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Adam Wagner Wins Old Hickory Lake BASS Weekend Series

Adam Wagner's no stranger to the spotlight. He's won eight BFL tournaments, including the 2009 BFL All-American. He's fished in the Forrest Wood Cup and spent a year (2010) on the FLW Tour. He's also no stranger to Old Hickory Lake and it was his experience there and confidence in a time-tested shallow-cranking pattern that put another sizable feather in his fishing cap - 2013 Bassmaster Weekend Series champion. After racing out to nearly a 7-pound lead after 2 days and holding nearly a 6-pound advantage entering the final day, the Cookeville, Tenn., resident caught a modest 9.1-pound limit on day 4 to finish with 48.59 pounds and hold off a late charge from Marshall Thompson, Jr., who closed with 48.06. "I don't think it has sunk it yet," he said. "I really felt like I could win it going in. I was pretty confident. I almost gave it up, though. It got really tough." In addition to the $150,000 in prize money he earned, he qualified for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Guntersville. This is the final year the Weekend Series winner will advance to the Classic after B.A.S.S. and American Bass Anglers decided to end their affiliation. "It's a life-long dream," he said. "How everything has played out has just blown my mind because I didn't know Neely Henry well for regionals, but I ended up doing good. Then I win the championship at Old Hickory. Now, the Classic's on Guntersville, which is a lake I fish all the time. It's a pretty neat deal." Wagner had his mind made up before the event that he'd be shallow cranking since that's typically how he fishes at Old Hickory for a majority of the year. After a "great practice," he found no reason to stray from that plan during competition. He usually targets a trio of creeks - Bartons, Bledsoe and Spring - and that's where he concentrated his 3 days of practice. He launched in Bledsoe to start his prep work and began by hitting his favorite channel swings and stumps - places he knew he could bounce a crankbait off of to trigger some bites. "I checked a few spots and really didn't mean to, but ended up catching 18 pounds," he said. He then spent some time in Bartons and found more biters there. "It was easy and it went like that all the way through practice," he added. "On the last day, I just went down lake and went flipping because I love to flip. I had a 13-pound day just moving around flipping."

Competition:

The opening day of the tournament was a virtual continuation of practice for Wagner, who bagged a limit by 10 a.m. in Bledsoe Creek, and had 17-plus pounds before 11:30. He went to his flipping areas down lake, but couldn't rouse another keeper the rest of the day. He brought only six fish into the boat, but he tangled with the right ones as he opened the event with a 1 1/2-pound lead over Marty Giddens. "I really could've caught a big bag on day 1 if I wanted to, but I left them when I caught what I caught," he said. A hard cold front pushed through Wednesday (day 1) and Thursday (day 2), which had him thinking the bite would toughen up as the tournament wore on. He was correct, but he cranked up more than 15 pounds on day 2 to give himself a healthy cushion at the top. "It was easier to catch fish, but it was harder to catch big ones," he said. "I went through three limits of fish to catch 15 pounds." In hindsight, he wishes he would've managed the fish in those spots a little better. "I think catching that many fish ended up hurting me," he said. The end of the cold front brought a thick blanket of fog over the lake on Friday morning and the field had to wait out a 2 1/2-hour delay before being turned loose. It put a damper on Wagner's cranking pattern as the lake slicked off. "I only got to fish 4 1/2 hours that day and once that fog lifted, the cranking bite just died," he said. "I caught one early when I got up there. I think it was 2 o'clock before I caught my second fish. I was due in at 3:15." Between 2 and 2:30, he caught three more keepers burning his crankbait around wood targets in Bledsoe Creek. Despite having just four fish for 7.06 pounds, he still maintained a healthy lead entering the last day. A 4-pounder he lost that morning would've given him a huge edge. "Having 7 pounds when I went in, I was pretty tickled to be honest," he said. "I would've liked to have had five, but I was pretty happy with what I had based on how tough it was." The fog didn't return the morning of the final day so Wagner was able to get right to work. He caught a limit fairly early fishing the same stuff. He caught six keepers, but his lone cull sealed the win for him.

Winning Pattern:

By early November, Wagner said the fish have typically pushed into the backs of the creeks, but the fishing pressure seemed to have them scattered throughout the creeks. "Most of the time this time of year, they'll be nearly to the back, but there was so much pressure," he said. "I really wasn't expecting that much company up there. Probably half the field ended up fishing those creeks. In Bledsoe, there were 10 boats in the back of it. I worked from where you go in to halfway back. In Bartons, I caught them in the back. It was just channel swings where you'd be sitting in anywhere from 14 to 20 feet of water and I'd be throwing into 2 feet. They'd be right off that break. I just took that Bandit and burned it and as soon as it came off the channel edge they'd load up on it." The shallow cranking pattern is something he says works almost year round at Old Hickory. "I'll start doing that at the end of May during the post-spawn and it'll go all the way through the summer and into the fall. The only time I won't do it over there is in the early spring." Wagner said one of the keys to his success was backing off the areas once he caught a couple off a certain channel swing or piece of wood. He'd run back and forth between the three creeks, which was easy since they're all within a 10-minute ride of each other. He said crashing the crankbait into cover would often trigger a bite. "The first day it was one fish off each piece of cover, but it was a big fish. The second day it was multiple fish off those spots, but they were smaller and I had to go through them multiple times to get the bigger ones. The third and fourth days, they weren't on those spots." He said there wasn't much current to speak of, but the fish would've been more active if there had been. "Bartons Creek was pretty clear and Bledsoe had good color, which it always does," he said.

Winning Gear:

Crankbait gear: 7' medium action All Pro cranking rod, Shimano Curado casting reel (7.1:1 gear ratio), 15- and 20-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, Bandit Series 100 crankbait. Wagner declined to disclose the color of his crankbait, noting it's a stock pattern, but difficult to find. He used the 20-pound test line when he was fishing around heavy wood. "If I wanted to get 4 feet deep, which is deep cranking for me, I'd use the 15," he said. He swapped the stock No. 6 treble hooks for No. 4 Gamakatsu round bends. "Bandit's one of the few crankbaits you can upsize the hooks on. When you bounce it off a piece of cover, they're not as bad to hang up. A lot of crankbaits, when you upsize the hook and they roll, they'll hang. The Bandits are pretty good about not hanging."

Main factor: "Confidence and knowing the lake. I can usually do really good over there at any time. That lake just suits my style of fishing. It just all worked out. I have a ton of confidence with that crankbait in my hand."

Performance edge: "My ability to put that crankbait where I needed it. There were times on Friday and Saturday when I couldn't catch them off of those little channel bends or the little sweet spots. I had to put the trolling motor down and hit any piece of cover I could see."

Old Hickory Weekend Series Winning Pattern Bassfan 11/12/13 (Todd Ceisner)