Lucas vs. Bertrand: May the best friend win AOY

img_4409.jpg

James Overstreet
Justin Lucas and Brandon Palaniuk watches as Josh Bertrand wins his first Elite Series event.

WADDINGTON, N.Y. — When asked about the Toyota Angler of the Year race Saturday, which he was leading for the first time this season, Justin Lucas said, “It’s definitely very much on my mind – every single fish. But I was hoping it wouldn’t be between me and a good friend of mine.”

Lucas was referring to Josh Bertrand. The next day it became apparent to everyone just how close the friendship is between the two. Lucas weighed 24 pounds, 3 ounces to take the lead Sunday in the Huk Bassmaster Elite at the St. Lawrence River presented by Black Velvet.

With only two anglers left to weigh-in, Lucas pointed to Bertrand and said, “If I can’t win, there’s nobody I want to win more than Josh Bertrand.”

Saying it is one thing. Showing it is another. When Bertrand weighed 23-1 to top Lucas by 13 ounces – 95-3 to 94-6 – Lucas and Bertrand hugged with so much enthusiasm it was hard to tell who’d won.

“That meant the world to me,” Bertrand said.

Lucas and Bertrand have suddenly turned the Toyota AOY race into a head-to-head matchup. After this final regular season tournament, Lucas has the lead with 716 points. Bertrand trails by only nine points. Third-place Bradley Roy, who was leading coming into this event, is now 59 points behind Lucas with no chance to catch him in the 50-angler field at the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship at Georgia’s Lake Chatuge, Sept. 20-23.

This Lucas vs. Bertrand battle is particularly interesting because of their friendship. Bertrand, a 29-year-old Arizona native, joined the Elite Series in 2013. Lucas, a 32-year-old California native, came over from the FLW circuit in 2014.

“He’s one of my best friends,” Bertrand said of Lucas. “We were both from the West and younger guys, and we decided to start rooming together when he came to the Elite Series. We’ve become really good friends. We have a lot in common. He’s taught me a lot.”

Both anglers are married with young children now, and Lucas lives in Guntersville, Ala.,, but they remain close.

“We still talk almost every day when we’re fishing,” Bertrand said.

They’ve got even more to talk about after Sunday’s nail-biter of a final. It seems the 2018 Toyota Angler of the Year title has come down to this: May the best friend win.