“It’s looking good,” said Christian, who caught his bass on a blue and white Ninja spinner bait with a Zoom trailer and a 1/2-ounce standup jig fitted with a black and blue Zoom swimming chunk. “I didn’t really fish hard and I caught three (Friday). I’d like to catch 15 pounds Saturday, but I’ll be satisfied with 9 or 10 pounds.”
A large, half submerged tank in the Tensaw River about 35 miles from the launch site at Chocolotta Ramp is Christian’s primary target. The tank disrupts the flow of muddy water down the river, creating an eddy where Christian caught the biggest bass of the tournament Thursday. His secondary targets are cypress trees growing in the relatively clear water of Gunnison Creek off the Mobile River.
Christian qualified for the All-American after winning five of the seven BFL tournaments he fished in 2002, including the Lake Gaston regional. In 2003 he moved up to the EverStart Series and claimed his first victory in only his second tournament. He also leads the Eastern Division points race with one tournament remaining.
Rounding out the top five boaters are JT Kenney of Frostburg, Md. (seven bass, 10 pounds, 2 ounces); Robert Cruse of Broken Arrow, Okla. (seven bass, 9 pounds, 9 ounces); David Wright of Lexington, N.C. (seven bass, 9 pounds, 6 ounces); and Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla. (eight bass, 9 pounds, 2 ounces).
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. “It was a privilege just to be here and fish against these guys,” said Sevier, who qualified for the All-American by finishing 26th in the Mountain Division and third in the Lake Gaston regional. “I still can’t believe it.”
Sevier zeroed Thursday while fishing with boater John Green of Lakeville, Ind., but rebounded Friday with three 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.
In an unfortunate twist, Howard reported losing a fish on opening day that he estimated at 3 pounds. That fish would have given him the win. “I only had one fish in the boat at that time, so I had to settle down and let it go. But I thought I had just seen $50,000 swim away,” he said at the time. As it turns out, the bass he lost was a $50,000 fish.
Howard qualified for the All-American by finishing first in the Bama Division and winning the Pearl River regional.
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are William Bryant of Rochester, N.Y. (four bass, 6 pounds, 2 ounces, $5,000); James Darcey of Lake Worth, Fla. (four bass, 4 pounds, 13 ounces, $4,000); and Jeff Lugar of McGaheysville, Va. (three bass, 4 pounds, 3 ounces, $3,500).
Fishing the Delta and its feeder systems has been challenging at best this week, as water levels remain above flood stage throughout most of the region. Three five-bass limits were brought to the scale on opening day, and two limits were turned in Friday. Tough fishing aside, the All-American is a dream come true for most of the 45 boaters and 45 co-anglers who outfished more than 30,000 BFL participants to qualify for the event.
“The experience is just phenomenal,” said David Wild of Acworth, Ga., who finished 39th in the Boater Division with one bass weighing 1 pound, 8 ounces. “This is probably the most difficult tournament there is to get into. It’s a dream of a lifetime just to be here. And it’s not just about the fishing. The camaraderie among anglers, sponsors and fans makes the whole experience unbelievable.”
Christian earned big bass honors and $1,000 in the Boater Division with a 6-pound, 2-ounce largemouth that he landed Thursday. He also earned a $1,000 bonus from Snickers for catching the heaviest bass in either division. Howard and Sevier tied for co-angler big bass honors. Both men landed 2-pound, 5-ounce largemouths Friday and earned $250.
Kenney earned the Energizer Keeps on Going Award and $500 for advancing to the final round after finishing 20th on opening day. Christian earned the Shop-Vac High Performance Award plus a 10-gallon stainless-steel Shop-Vac for the heaviest total catch during the first two days of competition.
Competition resumes at 7 a.m. Saturday at Chocolotta Ramp on the Mobile Causeway. The All-American Family Fun Zone, where visitors can register to win a Ranger R61 bass boat rigged with a 90 horsepower Johnson outboard, opens at noon at the Mobile Convention Center followed by the final weigh-in at 3 p.m. There is no admission fee, and the public is invited to attend. Visitors registered for the boat giveaway must be present at the final weigh-in to win.
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.
Because BFL competitors are weekend anglers and not pros, the All-American and its lucrative cash awards present a unique opportunity for qualifiers looking to launch a professional bass-fishing career. 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 nation’s leading provider of affordable, close-to-home weekend tournaments, the BFL is widely credited with opening competitive bass fishing to the masses. Wal-Mart and many of America’s most respected companies support the BFL and five other FLW Outdoors tournament trails. Wal-Mart has been the title sponsor of FLW Outdoors since 1997. For a complete list of FLW Outdoors sponsors and for more information about the premier products and services they offer, please visit FLWOutdoors.com.
FLW Outdoors and the Wal-Mart FLW Tour are named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood. The 2003 Wal-Mart BFL All-American is hosted by the Mobile Area Sports Commission and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.