo of Day 1 Boater Leader Buddy Benson of Dahlonega, Georgia

The three-day tournament, hosted by Visit Oconee, S.C., showcases the nation’s best weekend grassroots anglers, and awards the winning boater a top prize of up to $120,000, and a top prize of $50,000 for the winning Strike King co-angler. 

“I caught most of my fish early – before 10 o’clock – just running and gunning down the lake on brush,” said Benson, who said he fishes Hartwell a couple of times every week and calls it his home water.

Benson said he caught most of his bass on main-lake points and humps with topwater baits and a swimbait.

“The weather was perfect for what I was doing today,” Benson said. “I’m hoping I can repeat it. I’m hoping I can stay consistent at 18-plus (pounds) a day.”

Second-place angler Wagner got off to a shaky start, but quickly adjusted to Hartwell’s conditions, and his day turned around with the change in approach.

“It started off super slow, and I did my typical missing fish and losing fish,” Wagner said. “I filled a limit really quick – between 8:30 and 9. Around noon, I made a critical adjustment and culled out almost everything I had. I lost quite a few big ones, too. I think I know what to do for tomorrow.”

Wagner, who guides on Lake Lanier, said he spent a lot of time searching for “special” offshore spots with his graph. Those spots, along with a knowledge of Lake Hartwell, kept him within striking distance of the lead.

“I fish up here a decent bit,” Wagner said. “I wouldn’t say I’m a local, but I have fished here quite a bit. I feel really good about (tomorrow). I had some motor issues today, and as long as they don’t impair me the next two days, I think I can be pretty consistent.

“I said it would take around mid-50s to win it, so I think if I catch 18 a day and maybe catch 20 one of the days, I’ll be pretty close,” Wagner said.

The Top 20 boaters after Day 1 of the All-American on Lake Hartwell are:

1st:          Buddy Benson, Dahlonega, Ga., five bass, 19-9
2nd:         Emil Wagner, Marietta, Ga., five bass, 18-2
3rd:         Anthony Johnson, Excelsior Springs, Mo., five bass, 18-1
4th:         Matthew O’Connell, Brooks, Ga., five bass, 17-4
5th:         Jesse Wiggins, Addison, Ala., five bass, 14-11
6th:         Tyler Trent, Nathalie, Va., five bass, 14-1
7th:         Cade Laufenberg, Onalaska, Wis., five bass, 14-0
8th:         Jimmy Neece, Jr., Bristol, Tenn., five bass, 13-8
9th:         Nick Ubelhor, Jasper, Ind., five bass, 13-1
10th:       Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., five bass, 13-0
11th:       Ian Leybas, McAlester, Okla., five bass, 12-15
11th:       Brian Laclair, Denton, Md., five bass, 12-15
13th:       Jack Daniel Williams, Kingsport, Tenn., five bass, 12-14
14th:       Jeremy York, Conyers, Ga., five bass, 12-5
15th:       Andy Fryer, Sidney, Ohio, five bass, 12-3
16th:       Chandler Todd, Wake Forest, N.C., five bass, 12-2
17th:       Travis Harriman, Huntsville, Ark., five bass, 12-1
17th:       Dave Hodges, Farmington, Ark, five bass, 12-1
19th:       Edward Gettys, Dover, Tenn., five bass, 12-0
19th:       Keith Estes, Spring Grove, Va., five bass, 12-0

A full list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

Overall, there were 218 bass weighing 500 pounds, 6 ounces caught by 47 boaters Wednesday. The catch included 37 five-bass limits.

Larry Taylor of Seaford, Delaware, leads the Strike King Co-angler Division at Lake Hartwell after Day 1 with four bass weighing 11 pounds, 1 ounce. Taylor will begin Day 2 of competition on Thursday with a 1-pound, 2-ounce advantage over second-place co-angler Safulla Rana of Warrenton, Virginia, who weighed in five bass totaling 9 pounds, 15 ounces.

Taylor was paired with Day 1 third-place boater Anthony Johnson, who caught fish early in the day. Taylor, however, struggled to boat a bass until mid-morning, when he caught his first fish – a 2½-pound spotted bass.

“All day I was fan casting around,” Taylor said. “I caught my last two at the end of the day when Anthony was helping me and telling me some places to cast. The key was fishing really slow and making long casts. You also had to weed through all of the stripers – this place is full of them.

“I thought I had around 9 pounds,” Taylor said. “The big fish weighed more than I thought. We went to a shoal and I cast way up on it and caught the 5-11. It was a tough day, though.

Taylor qualified for the All-American through the TBF by winning the semifinal on his home river, the Nanticoke River in Seaford, Delaware. He then finished fifth on Lake of the Ozarks and won the Mid-Atlantic Division.

“The only reason this is even happing was because my buddy back home, Jason Vaughn, needed a co-angler to guarantee his spot as a boater in the TBF,” Taylor said. “It’s crazy to be here, and all of this is just a bonus.”

The Top 20 Strike King co-anglers after Day 1 of the All-American on Lake Hartwell are:

1st:          Larry Taylor, Seaford, Del., four bass, 11-1
2nd:         Safulla Rana, Warrenton, Va., five bass, 9-15
3rd:         Brandon Bell, Starkville, Miss., five bass, 9-10
3rd:         Joshua Jernigan, Rocky Top, Tenn., five bass, 9-10
5th:         Chris Bunk, Sullivan, Mo., five bass, 9-4
6th:         Benjie Winkler, Cleveland, Ga., five bass, 9-2
7th:         Chris Wilson, Easley, S.C., five bass, 8-14
8th:         Keith Gunsauls, Dandridge, Tenn., five bass, 8-10
9th:         Gary Haraguchi, Murfreesboro, Tenn., five bass, 8-7
10th:       Brent Jones, Okeana, Ohio, five bass, 7-14
11th:       Branden Hardesty, Nineveh, Ind., three bass, 7-10
12th:       Aaron Calvert, Russellville, Ark., five bass, 7-3
12th:       Daniel Bryant, Scott, La., three bass, 7-3
12th:       Bobby Simmons, Chancellor, Ala., five bass, 7-3
15th:       Chuck Davis, Farmington, Ill., four bass, 6-8
16th:       Joe Harmon, Wooster, Ohio, five bass, 6-7
16th:       Daren Tindle, Owensboro, Ky., five bass, 6-7
18th:       Mekye Barnes, Raleigh, N.C., three bass, 5-9
19th:       Christopher Stites Jr., La Vergne, Tenn., four bass, 5-2
20th:       John Robinson, Montpelier, Va., three bass, 5-0

Overall, there were 124 bass weighing 215 pounds, 15 ounces caught by 43 Strike King co-anglers on Wednesday. The catch included 13 five-bass limits.

The full field of 49 boaters and 49 Strike King co-anglers compete on Days 1 (Wednesday) and 2 (Thursday) of the event. After two days of competition, the field is cut to just the Top 10 boaters and co-anglers, based on two-day total cumulative weight, and the final 10 anglers compete on Championship Friday. The boater and co-angler that catch the heaviest three-day total weight will be crowned the 40th Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American Champions.

Anglers will launch each day at 6:30 a.m. ET from the Seneca Creek Boat Ramp, located at 280 Seneca Creek Road in Seneca. Weigh-in each day will be held at the boat ramp and will begin at 2:30 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch and weigh-in events and encouraged to follow the event’s online coverage at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

The 2022 Phoenix Bass Fishing League Presented by T-H Marine was a 24-division circuit devoted to weekend anglers, with 128 tournaments throughout the season, five qualifying events in each division. The top 45 boaters and Strike King co-anglers from each division, along with the five winners of the qualifying events, advanced to one of six Regional Championships where they competed to finish in the top six, which then advanced them to compete in the Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American.

Television coverage of the 2023 Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American will premiere November 11 on CBS Sports and the Sportsman Channel. The full television air schedule can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

Proud sponsors of the 2023 MLF Phoenix Bass Fishing League Presented by T-H Marine include: 13 Fishing, Abu Garcia, B&W Trailer Hitches, Berkley, Black Rifle Coffee, E3, Epic Baits, Favorite Fishing, General Tire, Grundéns, Gill, Lew’s, Lowrance, Mercury, Mossy Oak, Mystik Lubricants, Onyx, Phoenix, Polaris, Power-Pole, Strike King, Tackle Warehouse, T-H Marine, Toyota, Wiley X and YETI.

For complete details and updated tournament information, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com. For regular Bass Fishing League updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow MLF5’s social media outlets at FacebookInstagram, and YouTube.