In the final analysis, it was the most intense Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race in Bassmaster Elite Series history. And not just at the top, where Scott Canterbury didn’t clinch the AOY crown until the final hours of the final day at Lake St. Clair. It was also a nail-biter for the final Bassmaster Classic berth, which this year was 42nd place in the AOY standings. It came down to the tiebreaker there, where Jake Whitaker got the nod over Garrett Paquette after both finished the 10-tournament season with 611 AOY points.
First, let’s take a look back at the road to Canterbury’s title. Ultimately, no single tournament is more important than another in this format, where every event is scored the same: 100 points for first place, decreasing by a point for each place below first in the final tournament standings.
However, in retrospect the key moments in the season for each angler become clear. For Canterbury, it was Day 2 at Lake Tenkiller. He was facing only his second missed Top 35 cut of the season in the final regular season event. Canterbury launched in the last flight that day and needed every minute of his 4 p.m. check-in time. At 3 p.m., he estimated he had 5 pounds, at best.
That wouldn’t have been enough to make the two-day cut. He finished Day 1 in 30th place with 8 pounds, 15 ounces. Another 5 pounds on Day 2 would have left him in the neighborhood of 45th place. But Canterbury culled up to 8-9 in the final hour. Those 3 1/2 added pounds gave him a 28th-place two-day total of 17-8. Canterbury moved up to 19th place on Day 3. The difference between 45th place and 19th place is 26 AOY points, and the implications are plain to see.
For Canterbury’s three closest AOY contenders, it’s all about what-ifs of a different nature. When you look at Chris Zaldain’s season, his hiccup is obvious – a 65th-place finish at South Carolina’s Winyah Bay. What’s unapparent in black-and-white is how confident Zaldain was after three days of practice there. An incredible season that included three second-place finishes and five top 10s wasn’t enough to overcome the puzzling performance at Winyah Bay.
Stetson Blaylock won at Winyah Bay and missed only two Top 35/Day 2 cuts all season. But his miss at Lake Guntersville appears huge in the rearview mirror because the other three eventual AOY contenders finished significantly better: Zaldain was 2nd, Canterbury 22nd and Cory Johnston 33rd.
Then there is Cory Johnston, the first-year Elite Series angler from Cavan, Ontario, who was anything but an Elite Series rookie. Johnston, however, made a “rookie mistake” at the St. Lawrence River. After surviving a near-disastrous first day of mechanical failures, he managed to catch 22-5. It would have put him in seventh place in the Day 1 standings.
However, the Daylight Savings Time change hadn’t been made to the electronics in the borrowed boat that Johnston ended up using that day. Only when he was easing back up the St. Lawrence River to check-in, thinking he had plenty of time, did Johnston pick up his cellphone and realize the discrepancy. He made it to check-in seven minutes late, suffering a pound-per-minute penalty.
Johnston started Day 2 in 60th place and still almost made the Top 35 cut. He weighed 21-7, which left him in 36th place, 2 ounces behind 35th-place Seth Feider. Without the penalty, Johnston’s two-day total of 43-12 would have put him in ninth place.
To add another $10,000 ding in what was otherwise a stellar debut on the Elite Series, Johnston lost the AOY second-place tiebreaker to Blaylock. Second place in the AOY points race paid $55,000; third place paid $45,000.
The tiebreaker is the individual season-long weigh-in totals on full field days – in other words, Days 1 and 2 during the nine regular season events and all three days of the AOY Championship. The final totals: Blaylock 354 pounces, 0 ounces; Johnston 353 pounds, 4 ounces – yet another reminder of the 7-pound penalty at the St. Lawrence River.
And speaking of that tiebreaker, it’s what determined the 42nd and final berth to the GEICO Bassmaster Classic. And it was a heartbreaker for Elite Series rookie Garrett Paquette of Canton, Mich. Entering the AOY Championship, Paquette was 38th in the points standings and had accumulated 242 pounds in the tiebreaker category. Jake Whitaker, the 2018 Elite Series rookie of the year from Fairview, N.C., was just outside the Classic cut in 43rd place. His tiebreaker accumulation was 223-13, nearly 20 pounds less than Paquette.
Whitaker finished 24th at Lake St. Clair with a three-day total of 56-2. Paquette failed to catch a five-bass limit all three days and finished 48th with 29-10. Both finished with AOY totals of 611 points. Their final tiebreaker totals: Whitaker 279-15; Paquette 271-10.
Tournament Canterbury Blaylock Johnston Zaldain
- St. Johns River 9th 52nd # 8th 36th
- Lake Lanier 11th 8th 49th # 2nd *
- Lake Hartwell 22nd 2nd 14th 25th
- Winyah Bay 2nd * 1st * 3rd * 65th #
- Lake Fork 49th # 16th 9th 13th
- Lake Guntersville 22nd 50th 33rd 2nd *
- St. Lawrence River 3rd 23rd 36th 9th
- Cayuga Lake 11th 8th 7th 3rd
- Lake Tenkiller 19th 8th 3rd * 2nd *
- AOY/Lake St. Clair 14th 2nd 8th 15th
Average finish 16.2 17 17 17.2
AOY points 848 840 840 838
Tiebreaker – lbs./oz. 337-12 354-0 353-4 355-8
* Best finish # Worst finish
Tournament Whitaker Paquette
11. St. Johns River 50th 69th #
12. Lake Lanier 64th # 34th
13. Lake Hartwell 12th * 26th
14. Winyah Bay 15th 29th
15. Lake Fork 57th 2nd *
16. Lake Guntersville 61st 28th
17. St. Lawrence River 32nd 48th
18. Cayuga Lake 58th 54th
19. Lake Tenkiller 26th 61st
20. AOY/Lake St. Clair 24th 48th
Average finish 39.9 39.9
AOY points 611 611
Tiebreaker – lbs./oz. 279-15 271-10
* Best finish # Worst finish