SENECA, S.C. – After the first day of competition of the 40th annual Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American Championship on Lake Hartwell Presented by T-H Marine in Seneca, South Carolina, Emil Wagner of Marietta, Georgia, sat in second place behind leader Elijah “Buddy” Benson of Dahlonega, Georgia. Wagner predicted he would need 18 pounds a day with a 20-pound limit at least one of the days to win the tournament. On Thursday, Wagner got his 20-pound weight – 20 pounds, 2 ounces to be exact – and now holds a slim 12-ounce lead going into Championship Friday.
Wagner has a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 38-4 heading into the final day of competition. Boater Matthew O’Connell of Brooks, Georgia, weighed in a two-day total of 10 bass for 37 pounds, 8 ounces to finish Day 2 in second place and easily within striking distance of the title, while Day 1 leader Benson rounds out the close top three with a two-day total of 35 pounds even.
The final 10 boaters and Strike King co-anglers are now set, and competition will resume tomorrow morning on Championship Friday. The three-day tournament, hosted by Visit Oconee SC, 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.
“There was a boat on my best place when I pulled up there (this morning),” Wagner said. “I hadn’t seen anyone there, so I went to another place that I found late yesterday and caught quite a few there.”
Wagner said he started culling fish when he changed locations and caught one of the fish he weighed. After a few more keepers, he boated a 4½-pound spotted bass. Wagner said at noon he hit a stretch where he caught two big largemouth within 10 minutes of each other. He estimated he hit about 40 spots during the day and caught one more spotted bass to add to his livewell late in the afternoon.
“I did the same thing today that I did yesterday – fishing offshore,” Wagner said. “I put in about seven days graphing and looking around before the cutoff and did the same thing in the official practice. I’ve just been running all the places I found.
“The fish move around a lot,” Wagner said. “I’m sure tomorrow will be different, and I’ll have to adjust.”
Second-place angler O’Connell said he hit 50 to 60 spots during the second day of competition and keyed in on one-hour bite windows or “flurries.”
“I’d cull three or four times in an hour and then go maybe an hour without culling,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell said he was mimicking Lake Hartwell’s blueback herring with topwater baits and swimbaits to fill his limit. He said he knows it will take a solid weight on Championship Friday and predicts a total 3-day weight of 55 pounds, to secure the title.
“I think Emil or Buddy will catch a big bag again,” O’Connell said.
After leading the first day of the All-American Championship, Benson chalked up his slide to third place on Day 2 to missed opportunities.
“I lost a couple of big ones and broke one off in my trolling motor,” Benson said. “I could have had at least 18 or 19 pounds. Hopefully tomorrow I can get the same bites and not break them off and get them in the boat.”
The Top 10 boaters advancing to the final day of the All-American on Lake Hartwell are:
1st: Emil Wagner, Marietta, Ga., 10 bass, 38-4
2nd: Matthew O’Connell, Brooks, Ga., 10 bass, 37-8, $500
3rd: Buddy Benson, Dahlonega, Ga., 10 bass, 35-0
4th: Jesse Wiggins, Addison, Ala., 10 bass, 31-3
5th: Anthony Johnson, Excelsior Springs, Mo., 10 bass, 30-12
6th: Tyler Trent, Nathalie, Va., 10 bass, 27-10
7th: Jimmy Neece, Jr., Bristol, Tenn., 10 bass, 26-14
8th: Nick Ubelhor, Jasper, Ind., 10 bass, 26-9
9th: Brian Laclair, Denton, Md., 10 bass, 26-4
10th: Ian Leybas, McAlester, Okla., 10 bass, 25-5
Finishing in 11th through 49th are:
11th: Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., 10 bass, 25-0, $3,000
12th: Darren Ashley, Calhoun Falls, S.C., 10 bass, 24-5, $3,000
13th: Jeremy York, Conyers, Ga., 10 bass, 24-5, $3,000
14th: Tristan Abbott, Somerset, Ky., 10 bass, 23-5, $3,000
15th: Travis Harriman, Huntsville, Ark., 10 bass, 23-4, $3,000
16th: Edward Gettys, Dover, Tenn., 10 bass, 22-14, $3,000
17th: Dave Hodges, Farmington, Ark., 10 bass, 22-6, $3,000
18th: Jack Daniel Williams, Kingsport, Tenn., 10 bass, 22-5, $3,000
19th: Chandler Todd, Wake Forest, N.C., 10 bass, 22-2, $3,000
20th: Dustin Lippe, Blue Eye, Mo., 10 bass, 22-1, $3,000
21st: Grant Adams, Campbellsville, Ky., 10 bass, 21-5, $2,000
22nd: Hunter Baird, Salina, Kan., 10 bass, 21-3, $2,000
23rd: Mike Brueggen, Lacrosse, Wis., 10 bass, 20-14, $2,000
24th: Joe Anders, Easley, S.C., 10 bass, 20-14, $2,000
25th: Brian Wilson, Nancy, Ky., 10 bass, 20-12, $2,000
26th: Cade Laufenberg, Onalaska, Wis., nine bass, 20-8, $2,000
27th: Tony Eckler, Lebanon, Tenn., nine bass, 19-7, $2,000
28rd: Cody Casey, Chester, Va., 10 bass, 19-3, $2,000
29rd: Chris Atwell, Mechanicsville, Va., nine bass, 18-13, $2,000
30th: Shane Long, Willard, Mo., eight bass, 18-11, $2,000
31th: Andy Fryer, Sidney, Ohio, 10 bass, 18-5, $1,500
32nd: Keith Estes, Spring Grove, Va., 10 bass, 18-4, $1,500
33th: Jake Lee, Powell, Tenn., 10 bass, 18-1, $1,500
34th: Timothy Kelley, Irmo, S.C., 10 bass, 18-0, $1,500
35th: Chris Huselton, Conway, Ark., 10 bass, 17-14, $1,500
36th: Chris Baldwin, Lexington, N.C., 10 bass, 17-11, $1,500
37th: Kip Carter, Eatonton, Ga., 10 bass, 17-3, $1,500
38th: Trey McKinney, Carbondale, Ill., nine bass, 16-11, $1,500
39th: John Levesque, Nashua, N.H., nine bass, 16-11, $1,500
40th: Rick Taylor, Hooper, Utah, 10 bass, 16-2, $1,500
41nd: Michael Downes, S. Chesterfield, Va., 10 bass, 15-8, $1,500
42th: Chad Poteat, Mount Airy, N.C., nine bass, 14-2, $1,500
43th: Drew Boggs, Lebanon, Tenn., nine bass, 12-9, $1,500
44th: Yeej Moua, Missoula, Mont., seven bass, 12-6, $1,500
45th: Phillip Lunceford, Stigler, Okla., five bass, 10-4, $1,500
46rd: Michael Pruitt, Martinsville, Ind., eight bass, 10-3, $1,500
47st: Robert Holland, Columbia, S.C., three bass, 7-10, $1,500
48nd: Jason Lambert, Savannah, Tenn., three bass, 6-2, $1,500
49th: David McLean, Carrollton, Va., three bass, 3-13, $1,500
A full list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.
Overall, there were 232 bass weighing 505 pounds, 15 ounces caught by 49 boaters Thursday. The catch included 43 five-bass limits.
After two days of competition, co-angler Keith Gunsauls of Dandridge, Tennessee, leads the Strike King Co-angler Division at Lake Hartwell with a total of 10 bass weighing 19 pounds, 7 ounces. Gunsauls will bring a 2-pound, 6-ounce lead into Championship Friday over second-place co-angler Chris Wilson of Easley, South Carolina, who weighed in a two-day total of 10 bass totaling 17 pounds, 1 ounce.
“Neither day has been easy at all,” Gunsauls said. “It’s been claw and scratch. I had five keepers yesterday and six today, and I could get zero tomorrow. Just go out and fish hard is all I can do.”
The Top 10 Strike King co-anglers advancing to the final day of competition at the All-American on Lake Hartwell are:
1st: Keith Gunsauls, Dandridge, Tenn., 10 bass, 19-7
2nd: Chris Wilson, Easley, S.C., 10 bass, 17-1
3rd: Gary Haraguchi, Murfreesboro, Tenn., 10 bass, 16-6
4th: Brandon Bell, Starkville, Miss., 10 bass, 15-14
5th: Benjie Winkler, Cleveland, Ga., 10 bass, 15-8
6th: Jerry Armstrong, Shelbyville, Tenn., eight bass, 15-4
7th: Joshua Jernigan, Rocky Top, Tenn., nine bass, 15-1
8th: Daniel Bryant, Scott, La., eight bass, 14-11
9th: Larry Taylor, Seaford, Del., six bass, 14-7
10th: Aaron Calvert, Russellville, Ark., 10 bass, 13-11
Finishing in 11th through 49th are:
11th: Chris Bunk, Sullivan, Mo., eight bass, 13-9, $1,500
12th: Daren Tindle, Owensboro, Ky., eight bass, 13-7, $1,500
13th: Trent Killian, Bostic, N.C., seven bass, 13-3, $1,750
14th: Safulla Rana, Warrenton, Va., eight bass, 12-15, $1,500
15th: Shawn Overton, Coal Valley, Ill., seven bass, 12-13, $1,500
16th: Brent Jones, Okeana, Ohio, seven bass, 11-8, $1,500
17th: Cody Carl, Lake Lotawana, Mo., six bass, 10-13, $1,500
18th: Michael Miller, Greenville, S.C., seven bass, 10-1, $1,500
19th: Bobby Simmons, Chancellor, Ala., six bass, 9-13, $1,500
20th: Eric Eden, Hartsville, Tenn., five bass, 9-10, $1,500
21st: Alan Bernicky, Joliet, Ill., six bass, 9-8, $1,000
22nd: John Walker, Log Cabin, Texas, four bass, 9-7, $1,000
23rd: Clint Horton, Falkner, Miss., six bass, 8-15, $1,000
24th: Dustin Riddle, Hiwassee, Va., six bass, 8-11, $1,000
25th: David Allen, Mableton, Ga., four bass, 8-7, $1,000
26th: Chuck Davis, Farmington, Ill., five bass, 7-13, $1,000
27th: Christopher Stites Jr., La Vergne, Tenn., six bass, 7-11, $1,000
28th: Branden Hardesty, Nineveh, Ind.., three bass, 7-10, $1,000
29th: Mekye Barnes, Raleigh, N.C., four bass, 7-3, $1,000
30th: Will Doud-Martin, Essex Junction, Vt., three bass, 7-0, $1,000
31st: Billy French, Hamilton, Ohio, five bass, 6-15, $750
32nd: Ronnie Cutshall, Piedmont, S.C., five bass, 6-13, $750
33rd: Joe Harmon, Wooster, Ohio, five bass, 6-7, $750
34th: Wayne Smelser, Wytheville, Va., three bass, 5-13, $750
35th: Brian Brecka, Alma, Wis., four bass, 5-11, $750
36th: David Deciucis, Chester, Va., three bass, 5-9, $750
37th: Bullet Helms, Charlotte, N.C., four bass, 5-5, $750
38th: John Robinson, Montpelier, Va., three bass, 5-0, $750
39th: John Hankins, Atkins, Ark., three bass, 4-14, $750
40th: Dominic Bogolo, Hamilton, Ohio, three bass, 4-11, $750
41st: Mandy Myers, Santaquin, Utah, three bass, 4-11, $750
42nd: William Chadick, Auburn, Ala., three bass, 4-8, $750
43rd: Tim Privette Jr., Wendell, N.C., two bass, 4-2, $750
44th: Brian Umstead, New Brockton, Ala., two bass, 3-14, $750
45th: Cornell Badra, Clarksburg, Md., two bass, 2-8, $750
46th: Steve Duncan, Amarillo, Texas, one bass, 2-6, $750
47th: Barry Gunter, Trafalger, Ind., two bass, 2-4, $750
48th: Marc Proctor, Gilbert, S.C., two bass, 2-0, $750
48th: Jason Anderson, Heron, Mont., two bass, 2-0, $750
Overall, there were 140 bass weighing 226 pounds, 15 ounces caught by 45 Strike King co-anglers on Thursday. The catch included 15 five-bass limits.
The full field of 49 boaters and 49 Strike King co-anglers competed on Days 1 (Wednesday) and 2 (Thursday) of the event. Now, 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 tomorrow 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.
The final 10 boaters and Strike King Co-anglers will launch Friday morning at 6:30 a.m. ET from the Seneca Creek Boat Ramp, located at 280 Seneca Creek Road in Seneca. Weigh-in Friday will be held at the boat ramp and will begin at 2:50 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 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 Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.