AOY: Seven up and seven down

  1. #51 Ott DeFoe – Two years in the league, two years in the final eight. He was the greatest threat to become “the next KVD” (like so many others) until Jason Christie started blowing the doors off. He’s reasonably well-positioned to make the Classic, but his first AOY may have to wait at least another year.
  2. #52 Mike McClelland – After a year where he barely snuck into the Classic field, McClelland made a run at the title, finishing 5th, then started off the year with an 11that the Sabine, but out-of-the-money finishes on Falcon and Bull Shoals (two lakes where he was on a lot of fans’ Fantasy Fishing teams) can’t sit well with him. Like DeFoe, he’s well-positioned for a Classic berth, but the AOY potential that he best demonstrated in 2008 hasn’t yet provided a breakthrough.
  3. #62 Mike Iaconelli – Like McClelland, after a strong Classic showing in Oklahoma, Ike has struggled to keep his momentum going. His boating mishap on the Sabine was the worst of his travails, but he’s only notched one check in three Elite Series events so far. With the late season trips up north, you’d be foolish to bet against him making the Classic, but with a best finish of 36th so far, AOY seems unlikely. It’s now been seven years since he won that title and 10 since his Classic victory.
  4. #69 Jason Quinn – If you’d told most fishing fans back in 2004 that Quinn would have a major title by now, few would have blinked an eye. Granted, things lined up well for him that year with a home lake Classic on Wylie, and he performed admirably. But the expectations went beyond the hometown benefit of the doubt. Since then, he’s qualified for a Classic every 3 years – 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013 – and while he’s put together some quality finishes, he hasn’t done it with any rhythm. At 41 years old, he can’t play the “young gun” card anymore. Entering an age when many anglers seem to peak, this is a time for him to break out of his shell of inconsistency.
  5. #93 Tommy Biffle – I was surprised when I checked the record book and noticed that Biffle hadn’t made the Classic in 2012 or 2009. It seems like he’s there every year, and a favorite to win every year. After watching fellow master flipper Denny Brauer retire after 2012, Biffle inherited the sole mantle of the guy you expect to hammer them when the bite is shallow and tight to cover. Lots of fish were caught on a jig at the Sabine – he finished 84th. There was a strong shallow bite at Falcon – 54th. He’s a legit threat to win at some point this season, since he’s won six B.A.S.S. events in five states, on rivers and lakes, on smallmouths and on largemouths. Still, you can’t depend on winning to get you into the Big Dance. He’ll need some of his typical Top 12s if he is going to vault up the scorecard.
  6. #94 Timmy Horton – Like Quinn, Horton was marked as a world-beater from the get-go, and with good reason – he won the AOY title in his first year. Nevertheless, after making 10 Classics in a row at the start of his career, he’s only fished one of the last four. Horton has a lot on his plate with a TV show and other obligations; but, like Quinn, he is also right around the 40-year mark, and it’s time to live up to the tremendous promise that has ebbed a bit in recent years.
  7. #97 Brandon Palaniuk – This is the one that probably hurts fishingfans the most. Palaniuk, the likeable, ultra-polished, super-talented, out-of-nowhere B.A.S.S. Nation-bred competitor, has now nearly claimed two Classics, but doesn’t have the trophy, although he does have some Elite Series hardware. That’s a big profile to live up to. Meanwhile, in his last six events other than the Classic, to include three Opens and three Elites, he’s finished no better than 66th. Last year, he won at Bull Shoals; this year, he finished 81st. At 25 years old, it’s a little bit premature to expect him to dominate every time out, but you get the feeling that he’s dangerous enough to win any event but inexperienced enough that the wild swings may continue for a while.

 I don’t have to tell any of them that their performances have been sub-par so far. They’re all probably ready to bite someone’s head off at this point. I can also guarantee you that none of them want to hear the question of death from a single fan: “Why are you working the Classic show? I thought you were fishing this thing.” That’s a greater motivator than fame or fortune.

The great thing for all involved is that there’s time and room to move up. In fact, of the seven downers I listed here, I’d be willing to bet at least two or possibly as many as five will be fishing at Guntersville next February. Meanwhile, one of those top seven may fall off the map completely. Still, it’s a lot easier to play with top seven house money than it is to scratch and claw from now through August.

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