Elite Analysis – Day 4 at Harris Chain

In the movie adaptation of the Michael Lewis book Moneyball, Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, is trying to convince washed up catcher Scott Hatteberg to sign as his new first baseman. Hatteberg is struggling to figure out why someone is courting him to play a position he’s never played at the highest level of the sport.

Hatteberg, confused, protests: “But the thing is that…”

Beane replies “You don’t know how to play first base. Scott…”

“That’s right.”

Sensing the doubt, Beane shifts into full sales mode. “It’s not that hard, Scott.” He turns to coach Ron Washington, who’s joined him for the effort: “Tell him, Wash.”

The audience is primed for Washington to join in on the pitch, to tell Hatteberg he’s capable of doing anything if he just gives it the old college try. Instead, Washington deadpans, “It’s incredibly hard.”

Notably, that did not deter Beane. Nor did it prevent Hatteberg from signing. You could say that he was out of options, but he still went after it, results TBD – and he mostly prospered. Indeed, it was Hatteberg’s walk-off home run in September of 2002 that led the underdog A’s to their 20th consecutive victory.

I thought of this scene today as we watched four rookies battle it out for the championship at the Harris Chain before ultimately finishing 1st, 2nd, 4th and 6th.

For years, semi-informed viewers – myself included – have spoken the party line about how hard it is to not just qualify for the Elite Series but to remain there once you arrive. We’ve seen more than a few world class hammers get their butts kicked and leave for greener pastures. The conventional wisdom is that it gets harder and harder every year. And then this group comes in and makes it look easy.

To put it in fishing terms, through three events they’re zigging when they’re supposed to zig and zagging when they’re supposed to zag. They’ve made it look so easy, so often, that it’s causing many of us to question conventional wisdom. Are they just that good? Is there an element of luck?

John Garrett didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be able to play the field He didn’t know that hitting under pressure is difficult. He just went out there and got on base.

Who’s right, Beane or Washington? Is this hard or is it potentially as easy as these newcomers are making it look?

It’s a story that we’ve seen play out over two years, as last year’s exceptional freshman class takes a slight detour to reality and a new group steps in – younger, fresher, bolder, but are they better? If so, why? We won’t truly be able to answer those questions for a few years, but right now it’s both puzzling and exciting to watch them – and no doubt frustrating for those who fought the good fight for a longer period of time.

This week’s intrigue over first place was squashed by midday today, but our remaining top ten still spawned a host of stories, quotes and thoughts about what this event means to this season, and to the sport at large. Here’s what I think I thought on Championship Monday:

Garrett’s Veteran Move – Actually, it was the non-move that mattered most in John Garrett’s first Elite Series victory. At noon, with only one good fish in the livewell, Garrett speculated that it was time for him to abandon his primary hunting ground. Ultimately, he decided to stay and a half hour later he caught his biggest bass of the day, a 7-4.

Consistent Killer – Garrett had at least 19 pounds every day, bottoming out at 19-3 yesterday. He also had two bags over 21 pounds, including 24-2 on Day One. Runner-up JT Thompkins (73-12) was the only other angler to top 19 pounds twice.

Downstream Impacts – As a result of last Thursday’s weather delay, the practice for this week’s St. Johns tournament was shortened to two days. Garrett is no doubt exhausted from this grind, and stated today on Live that “I’m probably going to sleep in tomorrow.” He also admitted that he’s never been to the St. Johns. Obviously, he’ll take a Day Four appearance (and, more significantly, a win) whenever he can get it, but I’ll be curious to see how, if at all, the short turnaround affects the Harris Chain top ten.

Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30 – This marks five straight Elite Series tournaments won by anglers under 30 years old. Garrett, seven months shy of his 29th birthday, is the oldest this year. The last angler over 30 to win a regular season Elite event was Joey Cifuentes last year at St. Clair. The last angler over 40 to win a regular season Elite event was Bryan Schmitt in the season-ending derby on the Upper Mississippi in 2022.

Personal Bests — Four of the ten top finishers this week achieved the top Elite Series finish of their careers. Garrett’s PB went from 28th to 1st; Thompkins took his from 13th to 2nd, KJ Queen took his from 9th to 3rd; and Joseph Webster took his from 16th to 7th. By finishing 4th, Tyler Williams matched his best, achieved earlier this year.

Hair Care – If you’d told me that we’d see one angler flinging a hair jig in Florida I’d have been shocked, but today Jordan Lee (5th, 66-0) joined the club with John Garrett. Weekend anglers like myself associate particular lures with specific geography or fisheries – the best of the best know how to apply them situationally, even when they’re “not supposed to work.” Apparently I wasn’t the only one who wouldn’t have expected it. Onstage, Lee said, “I don’t know if there’s ever been a hair jig thrown on the Harris Chain, but they will bite it.” Great minds think alike.

Old Guy Equipment Tip of the Day – At 19 or 22 or 28, it’s easy to be full of spit and vinegar and energy, but longevity in the sport requires dutifully taking care of one’s physical plant. Hall of Famers including Denny Brauer and Larry Nixon saw their late-career effectiveness limited by physical maladies, some of which required surgeries. Yesterday I lightheartedly made fun of Ed Loughran’s (8th, 60-11) culling system, which I speculated was older than Trey McKinney. Today I noticed that Loughran had a butt seat in his boat, one of the few you’ll ever see on the Elite Series, at least on waters smaller than the Great Lakes. For the 53 year-old Loughran, it’s likely a matter of self-preservation – fishing six or seven days in a row (postponements notwithstanding) likely isn’t as easy as it was for him pre-Y2K. Alas, since I’m six months older than him I need to take this one to heart, but if he brings out his Color-C-Lector or pistol grip rods in Palatka he’s on his own.

Impacts of Boat Traffic – Today we watched KJ Queen (3rd, 72-0) catch a bass literally out of the prop wash of a passing boat. We’ve also seen multiple quality fish caught out of highly-trafficked areas like locks. For years it’s been an article of faith that boats and electronics and human noises turn fish off, but apparently that’s not always the case. Fish that reside semi-permanently in major thoroughfares may not care about it at all – or it might in some cases be a bite-enhancer.

Past BASS Garrett – Arkansas pro Doug Garrett won back-to-back Megabucks events in 1997 and 1998, the first in Texas and the second in Tennessee. He is widely credited with exposing and popularizing the soft plastic tube as a flipping lure. He fished his last Bassmaster tournament in 2008.

Build it and They Will Come – Jordan Lee: “I couldn’t figure out why they were there, but they were there. That’s all that matters.”

Rollie Fingers Award – Between KJ Queen and Brad Whatley (10th, 56-0), this may have been the greatest fish-off between two mustaches in Elite Series history. Even with newly-grown whiskers, Trey McKinney (6th, 65-7) is not in their league.

Lure that Got a Boost From BASS Coverage – Queen Tackle Switchblade Tungsten Jig.

Dave Mercer – “Topwater fish should be worth more, don’t you think?”

Ronnie Moore – “This tournament’s been 19 days long.”

Longstanding Grudges — “He’s taken a trophy away from me a time or two,” said Jason Christie (9th, 60-10), looking semi-menacingly at Jordan Lee in the Yeti Hot Seat.

Current AOY Leader Trey McKinney — “Honestly, we just kind of go fishing.”

Garretts Not in Attendance (Real) – Myles Garrett, Leif Garrett, Garrett Morris

Garretts Not in Attendance (Fictional) – Edna Garrett, Kelly Garrett

Sponsorship Opportunity – Tyler Williams giggle ringtones.