Zona’s final take on Elite season


There were great victories by great anglers during the 2016 Bassmaster Elite Series, and while most were remarkable in one sense or another, none will be the season’s top remembrance, Mark Zona said.

The year kicked off with Edwin Evers rallying behind a monster final day bag to win the GEICO Bassmaster Classic. Another special victory came as Rick Clunn, at 69 years old, won his 15th B.A.S.S. tournament, the Elite season opener on the St. Johns River.

Then there were interesting occurrences in the next three events; Britt Myers captured his first title in his home state; Randall Tharp won in a dual-venue tournament; and Takahiro Omori milked a spot to a title.

Heavyweights Kevin VanDam and Greg Hackney posted victories to secure Classic berths, (KVD actually had a record three wins on the year) and Justin Lucas, Ott DeFoe and Seth Feider reeled off victories to close the season.

“This year has just been a year of really, really, historical finishes,” Zona said. “The anglers who won tournaments during the Elite Series, they’re all highly respected, class-act anglers. Those guys are all the pinnacle of a professional angler.”

Zona didn’t pick any event winners as he did the previous year in getting “extremely lucky,” but he did pick KVD and Hackney to win events, so he was kinda close. He said there were some unusual things not normally seen.

“A lot of years, you see a lot of trends and techniques win, but this year has been so all over the map,” he said. “An odd thing about this year, a lot of the guys who won, after Days 1 or 2 they will let out that he had a great practice. We didn’t really have that.

“I think next year is going to have a lot of the same flavor as we had this year, as far as how tournaments are kind of won. It will be a really favorable season for the shallow water guys yet again.”

Gerald Swindle was the benefactor of that as he finished atop the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year point standings for the second time. Zona said he had noticed something different in Swindle’s demeanor.

“This year was a way different Gerald Swindle than I have every covered in the last 12 years,” he said. “I hate to say it, because I don’t want this to sound the wrong way, but he can be a little bit of a basket case. Oh, he’s always in the top 20, but I’ve always said Gerald Swindle’s worst enemy is himself.”

A balky knee late in the year became Swindle’s worst pain, as postseason surgery created a scenario that required an emergency fasciotomy, a lengthy hospital stay and longer recovery. See story here.

Alongside Swindle, another story involved Rookie of the Year Drew Benton. Zona said he proved all the “geniuses, or lack thereof, wrong -- that he not only catches them in the Southeast, that dude has chops everywhere. He’s here for a long time.”