In recent years, we’ve seen an influx of top-notch anglers on the Elite Series. Some true newcomers to the national circuits, some seasoned touring pros competing on the Elites for the first time. As is the case, anglers participating on the Elites for the first year are referred to as Elite Series rookies…plain and simple.
We’re not here to debate the definition of a rookie, just here to talk about how good these rookies are nowadays. The recent arrival of transplant pro anglers like Jacob Powroznik, Randall Tharp, Justin Lucas, Jason Christie and Brett Hite have upped the competition level on the Elites considerably. Three of the aforementioned five anglers have already won on the Elite Series in their “rookie” seasons making the Elites more elite by the day.
No one debated the use of the term rookie when Brandon Lester arrived on the Elites in 2014 nor when Hank Cherry came on the scene in 2013 and won Rookie of the Year. Both anglers have had solid starts to their Elite careers, Cherry winning the 2013 All-Star event and Lester placing in the Top 50 in six out of his first nine attempts. Wins and consistent Top 50 cuts are benchmarks for anglers who want to make a career on the Elites.
So how are the 2015 Elite Series rookies going to stack up? There are basically two groups of rookies: Bucket A containing the full-time pros who are making their first appearance on the Elites, and Bucket B which holds those stepping to the big league plate for the first time. The bar has been set high by recent rookies and there’s been no shortage of hype surrounding several of the 2015 class.
The hype is full-blown when it comes to Elite Series rookie Brent Ehrler. At the top of Bucket A, Ehrler is considered to be one of the greatest anglers not yet to compete on the Elite Series. The 2006 Forrest Wood Cup champ has finished in the Top 10 of FLW’s angler of the year race seven of the last eight seasons. Add to that over $2 million in career earnings and Brent Ehrler is in a class consisting of a very few.
Ehrler has been referred to as the Kevin VanDam of FLW. Safe to say 99.9 percent of the anglers on the face of the earth would grin from ear to ear to have just one person refer to them as the Kevin VanDam of anything. But for Brent Ehrler, an angler who has worked his entire life to build a career, brand and name of his own, being labeled the anyone of anything is a little bit disrespectful.
The Elites aren’t about head-to-head competition, but nearly every fan of the sport has wondered at some point how Brent Ehrler and Kevin VanDam would stack up against one another on a national circuit. Ehrler is known for his finesse and VanDam for his power, and the two are also better than most at every other technique including the other’s strong suit. The 2015 Bassmaster Elite Series will be the first real gauge of how good they both are with respect to each other. The icon that is Kevin VanDam and the mere presence of Ehrler in the Elites will surely spark a competitive fire in each that can only be lit by competing with the best of the best. Will Ehrler live up to the hype and have an Elite career as stoic as those of Edwin Evers, Skeet Reese, Mike Iaconelli and Aaron Martens? It will be years before that question can be answered.
But the Bucket A rookies don’t end with Ehrler. Brandon Coulter, Micah Frazier and Koby Kreiger are other transplants likely to add jewels to their crowns quick on the Elite Series. But it’s Bucket B this year that really has the eyes on the rookie class.
Paul Mueller, a true newcomer to professional bass fishing, has shown prowess beyond his years with recent performances. Finishing runner-up in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, Mueller went on to win the 2015 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship and re-qualify for the Classic in 2015 where he made and early push and finished a respectable 12th among the who’s who of professional bass fishing. Mueller will be a name that won’t go away and will appear at the top of the results sheets again in the near future.
Two other notable additions from Bucket B are the brothers Lee. Jordan and Matt Lee both qualified to fish a Bassmaster Classic through the Carhartt College Series. Also, both earned their way onto the Elite Series via the 2014 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens, Matt in his second attempt and Jordan in his first at bat.
International anglers Ken Iyobe of Japan and Carl Jocumsen of Australia are also noteworthy additions to the Elites. We’ve learned that international anglers can certainly compete here in the states, and in some cases, have an advantage with out-of-the-box thinking and finesse tactics garnered from fishing in high-pressure situations. And they win, as Japanese angler and Classic Champ Takahiro Omori has shown.
So what’s to be expected of the 2015 Elite Series rookie class? Great things. The Elites will welcome in a new group of anglers who have likewise earned the title. The Elites will become even more elite with the acquisition of some of the best anglers the world has ever seen and perhaps some of the best anglers the world hasn’t yet seen.