When pundits were talking about the anglers most likely to win the Lake Champlain Elite, Justin Atkins and Randy Pierson's names did not crop up.
Yet here we are, late into the fishing day with Atkins and Pierson tied for the lead in BassTrakk with 19 pounds, 2 ounces, which is 10 ounces ahead of Buddy Gross in 3rd.
Both of our leaders are badly in need of a great tournament. Atkins sits in 77th place in Angler of the Year standings, while Pierson is 78th.
Neither has had the year they wanted.
After a strong career at FLW and BPT Atkins was expected to be a contender on the Elite Series. But three tournaments on the Tennessee River, which he lives on in Florence, Ala., have put a damper on his year. He finished 99th in Knoxville, 81st at Pickwick, and 75th at Guntersville. His best finishes of the year have been in Texas, with 33rd place finishes at Sabine and Lake Fork. Atkins finished 119th in a Toyota Series tournament on Lake Champlain in 2019.
Pierson, who qualified for the Elites via the B.A.S.S. Nation, hails from Oakdale, Calif. His season has been hurt by an 84th place finish at Lake Fork and a 75th at Neely Henry. His best finish of the year was 31st at the St. Johns River. Last year Pierson finished 73rd at Lake Champlain.
Might Atkins and Pierson still have a shot at making the Classic cut, which now stands at 42 in AOY? My math skills are not good enough to figure that out. But I do know both guys could turn their seasons around by doing well at Lake Champlain.