ESCANABA, Mich. — The 2014 Bassmaster Elite Series season makes its final stop next week in Escanaba, Mich., on the shores of Lake Michigan and Big and Little Bays de Noc. Here the 2014 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) will be crowned and dozens of Elite pros will clinch their berths in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell, Feb. 20-22.
AOY is the sport’s most prestigious title, and six anglers still have a chance at the prize. Leading the way is Louisiana’s Greg Hackney, an 11-year veteran of the Bassmaster Tournament Trail and runner-up in the 2004 AOY race as a rookie. Hackney holds a 15-point advantage over defending AOY Aaron Martens and a 17-point edge over Todd Faircloth, the runner-up in 2008.
Further back are Elite rookie Jacob Powroznik, former Elite winner Keith Combs and three-time AOY winner Mark Davis. Though the odds may be against them, these three certainly have the skills to span the points gap and the will to make it happen.
In the 45-year history of the AOY award, only 20 men have won the title, and just three were able to win in consecutive years — Roland Martin (1971-73, 1978-79 and 1984-85), Guido Hibdon (1990-91) and Kevin VanDam (2008-11). Aaron Martens could join this group with another title this year. If Davis wins the award, he will become the oldest AOY winner in history at nearly 51.
The other battle at Bays de Noc will be fought over Bassmaster Classic berths. Nine anglers in the field have already secured spots as either defending Classic champion (Randy Howell), 2014 Elite winners (Brett Hite, Chris Lane, Mike McClelland, Powroznik, Jason Christie, Michael Iaconelli and Hackney) or 2014 Opens winners (Ott DeFoe). The Top 22 anglers in the points race are already mathematically guaranteed a spot in next year’s Classic. The rest of the field will be fighting for another dozen or so berths, including former Classic champs Davy Hite, Alton Jones and Takahiro Omori.
Notably absent from this year’s race is Michigan’s own Kevin VanDam, whose streak of 24 consecutive Classic appearances ended with a disappointing regular season in which he ranked 53rd in the points race, just missing the championship.
Bays de Noc is a world-class smallmouth bass fishery, and anglers are expected to bring hefty catches to the scales each day. With five-bass limits as the norm and an average bass weight between 3 and 4 pounds, competition will be tight and mere ounces may determine not only the AOY race, but also the last few spots in next year’s Classic.
AOY has been decided by a variety of means over the decades, including yearly prize money, pounds and ounces, and a myriad of different points systems and postseason events. This year, the winner of the AOY Championship will earn 100 points, second place gets 99, third place gets 98, etc., down to the 50th and final angler who will earn 51 points. These points will be added to the current tally to determine the AOY final standings.
The full field of 50 anglers will compete on each of the first two days (Thursday and Friday, Sept. 18-19). On Saturday, much of the field will participate in Bassmaster University at Ludington Park where fans can attend seminars and question and answer sessions with many of their favorite pros, including former AOYs Davis, Tim Horton, Iaconelli and Skeet Reese. In the finals on Sunday, the full field will compete again, culminating in the crowning of the 2014 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year and dozens of berths in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
Also on Saturday as part of its Bassmaster Fan and Military Appreciation Day, B.A.S.S. will give a special commemorative Bassmaster cap to the first 250 military service members who come to the B.A.S.S. booth with a military identification card. All 50 Elite anglers will be on hand to sign autographs as well.
From watching the first boats takeoff at 7:30 a.m. on Thurs., Sept. 18 and the final weigh-in at Ludington Park on Sunday at 4 p.m., to participating in the family-friendly Bassmaster Elite Series Expo with national vendors, the activities planned throughout the weekend are free and open to the public. Companies like Mercury, Nitro, Skeeter, Triton, and Yamaha will have booths at the expo and will offer demo rides. Toyota, Carhartt, Berkley, Booyah, Humminbird, Livingston Lures, Lowrance, Minn Kota, Mustang, Plano, Power-Pole, Shimano, Rigid Industries and Costa Sunglasses, will also exhibit. Prior to the weigh-in on Saturday, Costa Sunglasses will debut the sixth episode in the GEOBASS series, Papau New Guinea.
For a complete Bassmaster University Schedule, visit www.bassmaster.com/attend-toyota-bassmaster-angler-year-championship.
The hosts of this event are Bays de Noc Convention and Visitors Bureau and Pure Michigan.