With two regular season Bassmaster Elite Series events left in the 2017 season, points are at a premium right now and the days are getting shorter and shorter for those looking to make up ground for the Classic. While anglers battle at the Classic bubble, the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year fight at the top is getting more and more interesting with every cast of a rod. There were two anglers that made every single check this season until they arrived at the St. Lawrence River, but once the tournament concluded and everyone headed to this week's event, Ott DeFoe and Mark Davis had to cross their names off the list. In 2016, Gerald Swindle was the only angler to cash a check in every event, but no one will take that honor this year.
Having a bomb of a finish is almost inevitable and timing it is almost impossible, but it is important for an angler's success to bomb only early in the year. You may wonder why, but the proof is somewhat in the pudding at this point in the year. Current AOY leader Brandon Palaniuk's worst event was at stop no. 2 where he finished 105th. Casey Ashley missed the cut and finished his season worst 61st at the first event of the season. Kevin VanDam also logged his worst finish so far in 2017 at the opening event of the season.
Meanwhile we look at Ott DeFoe and Mark Davis, two anglers that have been in the top five in points all year, with DeFoe leading for four events this year. They both logged their worst finishes of the season last week in Waddington. With a 99th for DeFoe and a 75th for Davis, their ill-advised letdown caused them to drop from first and fifth to 10th (DeFoe) and ninth (Davis). Now both sit 79 and 82 points behind.
Brandon Palaniuk surged to the top spot after a third-place finish at the St. Lawrence River, keeping his excellent streak of fishing in tact. He hasn't finished outside the top 20 since Lake Okeechobee, which happens to be his only misstep this season. He has racked up finishes of 12th, 105th, fifth, 18th, first, 12th and third this season, but only has a eight-point lead over second place Casey Ashley.
Ashley has been a rock-solid angler this year and if not for 3 ounces, he would have two more Top 12s to his credit this year. His finishes have laid out as so: 61st, 31st, fourth, 34th, 13th, 13th and eighth respectively and they have him less than 10 points off the AOY leader's pace.
Kevin VanDam has missed two checks this season with one coming by an ounce at Sam Rayburn. His worst finish was the start to 2017 at Cherokee Lake. Mix in three top three finishes and he has himself 17 points behind in his quest for an eighth AOY win. His finishes are as follows: 61st, 24th, 29th, second, 52nd, third and first.
Having a bomb to start the season isn't always a curse, but bombing near the end kills what momentum you built and doesn't spare much time to gain it back.
With some hectic days ahead on Lake Champlain and Lake St. Clair, the AOY battle should genuinely come down to a duel on Mille Lacs where multiple anglers could still be vying for the trophy.
Here is how the Top 13 lays out and how many points they trail Brandon Palaniuk. We always want to cap it and say, "This guy can't win because he is this far back," but with all the major comebacks lately, until its a mathematical lock, anything is possible.
1. Brandon Palaniuk 621 points
2. Casey Ashley -8
3. Kevin VanDam -17
4. Jason Christie -27
5. Jacob Wheeler -39
6. Greg Hackney -65
7. Edwin Evers -66
8. James Elam -67
9. Mark Davis -79
10. Ott DeFoe -82
11. Gerald Swindle -88
12. Dustin Connell -94
13. Jamie Hartman -98