Before the season began, Josh Stracner told a number of people that the Bassmaster Elite Series Rookie of the Year would “come down to the last day of the last tournament that two of us are fishing.”
Stracner nailed that, however, he had no idea it would be him, especially during an up-and-down season that had him questioning his Elite future.
Going into the ninth and final Elite at the St. Lawrence River, the 37-year-old from Vandiver, Ala., was fifth in the ROY standings. Focused solely on qualifying for the Classic, Stracner didn’t even have the rookie title on his radar, but somehow, some way, he ended up with the hardware.
“I’m not really sure how,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting it. I was just worried about making the Classic. That was my No. 1 goal for sure. That’s all I had on my mind.
“I knew just one bad day at either one of those last two tournaments would have cost me. I didn’t have a good Champlain tournament. I finished 54th. That kind of aggravated me because I actually was catching enough fish to do well. That really got me fired up about getting after it at St. Lawrence and make that Classic happen. That Rookie of the Year was just a bonus for me.”
Stracner had to have a lot of unlikely things happen to make up his 55-point deficit and climb over four others. They did. All of them.
ROY leader KJ Queen and third-place Matt Robertson were in the 90s after Day 1 at the St. Lawrence, allowing Bryan New (35th) to regain the ROY lead. Stracner and Hamner stood 19th and 20th in the event, respectively, putting Hamner three points behind New and Stracner 15 back.
Still, ROY was a stretch for Stracner.
“I didn’t keep up with it,” he said. “I don’t like getting my mind messed up on something like that. I just went out trying to catch everything I could catch.”
On Day 2, New fell to 67th, losing 32 points and his hopes, and Hamner dropped to 31st. After climbing to 16th with his second bag topping 19 pounds, Stracner held a two-point lead heading into Day 3, and he was now aware of the great twist of fate.