By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
With three of the eight regular-season events in the books, which angler among the current top 5 in the FLW Tour Angler of the Year (AOY) race is the unlikeliest to be there?
Some might say Jared McMillan, the rookie from Florida who sits atop the points standings. McMillan, though, was an unknown quantity coming into the year, with no top-level track record to go on and thus no basis for expectations either way. And on top of that, two of the three events have taken place in his home state.
Instead, the nod might have to go to Texan Jordan Osborne, who sits at No. 4 in the points. He came in with a two-year ledger of Tour-level finishes, and it wasn't pretty. In 13 derbies, he'd finished 111th or worse 10 times.
He appears to have figured something out this year, though, as he began the campaign with a solid finish (46th) at Lake Okeechobee, and things have only improved from there. He posted a career-best 9th in the previous tournament at Lake Lanier.
"More than anything, it's between the ears," he said when asked to pinpoint the basis for his turnaround. "After two years of struggling, I can definitely look back and say I've learned a lot about what not to do.
"It's been kind of a steep learning curve for me, but I feel like I'm finally coming into my own. I'm learning more about what kind of angler I am and what my fishing strengths are, and I'm getting more efficient with my practices and making better decisions. It's really just growth and knowledge."
Got a Late Start
The 33-year-old Osborne doesn't have as much tournament experience as the vast majority of his fellow Tour pros – even the youngest rookies. He didn't fish his first tournament at any level until he was 27.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder was a baseball standout in high school and expected to continue with that sport through college, but injuries brought an end to that plan. He then decided to take a crack at collegiate golf, but that didn't work out, either.
He'd long wanted to try competitive fishing, but time and money presented roadblocks for awhile. He was eventually able to purchase his first bass boat with proceeds from the combination pawn shop/tackle store that he's owned for the past eight years.
"it's growing," he said. "We started the tackle side about four years ago and it's slowly getting better.
"At some point in the future I'll probably have to look at splitting them off. They complement each other in a way, but they also limit each other in terms of where they need to be located and the hours they need to be open."
He qualified for the Tour via a strong 2015 season as a co-angler. He cashed a check from the back seat in every event that year, placing 45th or better in six of the seven tournaments (the other outing was a respectable 63rd).
Venturing Out of Comfort Zone
A newfound willingness to veer away from his preferred fishing style led to Osborne's strong showing at Lanier. He caught his fish on a small swimbait in water as deep 40 feet – a technique he'd worked on at a lake near his home that also contains spotted bass.
"I've always had a resistance to getting offshore – I like to fish stuff related to the bank or some type of (shallow) structure," he said. "It was hard for me to get out there in what I call 'no man's land' in the middle of a body of water.
"I forced myself to do it and it definitely paid off. The fishing was painfully slow with a 1/4-ounce jighead and 10-pound line. I'd zing it as far as I could, then I had to let it get to the bottom and crawl it – keeping it on the bottom meant turning the reel handle really slow. I really had to concentrate and make sure I felt the bottom."
He viewed his advancement to the final day (and actually moving up one place in the last round) as another big step in his progression. The two previous times he'd made the initial cut (to the top 20 last year and the top 30 this year), things hadn't gone well after that.
"It's not like I marched up the leaderboard (on the weekend), but I still caught them pretty good all four days and that gives me confidence going forward. It eliminates some of the nerves and pressure I felt before."
Now that he's had such a good start, what's his objective for the remainder of the season? When it's over, he wants to be three places higher in the points standings than where he currently sits.
"My goal at the beginning of the year was to finish in the top 100 to requalify for next year and not have to have my fingers crossed about getting back in. Now, to have a legitimate shot at the Angler of the Year with 40 percent of the season over with, that's an opportunity that very few guys have every year.
"Being in that position, I have to shoot for it. I'm going to go out and try to win every tournament that's left and it'll work out however it works out."