The rookie race is all shook up. Six events in to a nine-tournament season, new anglers are in first and second place in Falcon Rods Bassmaster Rookie of the Year points for the first time in 2022.
The oldest of the 10 Elite Series rookies, Joseph Webster, 47, of Hamilton, Ala., had been second to longtime leader Jay Przekurat after the previous three tournaments. He surged into the lead with a 26th-place finish in the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake. Przekurat finished 66th at Pickwick.
Webster wasn’t the only rookie to take advantage of his familiarity with Tennessee River ledge fishing. Jacob Foutz and Cody Huff have known each other since their college competition days at Bryan College and Bethel University, respectively. Both schools are near Tennessee River impoundments, and that experience was obvious at Pickwick. Huff finished second and Foutz was fourth.
Here’s how tight the ROY race is now: Webster leads with 373 points. Foutz is second only three points back. Pzekurat is still in the thick of it, only 18 points behind Webster, as the Elite Series moves north over July and August to waters more familiar to the Wisconsin native.
Pickwick was more important to Huff than any other rookie. The 25-year-old Ava, Mo., native was expected to be a ROY contender after a stellar college career and a first-place finish in Central Opens Angler of the Year race in 2021. He’s now fourth in the ROY standings, only 44 points out of first. That’s exactly where new leader Webster was – 44 points back, but in second place – after Elite Series tournament No. 4 at Chickamauga Lake.
It was by far Huff’s best performance this season. He had previously made only one other top 47/Day 2 cut, at Chickamauga Lake, then followed it with his worst finish of the season, 69th, at Lake Fork.
“It’s a serious deal out here,” Huff said. “It means a whole lot when you’re doing this for a living, and it’s how you pay your bills. It’s not just about catching fish. It’s about getting by.”
Huff jumped 23 places in the overall Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings to 43rd place, which will be close to the qualifying mark for the 2023 Bassmaster Classic. The list for automatic qualifiers for the Classic starts at the top 39 in final AOY points but expands with double qualifiers to somewhere in the low to mid 40s usually.
Fellow rookies Webster (29th), Foutz (31st) and Przekurat (36th) are currently within the Classic qualifying overall AOY points mark.
Another rookie to watch as the Elite Series moves north for the final events of the season is Josh Douglas of Isle, Minn. After a 37th-place finish at Lake Fork and a 28th at Pickwick, Douglas has moved into fifth place in the ROY race, only 74 points out of first. He’s also jumped 23 places in the AOY standings during that time, from 78th to 55th.
“I’m ready to go catch some smallmouth,” said Douglas as he exited the weigh-in stage Saturday at Pickwick.
Plenty of smallmouth bass will be caught as the Elite Season closes with tournaments at the St. Lawrence River in Clayton, N.Y., July 14-17; South Dakota’s Lake Oahe, Aug. 18-21; and the Mississippi River at La Crosse, Wis., Aug. 26-29.