AOY at a glance

So what about this Angler of the Year thing?

Well, there are two titles coveted in professional bass fishing. One is the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods, and the other is the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY). 

There are a select group of anglers who have won both the Classic and AOY, each of which is sure to agree that the latter is the toughest feat. 

The Classic is the paramount single-event in fishing — won on one body of water — three days of the right bites, the right strategy and decision making, and the Classic trophy can be obtained. The AOY title is the equivalent of an ironman race, a marathon — it requires 10 events of precise decisions, accurate adjustments, extreme stamina and the occasional day where nothing can go wrong. Case in point, second in our AOY race heading into the AOY Championship, Jason Christie had a bass literally jump in his boat during the Bassmaster Elite Series on Toledo Bend presented by Econo Lodge. 

You get it, everything has to go as planned and more. 

It's important to note these anglers do not have the luxury of scoping out the weather, or planning for fishing the prime spawn. Elite anglers are released on the largest playing field in any professional sport — in most any condition — in quest for the largest cumulative weight of bass for a tournament's length. 

Heading into the deciding Angler of the Year Championship on Mille Lacs who has done that the best this year? 

It looks to be a three-horse race going into tomorrow's first round. 

For starters, we have Brandon Palaniuk, a punishing young angler out of the gate, earning two of his three Bassmaster Elite Series trophies in his first three seasons, the latter coming earlier this season in the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest on Sam Rayburn Reservoir. Palaniuk finished 17th in the 2017 AOY race. 

Then, Jason Christie, who added his third Elite Series trophy in the last event on Lake St. Clair. 

Jason Christie finished a respectable 10th place in the 2016 AOY race, with a bridesmaid finish in the 2016 Classic to Edwin Evers. 

Last but proven not least, is newcomer Jacob Wheeler, who won the first two Elite Series events he fished. The first BASSfest in 2014, which he qualified through the Bassmaster Opens, and the first event of his inaugural year in the Bassmaster Elite Series on Cherokee Lake. 

Here's how it shakes out:

  1. Brandon Palaniuk (811)
  2. Jason Christie (796)
  3. Jacob Wheeler (778) 

Attention to the details

Years and years ago I was doing an interview with Pittsburgh Steeler Head Coach, Chuck Noll and as we walked across the football field before the game he suddenly stopped, bent down and picked up a tiny stone and tossed it over the out of bounds line, I never saw it yet he did.

I just watched that happen again this afternoon as I stood on my hotel balcony and watched Tournament Director Trip Weldon (that's him in the photo) walk the entire dock at Mille Lacs stopping and looking, stopping and looking. He walked every inch of the docks. 

That’s inner fire about the game and for the people who play it.

What happens if McClelland and Wiggins make Classic Bracket?

We've heard this question from a few fans this week: What happens if Mike McClelland or Jesse Wiggins make the Classic Bracket tournament? Both won Opens this year and qualify for the GEICO Bassmaster Classic if they fish all three tournaments in that division. Wiggins is 39th in Toyota Angler of the Year points, and McClelland is 48th. The answer, from tournament director Trip Weldon, is Wiggins and McClelland would not be required to fish the Classic Bracket event. Both intend to compete in the final Opens of their divisions and have paid their entry fees. If they compete in those Opens, they will be qualified for the Classic. If an extreme unforeseen situation -- as determined by the tournament director -- prevents either from fishing the Open, he will be excused and will be able to compete in the Classic.

If an angler opts out of the Classic Bracket tournament the spot will go to the next eligible angler.