UPCOMING EVENT: Costa FLW Series - 2019 - Santee Cooper

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AOY Update: Smith Lake 

AOY Update: Smith Lake 
Mark Rose

Finishing 54th and cutting a check is hardly a slip-up for an FLW Tour pro. Then again, it’s not good for Bryan Thrift’s chances at winning a second consecutive Pennzoil Marine Angler of the Year title, either.

Thrift took over the AOY lead when he won at Cumberland earlier this month. Then he went to Alabama two weeks later and posted a respectable 54th-place finish. It’s been a good month for Thrift, and by all means he still is in contention. But the reality is his chances took a big hit simply because he fell behind in the standings to two studs who get to finish out the season on fisheries that perfectly suit their skillsets.

Mark Rose, the new leader, is one of the favorites at the next Tour event on Kentucky Lake in May, and he’s been one of the hottest bass pros on the planet over the last 14 months. Second-place pro Chris Johnston will be favored just as heavily at the finale on St. Clair. He seems to be fishing with the same level of magic as he had his rookie year in 2016, when he finished runner-up to Andy Morgan in the AOY race.

This year’s AOY quest promises one of the more exciting finishes we’ve experienced in a number of years. Let’s have a look at who’s in contention, and start to weigh their chances. 

 

1. Mark Rose – West Memphis, Ark. – 878          

Maybe it’s the fault of us bass writers for sometimes forgetting about Mark Rose whenever the Tour is not on the Tennessee River. Or maybe it’s just that Rose is one of those quiet, hard-working guys who just goes about his business of catching fish without a lot of flash. Whatever is the cause, Rose sort of snuck into the top spot in the standings last week at Smith Lake with a 22nd-place finish, and he hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention thus far this season. That’s about to change.

Prior to Smith, Rose’s Tour finishes were third, 62nd, 23rd and 17th. He’s averaging a 25th-place finish, which is about on par with or just a bit lower than a typical AOY winner’s pace.

The thing to keep in mind about Rose is that he’s not riding one of those short-term waves of momentum that could crash short of the shoreline before the season ends. He’s three years into an impressive tear that has him averaging about a 33rd-place finish in regular-season events, has produced two wins and has resulted in back-to-back 10th-place finishes in AOY.

This year, Rose benefits from a schedule that should give him a fantastic chance at closing strong. The Tour visits Kentucky Lake in late May, and Rose, one of the sport’s original ledge masters, should have little problem posting a strong finish and at least making the day-three cut.

The finale on St. Clair will pose a bigger challenge for Rose. He’s had some solid finishes and some poor ones there in the past. He'll need to get it done to hold off Chris Johnston and Bryan Thrift.

 

2. Chris Johnston – Peterborough, Ontario – 860

One major bump in the road at Lake Lanier, where he finished 91st, is the only thing preventing Chris Johnston from leading this AOY race by a wide margin. The Ontario pro has posted three top-10 finishes so far this season, including his win at the Harris Chain. At the most recent Tour event at Smith, Johnston finished 37th.

The young gun’s only remaining hurdle is Kentucky Lake. He finished 40th there in 2016, which isn’t bad at all, considering it was an all-out ledge fest and Johnston didn’t have much experience on the Tennessee River before then. His knowledge of electronics and offshore fishing should protect him from a bomb this time around, too.

Then it’s on to the U.S.-Canada border for the finale on St. Clair, where he and his brother, Cory, will probably be the two pros everyone is chasing by the weekend. The Johnstons are Northern aces, with tons of experience chasing smallmouths on big water.

 

3. Bryan Thrift – Shelby, N.C. – 857        

Bryan Thrift is having another stellar season and appears poised to finish in the top 10 of the AOY standings for the 10th time in his career. A couple of finishes in the middle of the pack – 65th at Okeechobee and 54th at Smith – have him 21 points off Rose’s pace.

Thrift has plenty of experience on Kentucky Lake to do just fine there next month as long as he doesn’t put too much pressure on himself in anticipation of the finale up north. St. Clair and the Detroit River have challenged Thrift in the past. Most of his experience there came early in the North Carolina pro’s career, however, so he might be ready to take on the big smallmouth factory.

 

4. David Williams – Maiden, N.C. – 851   

One of three 2018 tournament winners in the top five in the standings, David Williams needed the win at Smith Lake to offset a 94th-place finish at Cumberland to preserve his chances at AOY. He’s 27 points back of Rose, so Williams needs to follow up with a strong performance at Kentucky Lake to stay in the hunt.

Judging by his tournament stats from his Bassmaster days, Williams is more comfortable on the more eastern reservoirs of the Tennessee River. His stats farther west aren’t as strong. He’s an admitted shallow-water guy, so he’ll have a big decision to make at Kentucky Lake, where the ledges will likely produce the win but the shallows could churn out some checks. If he goes for a check and finishes middle of the pack, he might also drop off the leading pace.

Williams hasn’t been great up north, either, but everyone has a chance at St. Clair. With the “Big Mo” on his side, don’t count Williams out.

 

5. Zack Birge – Blanchard, Okla. – 844    

Like Thrift, Zack Birge finished in the mid-50s at Smith Lake and cashed a check, but he didn’t do himself a lot of favors in the AOY race. The Oklahoma pro dropped three spots in the standings.

Including his Costa FLW Series tournaments, Birge is still red-hot, and he’s spent a lot of time learning the offshore, electronics game since a 96th-place finish at Kentucky Lake in 2016 lit a fire under him. Don’t expect a similar low finish this time. Birge should come out of Kentucky still near the top of the standings on the way to Detroit, where it’s tough to predict how he’ll make out on a new fishery at the finale.

 

Collings, Becker locked in ROY bout

The Rookie of the Year race really tightened up at Smith Lake, where Pennsylvania’s Matt Becker and Oklahoma’s Sheldon Collings each made the top-30 cut. Becker finished eighth, while Collings ended up in 20th.

Collings, who was in 40th place prior to Smith and 13 places ahead of the next closest rookie, continues to lead the ROY race. His 715 AOY points have him in 25th in the standings. Becker, at 698 points, moved up from 54th overall and third among rookies to 30th place and second among rookies.

Becker, being a Northerner, appears to have the advantage in the upcoming tournaments, with St. Clair scheduled for the finale. But Collings has a reputation as a consistent performer, and he is the leader, so don’t count him out.

Complete Rookie of the Year standings

(AOY standing, angler, points total)

25 Sheldon Collings 715
30 Matt Becker 698
49 Cody Hahner 657
59 Tyler Stewart 610
60 Joe Thompson 609
65 Todd Castledine 600
73 Wes Logan 587
74 David Nichol 586
85 David Larson 567
92 Rob Jordan 541
97 Taylor Ashley 533
110 Russell Cecil 514
112 Tim Cales 508
115 Miles Howe 498
116 Greg Mansfield 493
137 Andy Wicker 429
140 Cameron Gautney 427
144 Clint Brown 416
145 Ronald Young 414
153 Craig Rozema 381
168 David Wootton 327
173 Stephen Hatala 308
178 Matt Garner 263
179 Freddy Hurley 250
181 William Campbell 235

Tags: aoy-update  curtis-niedermier  article  2018-04-26-smith-lake 

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