March 31, 2012 – It came down to a tie-breaker for the national champion title today as 14 division champions walked across the FLW Tour stage in Branson, Mo., on the final of the 2012 Federation National Championship. The weights sat at 35lbs 5ounces for both Gilbert Gagner from Highgate Springs, Vt., and Jeff Erickson from Phoenix, Az. The tie-breaker went to the angler who brought in the most fish after three days of tournament fishing. For Gagner, consistency was key. Gagner caught a solid five bass limit every day of the tournament to give him the win. Erickson didn’t walk away empty-handed though, as the highest finished Ranger Cup qualified boater, he’s now the proud owner of a new Ranger Z518 Boat, trolling motor, batteries, Lowrance electronics and trailer. On the co-angler side, Tyler Webb from Arnett, W.V., came from third to snag the title and be named 2012 National Champion today. Gagner and Webb both earned berths in the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup, and they, as well as, all 14 anglers competing today earned slots at the 2012 BFL All-American. Gagner also receives the dream of a lifetime, the prize that makes it all worth it, the $100,000 “Living the Dream” prize package. The package includes cash and prizes, fully paid entry fees as an FLW Tour Pro for the year, travel funds and use of a wrapped Ranger Boat and Chevrolet truck.
“I didn’t even know I had a chance at this,” Gagner said. “Starting in sixth place, I didn’t think I had a prayer going into this.” Gagner didn’t get to make a trip from Vermont to pre-fish, so Wednesday’s practice day was his first meeting with Bull Shoals Lake. “Practice day went terrible for me; I tried to do things I really don’t think the fish wanted.” But, once day one rolled around Gagner took it slow and steady. “I decided to slow down and make really key presentations to submerged bushes I couldn’t see. That’s where the fish seemed to be a little bit bigger and a little bit more aggressive.” Gagner didn’t catch a ton of fish, but got just what was needed to get the job done. “I caught six to seven keepers each day, which made just enough to cull out the one or two small ones I had in my bag.” Today, his co-angler, Chris Lambert, from Olympia, Wash., decided he wanted to go smallmouth fishing. “I thought he was crazy. But, we ended up catching some nice smallmouths. I lost a few nice fish today that could have made a better weight for me, but it ended up being just enough.”
Gagner’s been federation fishing for several years for this opportunity, and today the emotion on his face said it all. “I’ve been around the block trying to do this for a long time. There are so many people I want to thank; my co-anglers were so great to work with. These guys were patient and never pushed me too hard to make bad decisions; they worked with me real well.” Gagner also thanked the TBF, FLW Outdoors, Lowrance and Ranger Boats. “They all did a great job. All the volunteers were awesome at this event, without them it’s just not possible.” When asked if it has really sank in, that next year he will be fishing alongside the best professional fishermen in the business at the most prestigious bass tournaments in the world. Gagner just shook his head with tears welling up and said, “No it hasn’t sank in at all; this just doesn’t happen to guys like me.”
On the co-angler side, twenty-four year old, Tyler Webb, was also taken back as he replayed this week and the fact he’s walking away with it all. As the national champion co-angler there’s no bigger or better accomplishment for a federation angler fishing out of the back of the boat. “Day one I actually got paired with the Gagner so we both did pretty well,” Webb said. “I only had four though. I had the fifth one on later in the day, about a 2 ½ pounder, I thought it was gonna end up costing me.” Webb caught 7lbs 12ounces on day one and 11lbs 3ounces yesterday making him over 6lbs away from the leader. “Yesterday I was flippin’ and swimming a sinko around the bushes. But, today I knew I was going to have to catch a pretty good bag with Taylor being 6lbs ahead.” Webb got paired with Brian Maloney from Osage Beach, Mo., who ran way up the river today to find their keepers. “I started off real good this morning with one about 4 ½ pounds right off the bank. I caught a few more after that but wasn’t able to get my fifth one. I was kinda worried, but it ended up working out.”
Webb wanted to thank all his family for their support and his federation in West Virginia. “Our West Virginia President, John Burdette, really does a great job and helps us out a lot, he really supports us.” Webb will be representing West Virginia and The Bass Federation as this year’s national champion co-angler, an idea that just hasn’t hit him yet. “There’s lots going through my mind right now; it really hasn’t set in yet. To be honest, did I ever think I was going to be here, at the end of the day, probably not? But just the chance to fish the Forrest Wood Cup is an honor. It’s the biggest event around and to do that I’m really looking forward to it. Hopefully, I’ll learn a lot getting to go to a great lake with some great anglers.”