MICHAEL NEAL: Bass Pro Tour rookies to watch in 2024 - Major League Fishing
MICHAEL NEAL: Bass Pro Tour rookies to watch in 2024
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MICHAEL NEAL: Bass Pro Tour rookies to watch in 2024

Image for MICHAEL NEAL: Bass Pro Tour rookies to watch in 2024
Joshua Weaver and the rest of the 2024 rookie class may be new to the Bass Pro Tour, but they're well-versed in success. Photo by Cobi Pellerito. Angler: Joshua Weaver.
January 31, 2024 • Michael Neal • Angler Columns

When the 2024 Bass Pro Tour roster came out last fall, I wasn’t at all surprised by the rookie class of anglers that qualified from the 2023 Tackle Warehouse Invitationals season. For the last few years, I’ve competed against those same guys on the Invitationals circuit. During those events, I spent time, both on and off the water, getting to know this group of anglers.

As these rookies graduate to the Bass Pro Tour level, they have their work cut out for them to keep pace with the top talent pool of the Major League Fishing umbrella. However, I think some of them will make a seamless transition from success in the Invitationals to success in the Bass Pro Tour. I say that because I think the every-fish-counts format is actually going to help them. 

In particular, here are a few Bass Pro Tour rookies I think are destined to do well this year, listed in the order they finished in the 2023 Invitationals Angler of the Year points.

Martin Villa – 4th

Hot off a successful season in the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, Martin Villa is primed for a strong rookie campaign on the Bass Pro Tour. Photo by Matt Brown

Martin is a naturally talented fisherman. He has that sixth sense about him; he just knows where a fish should live. 

Martin reminds me of a young David Dudley in that his pure instincts make up for not having a lot of material advantages in terms of equipment. He perceives “being without” as a challenge – not a disadvantage. When something breaks or goes wrong, it’s not a distraction to him. For the last three events of the 2023 season, he had something or another wrong with his trolling motor. At one point, it was held together with duct tape, and he still finished in the Top 10 in two of those events. 

Here’s a fact about competing on the Bass Pro Tour: Sooner or later, equipment issues and other challenges will arise. It takes a special trait to maintain full focus on fishing when unforeseen problems occur. Martin is that kind of guy. 

In addition, he’s from Virginia and has the tidal water game pretty dialed in. He’s finished in the Top 10 every time we’ve been to the James or Potomac Rivers – and it just so happens we’re going to two tidal fisheries in his area this year: the James and the Chowan Rivers. Add that to the fact that he’s pretty good at ‘Scoping, too, and you have an angler that’s going to be dangerous on the Bass Pro Tour this year. 

Nick Hatfield – 6th

Nick Hatfield reigned supreme on the Potomac in 2023, so odds are good he will be a force to be reckoned with in 2024, particularly on Dale Hollow and the St. Lawrence River. Photo by Matt Brown

Nick worked his way up through the College Fishing and the BFL levels. He fished through the Toyota Series and now is coming off his best season yet with a Tackle Warehouse Invitationals win on the Potomac River last year. I think he almost won at Guntersville the year before and scored a seventh-place showing at the TITLE event on the St. Lawrence River.  

Nick lives in Greeneville, Tennessee, where he grew up fishing Tennessee’s highland impoundments filled with clear water. Given this year’s schedule that includes two tidal fisheries, a tournament on Dale Hollow and a finale on the St. Lawrence River, I think Nick will do just fine. 

Marshall Robinson – 7th

Winning the ROY title on the Invitationals last year proved Marshall Robinson has what it takes to continue the family tradition of bass fishing glory. Photo by Jody White

Marshall won Polaris Rookie of the Year on the Invitationals, proving he can perform at a high level at such a young age (20). He’s a great sight fisherman on two fronts: one, physically seeing bass in the water during the spawn, and two, seeing them on forward-facing sonar. In both cases, he’s experienced beyond his years in reading the subtle actions of fish to assess what their next move is going to be. With that, I predict he’ll have great events at both Dale Hollow and Lake Eufaula in Oklahoma. 

Marshall also has the right mindset for the professional fishing game. He’s upbeat, optimistic, even-keeled and never in a bad mood. He gets his passion for the sport, his fishing skill and his calm demeanor from his dad, Marty, who’s already a proven performer in the sport. With that, Marshall has deep fishing roots to ground him and some words of wisdom in his ear should he need it in 2024.

Drew Gill – 8th

From high school to college on up to the Toyota Series and the Invitationals, Drew Gill has risen rapidly through the ranks. Photo by Cobi Pellerito

Drew also proved his impressive fishing skill at a young age (21), finishing right behind Marshall in the 2023 Rookie of the Year standings. Drew was a standout in both the High School and College levels of fishing. From there, he tore through the Toyota Series, where he claimed a points title in the Plains Division and finished third in two Toyota Series Championships (2022 and 2023). It took him one year of Invitationals to qualify for the Bass Pro Tour. 

Drew is a wizard with forward-facing sonar; I would say he’s in the upper 5% of the best ‘Scopers in this business. The thing that amazed me in the Invitationals is that he made the beam work for him every place we went. He’s pretty creative in the places that he uses that technology. I’m convinced he could ‘Scope minnows in a bucket. 

In tournaments in which forward-facing sonar dominated, he found a way to use it in a different area or way than the majority of ‘Scopers. And in tournaments where I thought ‘Scoping wouldn’t be a big factor – like when bass were heavy on the beds at Lake of the Ozarks or in the shallows of the Mississippi River – he found unique ways to use it that worked for him. I know a lot about ‘Scoping, but Drew is in a class of his own when it comes to finding something off the wall with it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him figure out a way to use it successfully at the James and Chowan Rivers this year. 

Joshua Weaver – 12th

Josh Weaver is bringing years of experience to the Bass Pro Tour, including his Lake Okeechobee win last year at the Invitationals. Photo by Cobi Pellerito

Of the five anglers listed here, Josh has the most national tournament experience. He’s been fishing the national pro tours since 2016 and is a well-rounded angler who knew the competitive fishing world before forward-facing sonar took over. For that reason, I’m hedging a Bass Pro Tour rookie pick with Josh.

Most of these young rookies are pretty proficient with forward-facing sonar. Josh is, too, but he has a great deal of experience with more traditional fishing as well. When fish get back in the weeds, he’s a pretty good stick. He took his first national win on Lake Okeechobee last year in the shallows. If and when we run out of track for forward-facing sonar, Josh will be just as comfortable pulling out a swim jig and heading to the bank.

Also, “tournament experience” is not just about time on the water; it’s also about time hanging around great anglers and sharing knowledge with them. Josh’s former roommates include Cody Meyer, Jason Johnson and the Johnston brothers, Chris and Cory. In recent years, he has roomed with Hatfield and Tyler Stewart. We have short practices at BPT events, and Josh’s previous fishing experience is going to pay off when it’s time to shoot from the hip.