UPCOMING EVENT: Costa FLW Series - 2018 - Lake Okeechobee

Another Top 20 Puts Sprague in the AOY Lead

Jeff Sprague

It generally takes an average finish of 20th place or better per tournament to win the Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year race. Yet no one has ever won AOY and actually finished in the top 20 at every event.

Maybe history will be made this season. With his 14th-place finish at Pickwick Lake, Keystone Light pro Jeff Sprague is the new AOY leader, and he’s on pace for the top-20 sweep. Sprague also has finishes of 15th at Lake Okeechobee, 13th at Lake Hartwell and third at Beaver Lake.

So let’s get one thing straight: Sprague is on fire right now. He’s got youth. He’s got momentum. And he’s got a two-point lead over former AOY No. 1 John Cox.

The Tour can’t seem to throw anything at Sprague that he can’t handle. From Florida bass to sight-fishing to multi-species options to the postspawn transition, he’s navigated every obstacle.

The next stop at Kentucky Lake should be prime for a ledge-fishing showdown, and Sprague’s power-fishing background will jive well with those conditions. Then it’s on to the finale at Champlain, where anything goes in terms of tactics – deep, shallow, grass, rock, smallmouths, largemouths. Sprague should be able to find something at Champlain that fits his style and fishing preference.

Sprague and Cox have started to separate themselves from the pack now that the Tour is two-thirds finished, but there’s no guarantee that either will be atop the standings when this thing wraps up. Two events is a tall, tall hurdle. Just ask Wesley Strader, who led the AOY race with two tournaments to go last season but ended up finishing sixth.

That means there’s plenty of drama left in store for the 2016 AOY race.

Here’s a quick review of Sprague’s closest competitors.


John Cox

2. John Cox – DeBary, Fla. – 757 points

By no means did John Cox slip up at Pickwick. He finished 21st and cashed a $10,000 check. Twenty-first just isn’t good enough to keep up with Sprague’s pace. That dude’s on fire.

For the record, if Cox had finished one spot higher at Pickwick, he’d also be on pace to sweep the top 20s. For now, he’s a couple of points back of the leader.

Looking ahead, Cox could be at a disadvantage at Kentucky Lake if he chooses to stick to his shallow-or-die mantra. That derby is almost guaranteed to be an offshore event. The entire top 20 might come from the ledges. Rough water is also always a possibility at Kentucky and Champlain, and that might factor into this race since Cox runs a smaller boat than many in the field.

Realistically, however, there’s no slowing Cox down. He finds fish everywhere he goes, and he’s the hottest hand in bass fishing over the last two seasons. If the season ended today, Cox would have logged two consecutive runner-up finishes in the AOY race. That’s pretty dang good.


Jeff Gustafson

3. Jeff Gustafson – Keewatin, Ontario – 722 points

“Gussy” is within striking distance of Sprague with two events left. He’ll be a favorite at the finale on Lake Champlain, where his Northern expertise ought to help him decipher the big, clear-water natural lake, and he should have a positive outlook on Kentucky Lake in between.

Including at the latest event on Pickwick, Gussy has cut checks in five straight Walmart FLW Tour events that were held on the Tennessee River system. Kentucky Lake could make it six, and if he can keep his momentum up and make a top 20, he’ll be right in the thick of it with Sprague and Cox.


Jamie Horton

4. Jamie Horton – Centerville, Ala. – 709 points

In his first season on the FLW Tour, Jamie Horton is holding tight at the top of the AOY standings. If not for a 70th-place hiccup at Beaver Lake, he’d be right there with Sprague. Horton’s other three finishes this season were 18th at Okeechobee, third at Hartwell and fourth at Pickwick.

Horton predicted his struggles at Beaver. He says he doesn’t like clear-water reservoirs. With the Tour headed for Kentucky Lake, he should feel more at home, just like at Pickwick. Horton will probably need the guys ahead of him to slip up if he wants to win AOY, but we’ve seen that happen before.        


Andy Morgan

5. Andy Morgan – Dayton, Tenn. – 705 points

What would an AOY race be without Andy Morgan in it? The Dayton, Tenn., pro is 54 points back of Sprague. That’s a big deficit, but this is the Greatest of All Time we’re talking about here. If Sprague’s smart, he won’t even look at the standings, because it can’t feel good to see Morgan just a few spots behind him.

Morgan has posted back-to-back top-20 finishes in the last two Tour events. Now he’s headed to Kentucky Lake, where he has as much or more experience than anyone else on Tour. Of course he’ll be in the conversation as this race winds down.


The Rest of the Top 10

6. Chris Johnston – Peterborough, Ontario – 703            

7. Stetson Blaylock – Benton, Ark. – 698    

8. Michael Neal – Dayton, Tenn. – 682      

9. Jacob Wheeler – Indianapolis, Ind. – 677         

10. Darrel Robertson – Jay, Okla. – 676     

Complete standings

Tags: curtis-niedermier  article 


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