Wetherell shows depth of Elite Series rookie class

The strength of this year’s Elite Series rookie class was obvious early when rookies won two of the first five tournaments – Joey Cifuentes III at Lake Seminole and Will Davis Jr. at Lay Lake. Alex Wetherell of Middletown, Conn., showed the depth of the rookie class with his eighth-place finish at the Sabine River.

Wetherell, 30, had been mired at the bottom of the Dakota Lithium Batteries Rookie of the Year standings through the first half of the season. And one tournament does not a season make. But Wetherell hadn’t made a Day 2/Top 50 cut until the Sabine, and to advance and compete in the Top 10 on Day 4 was a big confidence boost.

“On a tough fishery, in front of a huge crowd, yeah, it’s a huge confidence boost,” Wetherell said after weighing-in on Day 3 at Orange, Texas.

“I knew I wanted to do this before I was 10 years old,” he said after coming offstage. “In high school, my guidance counselor was like, ‘Alright, Alex, what do you really want to do?’ I said I wanted to be a pro fisherman. He said, ‘That’s cool, that’s cool. But what do you really want to be?’”

When Wetherell won the 2010 Junior Bassmaster World Championship at the age of 17, anyone’s questions about what Alex Wetherell really wanted to be when he grew up were answered. At the Sabine River, Wetherell answered the main question that was taking shape in his mind after failing to make a Top 50 cut during the first five events. Yes, he can compete at the highest level of professional bass fishing.

With Wetherell’s sixth-place finish at the Sabine, six members of the 11-man rookie class have made a Day 4 final. Davis is the leader in the ROY standings with 449 points, which is also good for sixth place in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.

After every angler’s successful season, he can look back to a crucial day or two. Day 2 at the Sabine will undoubtedly stand out in Davis’ mind. He was in 81st place after Day 1. The 30-year-old Sylacauga, Ala., pro jumped 50 places in the standings on Day 2 with a 10-pound, 3-ounce limit after weighing almost half that on Day 1. Davis finished 39th in the tournament.

Cifuentes, 34, from Clinton, Ark., continues to have a strong rookie campaign. He finished 37th at the Sabine and is second in the ROY standings, 37 points behind Davis. Bryant Smith of Roseville, Calif., had his worst finish of the season – 69th at the Sabine – but remains in strong contention, only 44 points behind Davis. Rounding out the top five are Kyoya Fujita of Minamitsuru, Japan, 56 points out of the lead, and David Gaston of Sylacauga, Ala., 71 points back.

Keep an eye on Canadian Cooper Gallant, 25, of Bowmanville, Ontario. He’s in sixth place in the ROY standings, 106 points behind Davis. But as the 2023 Elite Series closes with three tournaments at smallmouth bass-dominant waters – Lake St. Clair, Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River – Gallant is capable of making a charge.

See the full ROY standings here.