The life of a Bassmaster Elite Series rookie is not an easy one. They must travel the country in all types of weather, chasing bass and cash. They're often in unfamiliar towns and on unfamiliar waters. For many, expenses will far exceed winnings, and sponsors make demands on their time and energy. Most will be separated from their families for weeks — perhaps months — at a time. To make matters worse, they must try to find ways to beat the very best anglers in the world. Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese, Chris Lane, Michael Iaconelli and Todd Faircloth fish here.
So it's not very surprising that none of this year's 10 rookies is exactly tearing up the tour so far. Most of them are middle of the pack or worse. And while it's tough — perhaps even unfair — to judge them on two Florida tournaments, where more than a few all-time greats struggle perennially, it's as good a time as any to take a look at the new talent.
At the head of the rookie class is Tennessee's Brandon Card. With 138 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points, he's sitting in 20th place overall — very solid, and on pace to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic, if he can keep it up. Card is the only rookie to make the first cut in both Florida events.
Just five points behind him is Cliff Prince from Florida. Again, not bad but not as good as he'd like or might expect after two events in his home state. Prince is a genuine talent, but he missed the cut on Okeechobee, and he has to feel like that one got away from him after a good performance on his home waters (16th on the St. Johns River).
Jamie Horton, the 2011 B.A.S.S. Federation Nation champ is third among rookies and 37th in the AOY race. He was 26th on the St. Johns and 57th at Okeechobee. A couple of Classic appearances as a BFN qualifier make him the most experienced angler in this rookie class. That could go a long way as the roller coaster of the Elite schedule begins to take its toll.
Kyle Fox is the only member of this rookie class to make a cut to the final 12 in either of the first two tournaments. Like Prince, he's a Florida angler and was expected to do well in his home state. After missing the first cut on the St. Johns (he was a very discouraging 76th), he rebounded nicely at Okeechobee. The rest of the season he'll be fishing lots of unfamiliar waters.
Ohio's Fletcher Shryock is dead in the center of the Elite field after two tournaments. He was 59th at St. Johns and 39th at Okeechobee. It puts him at 50th in the AOY rankings and fifth among rookies. Florida was an education for Shryock, but the likeable young pro was taking good notes. He's still new to the profession, but he's proving to be a quick study and adept with the media and other distractions at this level.
Casey Scanlon of Kansas is definitely one to watch. He hovered around the middle in both Florida tournaments (45th on the St. Johns and 65th on Okeechobee), but he has a seriousness about him that should serve him well at the highest level of professional fishing. While the tour veterans were discussing the merits of the barbecue on site at the Okeechobee weigh-in (definitely sub-par), Scanlon was thinking and talking fishing.
Kevin Ledoux made have had the most interesting and intense two weeks among the rookies. After starting Day 1 on the St. Johns in 10th place and looking very strong, he couldn't repeat his success and fell to 50th on Day 2, and that's where he ended the tournament. On the first day at Okeechobee, he grounded his boat and couldn't get it off a sandbar, deciding to employ the help of his marshal to get free and consciously opting to take a zero for the day. He ended in 98th place. Overall, he's 84th, and things can seemingly only get better for the Oklahoma pro.
Jared Miller, another Sooner rookie, has been remarkably consistent so far (75th at St. Johns and 74th at Okeechobee), but it's not the kind of consistency he wants to continue. Miller is 86th in AOY points. California's Chris Zaldain is in similar shape. He's 91st overall after finishing 82nd and 78th at the St. Johns and Okeechobee, respectively.
At the bottom of the rookie standings is Ohio's Michael Simonton, who missed his first 17 bites on the St. Johns. He must feel fortunate to have escaped Florida with his life, and is currently sitting in 94th place in the AOY race. What he lacks in points, he makes up in heart. Simonton was looking forward to the next stop (Bull Shoals) as he was leaving the ramp at Okeechobee.