Consistency gives Largen lead in Kayak Series AOY standings

For the first time this season, we have a lead change in the Old Town Bassmaster Kayak Angler of the Year standings.

With a fifth-place finish at the Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series powered by TourneyX at Lewis Smith Lake, Virginia angler Justin Largen has taken the lead in the AOY race with 972 points. Largen logged his third top 10 finish of the year at Smith Lake, adding to a season that includes a victory at the Harris Chain of Lakes and an eighth-place showing at Grand Lake.

“Going into Grand and into Smith, they weren’t places I have fished before and I didn’t have a ton of confidence, but my goal was to be competitive and stay relevant,” he said. “Don’t have a bomb and take myself out of it. To be leading it feels great.”

He is followed closely by West Virginia angler Larry Edwards (967 points) and Garrett Morgan (950), who led the AOY standings through the first three events.

After a couple of lackluster events in other tournament series before the start of the Bassmaster Kayak Series season, Largen arrived at Lake Fork in February, and in freezing, low water conditions on the East Texas Reservoir, Largen figured out a pattern on Day 2 that helped him grind out an 18th-place finish.

“Fork was really a turning point for me,” he said. “It was tough fishing, and the first day I had one bass and was 66th out of 150. The second day I decided I needed to get bites and picked up a spinning rod. I had seen a turtle at some point on Day 1 near the surface and didn’t think a whole lot of it. But later that night I started thinking that the surface water was a little warmer and that the fish might be holding shallower. I was dragging a Carolina rig and maybe I was dragging it underneath them. So on the second day all I did was fish a wacky rigged Missile 48 worm on 6-pound line, and it was like a different lake. I had 95 inches.”

Largen then went to Florida and won at the Harris Chain, giving him his first ever national level victory in a field of anglers he greatly respects.

“When I saw B.A.S.S. was doing an Angler of the Year, I signed up for all of them right away,” he said. “The win was huge for me. It was my first win at a national level and there were a bunch of big names fishing. It was a huge confidence boost.”

Growing up on the Potomac River, Largen has grown into a power fisherman and would try to force a power bite during tough days. But this season, Largen has been more willing to pick up a spinning rod and finesse fish more, an attitude change that has made all of the difference this season.

“That was something I noticed last year I wasn’t doing a lot of. I might bring a spinning rod or two, but I would try and force the power fishing,” he said. “This year, I have kept a spinning rod in my hand when it has been tough or the fish have had a lot of pressure. A lot of the lakes we’ve fished have been really pressured, and I have caught a lot of fish with that spinning rod.”

Largen added that a simpler approach has also helped his confidence.

“I’m not taking quite as much gear as I usually do,” he said. “I own a ton of stuff, but I found the more things you take the more weight is in the boat. In addition to cluttering the boat, it clutters my head. Just having the Missile line of plastics and jigs, I can eliminate a lot of extra stuff I take, and if I’m not getting bit, I need to change techniques and think about the rate of fall.”

The Angler of the Year will be decided by an angler’s four best finishes. So with five regular season events, the worst finish for each angler who fished all five tournaments will be dropped. Anglers who planned on fishing four events have either completed their seasons or have one event left.

With this format, there is still plenty to be decided.

Drew Gregory is one of the anglers who has completed just three events so far that could make a run at the title. With two wins under his belt at Grand Lake and the most recent event at Smith Lake, he is in 11th-place in the AOY standings. He will no doubt jump up the leaderboard with a solid finish at the final event.

“I sat down and did the math to figure out what I needed to do in relation to Drew to hang onto the lead,” Largen said. “Eric Siddiqi is another one who hasn’t fished four events yet, and he looks further down in the standings than he actually is. And he has won on Pickwick before. (Larry) Edwards has back-to-back fourths, and he is another one who is really good. I know I’m going to need a really good tournament at Pickwick.”

Anglers will complete the 2022 season with a two-day shootout at renowned Pickwick Lake Oct. 8-9. Not only will the Angler of the Year be crowned, but it will be the final chance to qualify for the 2023 National Championship that will be held in conjunction with the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk in Knoxville, Tenn.