The Curse of ROY

They say success breeds success, but it doesn't necessarily happen smoothly or easily. After all, success is not a given, no matter how gifted or talented the artist or athlete. Just ask any of the Bassmaster Rookies of the Year.

Each of them knows about the "sophomore slump," that downward slide that the fishing gods seem to demand.

It started with the very first ROY, Greg Hackney in 2004. The Hack Attack challenged Gerald Swindle for bass fishing's most prestigious title, the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award, falling just short at the season's last event.

Finishing second in the AOY race meant that Hackney had almost nowhere to go but down, and he did — just barely — slipping a few notches to fifth in 2005.

That wasn't bad. After all, fifth is still very impressive, and Hackney has had an excellent career, winning several events and becoming a fixture in the Bassmaster Classic. Still, seven years later, second is his best ever finish in the AOY race.

Things weren't as good for the next ROY. Just like Hackney, Dave Wolak put together a very impressive season in 2005, finishing fourth in AOY points and hanging around the lead until the very end. Big things were expected of the Pennsylvania pro when he came back in 2006, but they didn't happen.

Wolak's performance slipped precipitously to 43rd, and he missed qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic for a couple of seasons. Aside from his stellar rookie year, Wolak's best AOY performance was 23rd in 2010.

Much like Hackney before him, Steve Kennedy was runner-up in the AOY race in his rookie campaign (2006), and, again like Hackney, he only slipped a little (to ninth). He turned in another strong year in 2011, finishing fifth in the AOY race, but he's never quite been able to match the success of 2006.

Derek Remitz debuted with the biggest bang in rookie history — a win on Lake Amistad in 2007. He followed it up with a second-place finish on the California Delta and was the runaway leader for AOY. A few lackluster performances later in the year derailed his bid for that title, but he still managed a 25th-place finish overall and a trip to the Classic.

A year later, Remitz was 41st, then 70th in 2009. He bounced back in 2010, qualifying for the postseason and finishing 11th. Then, in 2011, disaster struck for Remitz. He zeroed at the first Elite event of the season and never got things in gear.

The affable pro from Minnesota missed every cut for the entire season, ending the year in 96th place. Remitz will be back, but he'll likely need the offseason to regain his confidence.

The 2008 ROY was rock solid all year long. Bobby Lane limited every day he fished that season, finishing a very respectable 15th after leading the AOY race early in the year. The next year, he stumbled to 34th and has never ranked as high as 15th again, though he's qualified for the Classic every year.

Arkansas's Billy McCaghren was the 2009 ROY, finishing 27th and earning his first and, so far, only Classic berth. A year later, he was 59th, and in 2011 he finished 51st.

Failing to make the Classic can be devastating to an angler with his career on the line. McCaghren was on record saying he needed a good year to keep fishing the Elites. He didn't get it.

In 2010, 19-year-old Bradley Roy became the youngest angler in Elite history and proceeded to take ROY honors with a 40th-place finish. That year's rookie crop was less than remarkable, and none of them earned Classic spots, but Roy was young and looking for bigger and better things to come.

Enter the sophomore jinx. A year later has seen Roy take a big step back. It took a third-place finish at the end of the season to pull his year out of the fire ... a little. He finished a very disappointing 65th in the AOY standings.

This year's top rookie, Tennessee's Ott DeFoe, certainly looks like the real deal, having turned in the best debut performance since Kennedy in 2006. DeFoe finished fourth in the AOY race and led all Elite anglers in bassing average (average number of fish brought to the scales each day of competition) with a sterling 4.96.

Of course, with his fourth-place finish, it'll be tough for DeFoe to become the first ROY to improve on his debut season. He certainly has the skills, but can he avoid the distractions and pitfalls?

In all, only one of the award-winning rookies has ever put together a season better than his debut. It happened in 2010 when Derek Remitz finished 11th in the AOY race after winning ROY with a 25th-place performance in 2007.

Whatever you think of the sophomore slump, you can bet these anglers are believers.

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