DETROIT, Mich. — As he was nearing the end of a phenomenal New York swing that saw him finish third and 11th at two Bassmaster Elite Series events, Scott Canterbury was asked what it would it mean to him to win the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
It was all he could do to muster even part of an answer.
“It would be a dream come true,” Canterbury said before politely pausing the interview with tears in his eyes.
The Alabama pro and Elite Series newcomer was emotional over the mere prospect of winning one of the of the most prestigious titles in pro fishing. But he knew there was plenty of fishing left to be done.
After this week’s Cherokee Casino Tahlequah Bassmaster Elite at Lake Tenkiller, Canterbury and 49 other qualifiers will finish the season at Lake St. Clair in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship. The tournament will not only determine who wins the AOY Championship, but also the 42 Elite Series pros who will take part in the 50th Bassmaster Classic, scheduled for March 6-8, 2020 on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville.
Competition days for the AOY Championship will be Sept. 29-Oct. 1 with daily takeoffs at 7:10 a.m. ET from Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township, Mich., and weigh-ins back at the park each day at 3:30 p.m.
“Obviously, winning AOY has been a goal of mine since I started in this business,” said Canterbury after taking a moment to gather himself. “But there’s still a lot of season left, and there’s so many good fishermen in this field. It could go right down to the wire.”
As in years past, the AOY Championship carries a whopping total purse of $1 million.
The angler who catches the most weight in the three-day tournament will earn $25,000 and one of the coveted blue trophies awarded to every Elite Series winner. But the real battle will be for the season AOY Championship, which carries a $100,000 prize.
That race began back in February when the Elite Series pros opened their regular season on the St. Johns River in Florida. They’ve since traveled to nine events in six states, with Canterbury taking the lead with 679 points.
Going into this week’s regular-season finale on Tenkiller, Florida’s Drew Cook (660) is second, followed by Texas pro Chris Zaldain (653) and Indiana veteran Bill Lowen (652). Each is vying for his first career AOY title — and when it comes to accomplishing such a lofty career milestone, there may not be a better final proving ground than Lake St. Clair.
The massive lake, which was ranked eighth in Bassmaster Magazine’s 2019 list of 100 Best Bass Lakes, features one of the best smallmouth populations in the country.
“I think it’ll probably take a 21- or 22-pound average per day to win at St. Clair,” Lowen said. “You’ll be able to catch fish any way you want to. They’ll be caught drop shotting, fishing a spinnerbait or crankbait — just about any way you can imagine.”
A noted shallow-water specialist, Lowen says he would normally go into the Detroit River during an event on Lake St. Clair. But since that area will be off-limits for this event, he’ll have to pick a new strategy.
“I’ll either have to fish in the lake or go up the St. Clair River — and neither is a bad option,” he said. “There are a lot of fish in the St. Clair River. And when you talk about fishing the lake, it’s that time of year when there should already be some fish moving shallower.
“I think it’s going to be a really fun event — for the fans and for the anglers.”
Beyond the $100,000 payout for first place in the AOY race, the competition pays $55,000 for second place, $45,000 for third place and gradually decreases throughout the field. Even the anglers who finish 26th through 50th will earn $11,000.
The event will have a true postseason feel as festivities begin at noon Saturday, with all 50 anglers taking part in the Bassmaster Outdoors Expo at Lake St. Clair Metropark.
From 1-4 p.m., anglers will sign autographs, pose for photographs and conduct seminars, while fans are also treated to boat demo rides, food vendors and displays from industry leaders like Toyota, Carhartt, Yamaha, T-H Marine and Power-Pole.
The local hosts for this event are the Sterling Heights Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Macomb County and Huron-Clinton Metroparks (HCMA), Lake St. Clair Metropark.