By Todd Ceisner
(Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a 2-part series reviewing the top stories of 2017 as selected by the BassFan staff. Part 2 will be published tomorrow.)
As another year comes to an end so, too, does another chapter in the anthology of professional bass fishing – and what a gripping 12 months it was.
From the two marquee events in the sport being won by 20-somethings to the greatest angler the sport has ever seen adding another trophy to his mantle in the year he turned 50, coupled with all the compelling storylines that unfolded in between, 2018 will have its hands full trying to surpass what BassFans were treated to this past year.
There were dominant performances from the likes of Mark Rose, Bryan Thrift and Brandon Palaniuk to go with memorable standout efforts turned in by Timmy Horton, who snapped out of a lengthy winless drought, and Tom Monsoor, who finally captured the first big win of his career.
Off the water, there was plenty to talk about as well. From rule changes to further consolidation within the industry, the business side of the sport offered plenty to ponder.
The BassFan staff has highlighted 10 memorable moments/events from the past 12 months and we’ll expand of them in a two-part series that will span today and tomorrow. They are arranged in no particular order of importance. You may disagree with what did or didn't make the cut. As always, we’d like to hear your thoughts – feedback is always welcomed.
Youth Is Served
If 2017 is remembered for one thing, it will be the youth movement that continued to be a theme across both the Elite Series and FLW Tour. Sure, the old guard and established veterans had their days in the sun (some of whom you’ll read about in this series), but with both the Bassmaster Classic and Forrest Wood Cup being won by 20-somethings – it was the first time since 2006 that has happened – it’s evident the new wave of pro anglers is a talented bunch.
Throw in Elite Series newcomer Jacob Wheeler’s win at Cherokee Lake, rookie Dustin Connell's victory at Ross Barnett Reservoir, which fueled his run to Rookie of the Year, and Brandon Palaniuk capturing the Elite Series Angler of the Year title, and 2017 was a banner year for the sub-30 crowd.
Justin Atkins put on a topwater fishing clinic in winning the Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Murray in August.
The highlight of this year’s youth movement, undoubtedly, was Lee's out-of-left-field rally on the final day of the Bassmaster Classic at Lake Conroe.
Not only did the 25-year-old former Bassmaster College Series champion erase a 13 1/2-pound deficit, he overtook 14 other anglers with his 27-04 stringer on day 3. No previous Classic winner had ever overcome such a massive deficit or rallied from so far down the leaderboard. Here’s the kicker: His outboard malfunctioned on the final morning and wouldn’t accelerate past idle speed, so he was basically committed to the spot he started on, which turned out to be the honey hole of all honey holes.
About 4 1/2 months after Lee’s triumph, his close friend Justin Atkins, a 27-year-old FLW Tour rookie who’d recently gotten married, grabbed the headlines with his eye-popping win in the Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Murray. What was expected to be a tough summertime tournament saw Atkins average nearly 20 pounds per day, thanks to a big pencil-popper bait that he fished above cane piles.
Rose Blooms Early
With B.A.S.S. moving the Bassmaster Classic back to March to alleviate worries about inclimate weather impacting the event, it opened the door for someone to steal the early-season spotlight. Mark Rose was happy to oblige by winning the first two FLW Tour events to kick off the season.
Over the course of three weeks in February, Rose took over the bass fishing universe by conquering Lake Guntersville with a last-cast 5 1/2-pounder on the final day, then going to Lake Travis in Texas, where he rallied past Thrift to capture his fifth career FLW Tour victory. Rose’s feat was momentous for a couple reasons – the win in Texas was his first FLW victory away from the Tennessee River and it moved him into some pretty select company with five-time Tour winners (Scott Martin, Brent Ehrler and David Fritts are the others).
Rose’s fast start helped him make the Forrest Wood Cup, but his year came to a painful end as he continued to battle carpal tunnel and tendonitis in his right arm, ailments he’s been able to bounce back from with the help of an exercise regimen.
Horton Ends Drought
The week after Rose’s Texas triumph, another veteran stepped back into the spotlight, this time on the Elite Series. The last time Timmy Horton tasted victory was in July 2007 at Lake Champlain, an event most remember for his final-day dominance that allowed him to check in early and enjoy a takeout pizza at the dock while the rest of the finalists were still on the water.
Check out the look of joy on Timmy Horton's face after his win at Lake Okeechobee back in February.
Lake Okeechobee was far from a cakewalk. Despite catching 30-04 on day 2, Horton managed 11-07 on the final day to hold off day-1 leader Ott DeFoe.
One of the lasting images of the year will be an emotional Horton collapsing to his knees and elbows on stage on the final day the moment he was declared the winner by 1-04.
"I really think this one feels better than any of the others, to be honest with you," Horton said. "I know how hard it is to win out here, and to get back on top just feels incredible."
No Denying Thrift
As impressive as the start to Rose’s season was, Thrift was just as prolific and he was able to carry the momentum through the rest of the FLW Tour season en route to a second career Angler of the Year title, largely thanks to a 4-inch worm.
His 46-point triumph over Andy Morgan came after two hiccups (by Thrift standards) at the Mississippi River (59th) and Potomac River (48th), which highlighted his distaste for river systems.
But Thrift’s dominance wasn’t limited to just the FLW Tour. He was a threat to win every time he launched his boat, no matter the venue or circuit.
After the conclusion of the Beaver Lake FLW Tour, where Thrift finished 3rd, he was on pace for the greatest FLW Tour season ever in terms of percentage of available AOY points earned.
He followed up his consecutive runner-up finishes behind Rose with a 2nd-place at the Lake Seminole Southeastern FLW Series, then finished 6th at the Harris Chain FLW Tour the following week. He capped the year with a 4th-place showing at the Forrest Wood Cup, his sixth straight top-7 finish in FLW’s championship derby.
Johnny Be Good
It’s easy to understand why Johnny McCombs was in a state of disbelief following his victory in April at Beaver Lake.
The Alabama angler had spent the last 14 or so years out of fishing and battling substance abuse. Six days before Mother’s Day in 2016, he got clean and decided to throw his hat back in the FLW Tour ring.
Over the course of four rainy days in northwest Arkansas – the water at Beaver rose at least nine feet between the start of practice and the end of competition – he displayed the skills that Morgan knew he had all along. A buzzbait accounted for the majority of McCombs’ catches, with the others coming on a jig that he used as a follow-up bait.
End Part 1 (of 2)