Tour-level bass anglers are often the ones who earn the praise and accolades as “the best in the world” – and rightly so in a great many cases. But correlation doesn’t equal causation. Tour-level pros fish at that level because they are the best. The best do not always fish at that level.
That’s what makes Adam Wagner’s win on Dale Hollow to close out the Toyota Series Central Division so interesting. Wagner is, by many accounts, one of the best anglers in the country. He just chooses to not fish full-time as a touring professional.
“As far as doing it for a living, I don’t think so,” he says. “It’s not for me.”
The reasons why are Wagner’s own – he did fish the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit in 2010 – but the simple fact remains: If Wagner chose to fish at a higher level, he could probably do it.
The proof? How about $446,012 in earnings with FLW, to say nothing of the monstrous sum he’s earned fishing local and regional derbies. There’s also the now 15 wins in FLW competition, including a Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American title and this Toyota Series victory. And the 68 top 10s in 172 tournaments across all FLW competition.
Those are staggering numbers for any angler, especially when that angler is still just 50 years old – a young pup when you consider some tournament anglers compete into their 80s.
Wagner has the wins and the checks. He has the talent and experience. He also has a level of humility that makes him revered by every local within trailering distance of Middle and East Tennessee’s many fisheries.
Case in point: Despite catching the biggest bag of the entire tournament on day three (16-1), and despite being a local who knows Dale Hollow well enough to brag about his local knowledge (he never does), Wagner credits happenstance – pure luck – for his success this week.
“I’m just blown away,” Wagner says. “I got lucky. I just absolutely pulled up dead on top of that school of fish. If that’s not meant to be, I don’t know what to say. That just blows my mind.”
That school of fish Wagner references is the “motherlode” he found in the afternoon of day two. He didn’t have enough time to pluck a big bag from the school (and they weren’t biting great on Friday anyway), but he knew he found something special to go back to today.
“I was pulling up to fish a grass spot [Friday] and I just went across this ditch and [my graph] just lit up,” he explains. “It’s two long, flat points going into a gut of a pocket. There was a school of shad in 49 foot of water, and apparently every largemouth that lives on those points – which is normally where I catch them – were in that gut in those shad.”
Wagner claims he’s not a “deep water guy,” but he certainly knew how to catch those largemouth from 49 feet of water. Part of that is the confidence to do something he knows isn’t his forte. Part of it is local knowledge and having the right baits on the deck at the right times – namely, a 5/8-ounce Silver Buddy that every Dale Hollow local worth their salt has some experience with.
Wagner, after finding his winning school, used the Silver Buddy to pluck a few largemouth from deep water to make the top-10 cut. He then went back to his school this morning and caught a couple keepers before hitting a couple other spots to give the school some time to set up better.
When he returned, it was game on.
“The shad had ganged up a little better, like the bass had bunched them up a little more,” he explains. “As the day went on it got better. Today, it was fun.”
As much fun as Wagner had both catching the biggest bag of the tournament and holding up the resulting trophy and $62,761 check, he continues to go back to the providence of it all.
“I just can’t believe it,” he says. “That I found that school of fish – at noon yesterday I didn’t have a fish. If I had gone over 10 or 15 yards, I would have never seen them.”
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Fortunately for Wagner, he gets to be both.
As for Wagner’s future – one he’s sure won’t include the tour life – he’s committed to fishing a full Toyota Series schedule next year, along with Phoenix Bass Fishing League tournaments and all the local and regional events he’s known for winning. It won’t include the Toyota Series Championship on Lake Cumberland in December, though – at least not this year – because he missed the Central Division event on Pickwick in May due to scheduling conflicts with his job as a foreman for a natural gas pipeline contractor.
“I wanted to fish the full schedule this year, but with the COVID stuff, everything changed, and I wasn’t able to make Pickwick because of work,” Wagner explains. “I couldn’t get my schedule changed to make that tournament.”
Still, it’s safe to say this won’t be Wagner’s last shot at making the Championship. If he fishes a full schedule, it’s hard to bet against him.
Everything lined up for Wagner to win on Dale Hollow – leader and fellow local stick Blake Smith catching 5 ounces short of what he needed to edge out Wagner being one of those factors – but none of it happened by sheer luck, as he would have everyone believe.
It happened because Wagner is one of the best anglers in the country, and if you don’t believe that, just ask anyone but Adam Wagner.
Top 10 pros
1. Adam Wagner – Cookeville, Tenn. – 34 – 6 (12) – $62,761
2. Blake Smith – Byrdstown, Tenn. – 34 – 1 (15) – $10,176
3. Dakota Ebare – Denham Springs, La. – 29 – 1 (12) – $8,078
4. Jonathan Bowling – Harriman, Tenn. – 26 – 13 (11) – $6,565
5. Chris Malone – Ironton, Ohio – 24 – 12 (12) – $5,909
6. Nick Ratliff – Vine Grove, Ky. – 21-8 (10) – $5,252
7. Scott Stults – Jamestown, Tenn. – 19- 8 (7) – $4,671
8. Drew Boggs – Lebanon, Tenn. – 18 – 7 (12) – $3,939
9. Marshall Deakins – Dunlap, Tenn. – 18 – 0 (8) – $3,283
10. Billy Hall – Florence, Ky. – 15 – 5 (5) – $2,626