Boater Emil Wagner of Marietta, Georgia, a 25-year-old bass-fishing guide on Lake Lanier who competes in the Phoenix Bass Fishing League Bulldog Division, said after Thursday’s weigh-in that he would need at least 18 pounds a day, with a 20-pound limit on at least one of the days to win this week on Lake Hartwell.
On Day 1 of competition on Wednesday, Wagner posted 18 pounds, 2 ounces. He got his 20-pound limit on Thursday but fell just short of his predicted 18-pound mark on Championship Friday. However, his limit weighing 17 pounds, 7 ounces, was still enough to win the 40th annual Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American Championship on Lake Hartwell Presented by T-H Marine in Seneca, South Carolina. With the win, Wagner also earned a qualification into REDCREST 2024, Major League Fishing’s most prestigious event.
Link to Photo of 2023 All-American Champion Emil Wagner of Marietta, Georgia
Wagner led after the second day of competition and sealed the deal Friday with a three-day total of 55 pounds, 11 ounces – a 1-pound, 5-ounce margin of victory. For his victory Wagner earned $122,300, including the lucrative $20,000 Phoenix MLF Contingency Bonus, and joined a list of heavy hitters such as Rick Clunn, Shaw Grigsby, Clark Wendlandt, Jacob Wheeler and Jeremy Lawyer that call themselves BFL All-American Champions.
“It’s crazy,” Wagner said with a laugh. “I’ll buy dinner for anyone who wants it. That’s more money than I’ve ever had, that’s for sure.
“I’ve been waiting for this event ever since it was announced,” Wagner continued. “This is the one tournament that’s been on my mind the entire time. I put a bunch of hard work into it, and to have it pay off is unreal, especially in front of my buddies. It’s unreal.”
Wagner said he prepared for the All-American from “daylight to dark” probing the water with his graph looking for structure on banks and points.
“A lot of my better fish didn’t even come off of brush piles, which I think is what a lot of people were fishing,” Wagner said. “They were coming off of drops, really shallow, like 6 to 10 feet where it drops to 20, and they’d just be on top of the drop.”
Wagner said he used baits that mimicked blue herring, and caught every fish he weighed during the tournament on either a Sebile Swimbait, a chrome and purple 6th Sense Catwalk Topwater Walking Bait or a Texas-rigged Zoom Fluke on a 4/0 Gamakatsu worm hook . He said he fished from Green Pond Landing to the dam and “everywhere in between.” Wagner’s largemouth came from Anderson Island to Green Pond and his big spotted bass came near the dam.
“Today I put some weight on the fluke because it was so tough and they didn’t want to come up on anything,” Wagner said. “If you could twitch it and it stay a foot or two below the surface, they’d see it better, and that made them eat it.
“Any time I had wind, I threw the swimbait,” Wagner added. “But I got way less bites on it. You’d throw over 10 schools and not catch anything, but when you did catch one it was usually a good one.”
Although Wagner said he’s excited about his All-American win, he’s already looking forward to one weekend in 2024 – REDCREST on Lay Lake in Birmingham, Alabama, March 13-17, 2024.
“Obviously the money is awesome, but I’m more excited for REDCREST than anything, “Wagner said. “To get to fish against those guys – the pros on the Bass Pro Tour – that doesn’t even seem real.”
The top 10 boaters at the 2023 Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American on Lake Hartwell are:
- Emil Wagner, Marietta, Ga., 15 bass, 55-11, $122,300 (includes $20,000 Phoenix MLF Contingency Bonus)
- Matthew O’Connell, Brooks, Ga., 15 bass, 54-6, $35,500 (includes $15,000 Phoenix MLF Contingency Bonus
- Buddy Benson, Dahlonega, Ga., 15 bass, 47-10, $25,000 (includes $10,000 Phoenix MLF Contingency Bonus)
- Anthony Johnson, Excelsior Springs, Mo., 15 bass, 42-9, $21,000 (includes $7,000 Phoenix MLF Contingency Bonus)
- Jesse Wiggins, Addison, Ala., 15 bass, 41-6, $13,000
- Tyler Trent, Nathalie, Va., 15 bass, 39-9, $14,000 (includes $2,000 Phoenix MLF Contingency Bonus)
- Brian Laclair, Denton, Md., 15 bass, 38-5, $11,000
- Jimmy Neece, Jr., 15 bass, 37-12, $10,000
- Ian Leybas, McAlester, Okla., 15 bass, 37-5, $9,200
- Nick Ubelhor, Jasper, Ind., 13 bass, 32-10, $8,000
Full results for the entire field can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.
Overall, there were 48 bass weighing 121 pounds, 14 ounces caught by the final 10 boaters Friday. Nine of the final 10 boaters caught a five-bass limit.
The highest-finishing boater from each Regional Championship (including the Wild Card) at the All-American now advance to the Toyota Series Championship for a shot at winning $235,000.
The eight boaters that finished highest from their region earned an automatic qualification in to the 2023 Toyota Series Championship Presented by Simms on Table Rock Lake are:
- Edward Gettys, Dover, Tenn.
- Anthony Johnson, Excelsior Springs, Mo.
- Brian LaClair, Denton, Md.
- Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo.
- Ian Leybas, McAlester, Okla.
- Chandler Todd, Wake Forest, N.C.
- Emil Wagner, Marietta, Ga.
- Jesse Wiggins, Logan, Ala.
After starting the day in ninth place, Larry Taylor of Seaford, Delaware, won the Strike King Co-angler Division Friday with a three-day total of 11 bass weighing 24 pounds, 8 ounces to earn the top prize package of $50,000. Co-angler Gary Haraguchi of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, finished runner up with a three-day total of 15 bass weighing 23 pounds, 4 ounces, good for $10,000.
“This hasn’t sunken in yet,” said Taylor, who qualified for the All-American by placing fifth at the TBF National Championship on Lake of the Ozarks. “I thought there would be another 10-pound bag today, but that’s fishing.”
The top 10 Strike King co-anglers at the 2023 Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American on Lake Hartwell finished:
- Larry Taylor, Seaford, Del., 11 bass, 24-8, $50,000
- Gary Haraguchi, Murfreesboro, Tenn., 15 bass, 23-4, $10,000
- Keith Gunsauls, Dandridge, Tenn., 12 bass, 23-3, $6,000
- Daniel Bryant, Scott, La., 11 bass, 22-1, $5,000
- Brandon Bell, Starkville, Miss., 13 bass, 20-7, $4,500
- Aaron Calvert, Russellville, Ark., 14 bass, 19-10, $4,000
- Chris Wilson, Easley, S.C., 12 bass, 19-3, $3,700
- Joshua Jernigan, Rocky Top, Tenn., 10 bass, 16-2, $3,000
- Benjie Winkler, Cleveland, Ga., 10 bass, 15-8, $2,500
- Jerry Armstrong, Shelbyville, Tenn., 8 bass, 15-4, $2,000
Overall, there were 25 bass weighing 41 pounds, 12 ounces caught by eight the final 10 Strike King Co-anglers on Friday. Taylor and Haraguchi were the only co-anglers to bring five-bass limits to the scale on Friday.
The highest-finishing Strike King Co-angler from each Regional Championship (including the Wild Card) at the All-American advance to the Toyota Series Championship for a shot at winning $33,500.
The eight Strike King Co-anglers that finished highest from their region and earned an automatic qualification in to the 2023 Toyota Series Championship Presented by Simms on Table Rock Lake are:
- Daniel Bryant, Scott, La.
- Keith Gunsauls, Dandridge, Tenn.
- Gary Haraguchi, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
- Trent Killian, Bostic, N.C.
- Shawn Overton, Coal Valley, Ill.
- Larry Taylor, Seaford, Del.
- Daren Tindle, Owensboro, Ky.
- Benji Winkler, Cleveland, Ga.