June 5, 2014 by Colin Moore
Brian Maloney made history once. Now he has the chance to do it again this week on Alabama's Wilson Lake.
In 2012, the Missouri angler became the first champion of The Bass Federation (TBF) to also win the Walmart Bass Fishing League All-American. A number of TBF members have claimed the All-American title through the years, but before Maloney none had won it as the TBF's boater champion. TBF co-angler qualifier Kevin Wells of Portsmouth, Ohio, won the All-American's co-angler title in 2007.
This year Maloney qualified through the TBF National Championship on Grand Lake to fish the All-American once more, but this time as a co-angler. If he wins the co-angler title, he'll have racked up another unique accomplishment: being the first TBF angler to win the All-American from both ends of the boat.
Of course, Maloney isn't dwelling on the possibilities. All he's looking forward to now is participating in the All-American. Ninety-eight of the nation's best weekend anglers will join him there for the three-day championship that begins Thursday.
"The year I won it, on the Potomac River, Laura [his wife] and I had a blast. We're expecting to have just as much fun this week as we did then," said Maloney, a telecommunications design engineer for AT&T who resides in Osage Beach. His TBF club is the Wicked Sticks out of Eldon, Mo.
In 2012, Maloney earned a berth in the All-American by placing sixth in the TBF National Championship. This year, his ticket got punched when he finished runner-up in the Central Division standings at the national championship. The divisional winner was James Biggs, who also happened to be the TBF championship's overall winner. Biggs was given the option of fishing as the boater or co-angler in the All-American, and - no surprise - he opted for the front of the boat.
"As divisional runner-up, I had the option of fishing out of the back or not fishing at all," noted Maloney. "But I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to fish the All-American again. I don't care what end of the boat I'm in, I just want to be there. Fishing out of the back will be a totally new experience for me. It's challenging, but that's what I want."
The Potomac fishes differently than Wilson Lake, but that's not the only change in store for Maloney. When he won the All-American in 2012, he decided where to fish and when to move. This time around, he's at the mercy of the boaters he draws. They have total control. That being said, Maloney isn't too concerned. He knows that the boaters he draws are likely to fish much the same as him.
"I didn't pre-practice; I didn't see the point," said Maloney, who's a regular in the Walmart BFL Ozark Division. "For one thing, we're in a transitional period, and the things that you might find in pre-practice probably won't be that big a deal in the tournament. Also, why get crushed when you draw somebody who doesn't want to do what you did in pre-practice to catch fish? But you'd be amazed by how much pre-practice you can do in front of a computer. I have a hunch that my fishing style will be compatible with whoever I draw. Besides, I enjoy the competition way too much to get too uptight about it."
Though it's a Tennessee River lake, Wilson doesn't quite set up like Pickwick downstream (site of the concurrent Walmart FLW Tour event this week). There are some ledges, but they're more gradually sloping than the steep, almost vertical ledges that characterize Pickwick and Kentucky Lake. Tapered points and humps might hold wandering schools of bass during the day, but mainly Wilson is a tailwater fishery this time of year. That being the case, the lake will fish small, and Maloney thinks that about half the field will concentrate below the Wheeler Lake dam.
"On the Potomac in 2012 I kept an open mind and watched where the crowds went. Then I went somewhere else," said Maloney, whose All-American championship won him a spot in the Forrest Wood Cup that year. He went on to finish 29th in it. "This year I'm going to be introduced to a boater, feel him out that first day and do what he wants to do. My strategy will depend on what he does.
"I have no doubt that somebody will figure things out," added Maloney, 52. "When you get to this level of competition, it's a pretty level playing field. Everybody in the All-American is talented and capable of catching good stringers of bass."
Maloney should know. In 2012, he had to get past such longtime BFL stars as Dick Shaffer and Dicky Newberry to win. This year, he'll be competing against some of the BFL's best co-anglers, and knowing that much of his success depends on his partner's approach to unlocking Wilson Lake's bass fishery has taken some of the edge off his expectations. The thought that he might make history again as an All-American co-angler doesn't faze him.
"I'm going to fish as well as I can and do my best with what is presented to me," said Maloney. "That's all I can do, and if it's meant to happen, it'll happen."