June 1, 2003 by Bob Borgwat
FLW Outdoors angler Tony Christian is a force to be reckoned with. You might even say he's gr-r-reat!
The moonwalk notwithstanding, Tony Christian says he was having "a Michael Jackson heart attack" when he hooked a 9-pound, 7-ounce bass during the opening event of the 2003 EverStart Series Eastern Division. It was a catch that also set the tone for Christian to continue building the momentum he showed last year as one angler who's proving hard to beat.
"You start singing, `Get the net, get the net, oh yeah, get the net,' when you hook a fish like that in any tournament, let alone your first EverStart Series event," said the 39-year-old home builder/developer from Hull, Ga., whose big Lake Okeechobee largemouth eventually landed him top honors in the event's big-bass contest.
You also start eyeing the winner's circle really closely when you make a catch like that. In EverStart Series competition, one big bass can easily anchor an angler's total weight and catapult him to the semifinal round of fishing on day three. That's just what it did for Christian.
"I was just trying to make the cut. I was just trying to get enough weight to make it," he said. "And that fish helped me achieve what I wanted that day - catch as much as I possibly could so that I could lower the weight I needed on day two."
Indeed it did lower the weight he needed to make the cut. That big bass alone outweighed the five-fish limit Christian brought to the scales on day two. It also anchored Christian's confidence in the style of fishing he prefers.
Confidence is also the attribute that co-angler Ernest Diaz recognized immediately in Christian when the 38-year-old from Fayetteville, Ga., was paired with him on day four of the EverStart Series season opener. Diaz was well aware that Christian had leaped into fifth place after finishing day three with 11 pounds, 8 ounces. But Team Stanley pro Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla., weighed a day-three limit that topped 21 pounds, and other well-known anglers, including Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tenn., and NASCAR Team pro Sandy Melvin of Boca Raton, Fla., were standing strong. These were the guys to beat.
"Tony caught fish consistently all day long, and it's because of his confidence," Diaz said. "This was the first time on Okeechobee for both of us. But Tony's style of fishing helped me with my confidence and my patience."
In 2002 Diaz finished 56th as a co-angler in the Bulldog Division of the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League. Under Christian's watch on Okeechobee, however, he quickly laid claim to the fourth spot among the top 10 co-anglers.
"He told me to just keep sticking it out," Diaz said.
Sticking it out is exactly what Christian's fishing career was all about, until 2002 that is. That is when he switched from the BFL's Bulldog Division to the Savannah River Division and broke out with an unparalleled string of victories. He started the season off in February with a victory on Clark Hill; finished 35th and took big-bass honors on Keowee in March; took home another winner's check in April on Hartwell; bounced back to the Bulldog Division in May and scored a victory on Lake Sinclair; returned to the Savannah River Division in June and snagged his fourth victory of the season on Russell; and finally wrapped up the regular season in September with a second-place showing on Clark Hill.
As if winning four of the six BFL tournaments he had entered was not impressive enough, Christian finished out his 2002 season with a regional victory on Lake Gaston. All told, he won five of seven tournaments and took home nearly $20,000 in cash plus a new Ranger boat and a Chevy truck. Not a bad return on an investment of just $1,050 in entry fees. He also earned a shot at $100,000 cash in the BFL All-American on the Mobile Delta.
Editor's note: Since this article went to press in FLW Outdoors Magazine, Christian went on to win the 2003 BFL All-American championship at Mobile Delta May 31, winning $100,000 cash.
So how did he do it? Simple, by fishing lakes that are much more aligned with the type of water he favors.
"Keowee, Russell, Hartwell and Clark Hill are clear lakes, and I'm much more familiar with them," he said. "On these clear lakes, most guys are going to fish for spotted bass. Fishing for spots, you can put five fish in the livewell in a hurry, but I'm going to look for largemouths. Some limits of spots will make the cut, but those are going to be (bag) weights of only 5 to 7 pounds."
While other anglers are off hunting limits of spots in clear water, Christian is hauling in heavyweight largemouths from stained water. He can usually be found up rivers and creeks casting spinner baits and crankbaits to cover a lot of water. Once he finds a hearty population of largemouths, he breaks out his trusty jig-and-pig and starts rewriting the record books.
So it is that Christian, armed with a boat load of confidence, a few spinner baits and crankbaits and a jig-and-pig, launched a promising fishing career in the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League. And that success seems to be extending to EverStart Series ranks, lest we forget that Christian finished seventh on Lake Okeechobee in January, his first EverStart Series tournament; won on Lake Martin in February, and finished 19th on Santee Cooper in April. It doesn't end there, however. After missing the cut on Santee Cooper, Christian returned to the BFL's Savannah River Division the next day and won first place on Lake Hartwell, his second BFL top five of the season.
"I've always tried to do everything well, and I just want to do this well. And, oh yeah - I want to be on a Kellogg's box, too. Smiling at the world at breakfast time."
If his hot streak continues, we might be sharing our breakfast table with Georgia's Tony Christian in the very near future.
2003 FLW OUTDOORS TOURNAMENT STATS
2003 EverStart Series (by location, date, place and earnings):
Lake Okeechobee - Jan. 8, 7th - $6,250
Lake Martin - Feb. 26, 1st - $10,000+Boat
Santee Cooper - Apr. 02, 19th - $1,800
Big Bass: Okeechobee, 9lbs, 7oz
2003 Wal-Mart BFL (by location, date, place and earnings):
Keowee - Feb. 15, 21st - $1,059
Lake Russell - Mar. 15, 5th - $963
Lake Hartwell - Apr. 05, 1st - $4,728
Big Bass: Keowee, 5lbs, 5oz; Hartwell, 7lbs, 15oz
2003 Wal-Mart BFL All-American (by location, date, place and earnings):
Mobile Delta - May 31, 1st - $100,000