The current crop of Elite rookies (and I'm not including Morgenthaler or Brett Hite here because it makes no sense to call them "rookies") has been impressive. Sure, there are a few mired near the bottom with no chance of getting to the Classic without winning one of the remaining events, but there are also anglers like Powroznik and Tharp challenging for AOY and others like Justin Lucas, Mike Kernan and Glenn Browne who are still in the Rookie of the Year hunt and in good position to claim Classic spots. No matter how the rest of the season goes, this looks like the strongest rookie class ever.
There's a real chance that six legitimate rookies will earn Classic berths this year (plus Hite, who's already in, and Morgenthaler). That would obliterate the old record of four set in 2011 — probably the best rookie class before this season.
The worst year for Elite rookies? It would have to be either 2008 (there were 11 rookies, but only Bobby Lane remains) or 2010 (seven rookies, but none qualified for the Classic, and they've only tallied four career Classic appearances between them — about half of what Bobby Lane has done all by himself).
Every Elite season has the same story that goes something like this: Look at all the great anglers who are struggling!
This year is no different.
For every Mark Davis (1st), Todd Faircloth (3rd), Aaron Martens (9th), Kevin VanDam (14th) and Skeet Reese (17th) — stars who are doing well — there's an Edwin Evers (58th), Tommy Biffle (78th), Michael Iaconelli (82nd), Ish Monroe (88th) and Boyd Duckett (101st). It happens every year. Only the names change.
Is it shocking that these guys are struggling? On an individual basis, yes it is. They're talented and perennial Classic qualifiers. But again, it happens every year — some stars struggle, some rookies excel, some previous also-rans get off to good starts.
Should the anglers who are struggling push the panic button? Maybe not just yet, but they should definitely lift the protective cover from the button and loosen up their button pushing fingers.
In the past five seasons (when the Elite Series went from an 11-event to an 8-event schedule), only one angler that ranked worse than 63rd after four tournaments has qualified for the Classic on points. It happened last year. Randy Howell was 77th after four, and we know how that turned out. He not only qualified for the Classic, he won it!
Right now there's someone ranked in the 50s or 60s — maybe worse — who will qualify for the 2015 Classic. I certainly like Edwin Evers' chances (he's easily one of the most talented anglers in the world, and 58th is not all that bad), and don't count Tommy Biffle out (he always seems to get off to a slow start and finish strong).
One thing that might make a second half surge less likely this year is the new points structure and the new blood in the league. With 108 anglers in the field but only 100 earning points at each event, that will drive down the number of points you need to be in the top 36 or 38 (approximately the number of Elite anglers who will be going to next year's Classic). And with so many quality rookies in the field, the Elites are working closer to a sort of parity. Only eight anglers have finished in the money at every tournament this year, and we're just four events in.
The Series is tougher than ever. Maybe it should adopt the old slogan of "Any Given Sunday," that Bert Bell used to describe the NFL many years ago, saying "On any given Sunday, any team can beat any other team." It's certainly true in fishing and truer than ever on the Elite Series.
But if you're an Elite angler ranked 80th or worse right now, you need to win if you plan to fish the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. Getting there on points is going to be nearly impossible.