Let’s play a little game of “Pick the Pros”, shall we?
Taking a quick glance at the newly announced 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series schedule, a couple of things popped out at me. First, the Elites won’t be fishing on the West Coast in 2017, as has been the chatter among the pros the past several months. Second, it looks like BASSfest and the Toyota Texas Bass Classic will be folded together into a new version of Texas Fest (more on this later this week).
More importantly, though, I perceive a schedule that plays to a broader group of anglers than the 2014 and 2015 lineups did: no tidal fisheries (it’s no accident that Justin Lucas has won two of the past four tidally influenced Elite events), no foreseeable “Whammy” fisheries like the Sabine River or California Delta to send half the field’s season down the toilet.
So who will fare the best in 2017? Here are a trio of anglers you can expect to see in the thick of the Angler of the Year race next season.
THE FAVORITES x 2: Ehrler, Powroznik
This is the year that GoPro angler Brent Ehrler gets his feet all the way under him and challenges for the AOY, or the year that Livingston pro Jacob Powroznik seals the deal after several “near-miss” seasons.
First, on Ehrler: The 2017 schedule notwithstanding, the amiable SoCal pro became a threat to win an AOY the second he joined the Elites in 2015 – he’s just that good. However, the 2017 lineup is pretty Ehrler-friendly.
Ehrler should fare extremely well at Cherokeee Lake in Tennessee and Lake Okeechobee in Florida to start the season (the former being a diverse, multi-species, foothills lake of the kind that he excels on, the latter being a lake that he finished second on the last time the FLW Tour stopped there in 2012). I don’t expect him to falter in the spring events on Toledo Bend Reservoir, Ross Barnett Reservoir, Sam Rayburn Lake and Lake Dardanelle.
Don’t let tournament results fool you with the three Northern-Tier smallmouth fisheries we finish the season with, either. Ehrler hasn’t had much tournament success on Lake St. Clair, but it’s one of his favorite fisheries in the country. And as he puts it “It’s only a matter of time before I find the Mother Lode there.”
Now, about Powroznik …
Here’s a little trivia that I bet you didn’t know: Proz has finished in the Top 6 in Angler of the Year standings the past five consecutive seasons on the FLW Tour and Elite Series. If he holds serve at the Mississippi River and AOY Championship at Mille Lacs this month, that’ll give him SIX Top 6s in a row on the two major tours!
Nobody on the Elites or the Tour can match that sustained level of excellence over the past half-decade. Not Hackney, not A-Mart, not The G.O.A.T.
My official early picks for 2017 AOY: 1. Ehler; 2. Powroznik.
I get the feeling that somewhere in a deer blind in central Arkansas, Livingston pro Stetson Blaylock is giggling to himself right now.
This is a slightly premature observation – we’re still a couple months away from official 2017 Elite invitations being sent out, so we don’t know which pros will actually fish the Elites – but if Blaylock indeed decides to jump from FLW to B.A.S.S. in 2017, he’ll be an immediate Tour-tested AOY threat along the lines of Livingston teammate Powroznik, Randall Tharp, Jason Christie, Lucas and Ehrler.
It’s a good schedule for Blaylock, too: he’s familiar with Okeechobee, Sam Rayburn, Champlain and the Arkansas River (Lake Dardanelle), he’s diverse, and he’s exceptionally sharp with his Garmin electronics. He’ll find the right fish.
Get used to seeing Blaylock’s name in the Top 20, and don’t be surprised if you see him fishing on Championship Sunday a couple of times in 2017.