Although a closer finish than he wanted, Clark Wendlandt was proud to add a Bassmaster Angler of the Year title to his resume, which he said stands as the most special accolade in his career.
“This the most coveted for all the fishermen,” he said. “You ask the anglers, and 95% would say that’s the award they’d rather win. There’s no trophy in bass fishing that compares to it. Maybe the fans don’t say it, but the fishermen would say this is the one we want the most.
“It’s different than the Classic. That’s just one event, a huge tournament, but it’s still just one. This is a full season, so I had to fish better than everybody else for a full season.”
Wendlandt finished the nine Elite Series events with a three-point margin to add the Bassmaster award to his three AOY crowns with FLW. That it came down to the final moments wasn’t in Wendlandt’s dream script, but he did have to climb over two others in the final event to regain the top spot he had held several times in the season.
David Mullins led going into the season finale, the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife, with 623 points, and Austin Felix, who won Rookie of the Year, was second with 618. Wendlandt was third at 607. When Mullins finished 47th at Fork to total 677 AOY points and Felix (68th) fell out of contention, Wendlandt went on to fish Day 3 needing to finish 31st or better.
Things got razor thin. As others topped his weight, Wendlandt fell from his Day 2 19th-place standing and, at one point, was 30th, prompting Bassmaster TV’s Mark Zona to offer a worrisome “Ay-yi-yi.” But Wendlandt landed his fourth fish late to finish with 7 pounds, 4 ounces, giving him 28th at Fork and a narrow AOY victory, 680-677.
“Days 1 and 2, I maximized what I had,” Wendlandt said. “I used up my fish to get in position. The last day, I basically just had to go fishing because I didn’t have any more fish.”
As anglers do, Wendlandt had made his calculations.
“I had figured it up. I felt like 4 pounds, I had a shot. Six or 7, I pretty much could win,” he said. “I was in 19th place, and I was figuring I had 8 pounds on 30th place. I knew I didn’t need a whole lot. If I got to 7 pounds, then I had 15 pounds on 30th place and not that many guys could pass me.”