As many have noted, the Walmart FLW Tour schedule for this season looks a lot like it did in 2014. Back then, in his sophomore year on Tour, Randy Haynes had one of the strangest seasons you’ll ever see. He finished 104th at Okeechobee, 149th at Sam Rayburn (ouch) and cranked out top-30 finishes everywhere else.
If you figure on some improvement from his second season to his fourth, and you take the optimistic view in a few instances, you can build an interesting case for Haynes as an Angler of the Year contender. We’ll take it tournament by tournament.
Lake Okeechobee – February 4-7
“I was so mad I could bite a nail in two,” says Haynes of his 215th-place showing in the Costa FLW Series opener last week on Okeechobee.
The finish fits with his boom-and-bust history on the fishery. Since beginning his Tour career, Haynes has spent most winters in Florida figuring out what makes the Florida bass tick. The payoff has come in the form of a stellar third-place finish in the 2014 FLW Series event on the Big O and a 12th-place finish in the 2015 FLW Series stop there. Unfortunately, it hasn’t translated much to Tour events.
Despite his up-and-down history on Okeechobee, Haynes and many of his competitors would likely say that he’s still a formidable opponent there. If his luck flops back to the right side, it isn’t hard to imagine him fishing on day three or four when the Tour rolls into Clewiston, Fla., in a couple of weeks.
Lake Hartwell – March 17-20
“It’s like the Tennessee River, but with red clay points,” says Haynes of Hartwell.
Though not everyone would agree with that characterization, it doesn’t matter as long as it works for Haynes. Though he’ll admit that he hasn’t spent a tremendous amount of time on Hartwell (the 2014 Tour event was his first venture to the South Carolina reservoir), he feels like he “gets it.” The ability to fish deep and offshore in the lower end just feels good to him.
In 2014, Haynes notched a 26th-place finish at Hartwell, good for $10,000 and a great rebound from his bad start at Okeechobee.
The wrench in the works this time might be the water level or the spawn. Currently, the water is about 2 feet higher than it was this time of year in 2014. If the water doesn’t drop down to 2014 levels, the possibility of a shallow bite increases a lot and likely pushes the tournament toward the edge of the ledge maestro’s comfort zone. The chance of an early spawn is worth considering as well. With the unusually warm winter that most of the country has seen, it seems like an unusually warm spring isn’t entirely out of the question. If things move too fast, the bite could also be shallower than expected.
Beaver Lake – April 14-17
This year’s stop at Beaver Lake will take place just a few days later in the month than it did in 2014 (where Haynes finished 21st) and about a week earlier than the 2015 event where Haynes finished 150th.
“I’m not a points man. I’ve never have been a points man,” remarks Haynes. “But if I make it past Beaver I might have as good a chance as anybody.”
“Making it through” just might boil down to whether or not the fish are on beds at Beaver Lake. Because the spawn on most Tennessee River impoundments where Haynes cut his teeth occurs under very anti-sight-fishing conditions, the seasoned pro simply doesn’t have the experience, and he says it’s tough fishing for him.
Haynes is probably right that Beaver Lake represents his greatest challenge, but it might be one he can overcome. Even as the spawn dominated last spring at Beaver Lake, plenty of pros finished high on strictly prespawn patterns.
Pickwick and Kentucky lakes – May 5-8 and June 9-12
Depending on the weather in spring, the May stop at Pickwick might not be prime for ledge fishing, but it’s Haynes’ home pond, and he can contend at nearly any time of the year there. The June stop at Kentucky Lake should be right in his wheelhouse. He’s long been adamant that Kentucky Lake is the best tournament lake in the country, and the vastness and abundance of spots fits his run-and-gun ledge style like a glove.
Any Haynes AOY run will likely rely on a pair of extremely high finishes at these two events.
Lake Champlain – June 23-26
Before last year’s Tour event on the Potomac most would have considered Haynes a long shot to contend on Champlain. Then he went out and finished seventh by flipping a craw in the grass and likened the scenario to fishing at Okeechobee.
If you believe in Haynes’ Florida prowess and are OK calling the Potomac’s grass beds a rough equal of the grass on the south end of Champlain, then the argument for Haynes to succeed up north is a decent one.
Can he do it?
One of these years, I’d love to say that Randy Haynes is a preseason favorite to win the AOY, but that’s a tough argument to make at this point. His best season yet (28th place in 2014) still falls well shy of Scott Martin’s 2015 AOY performance, and though Haynes will rightfully be a tournament favorite on the two Tennessee River lakes, he probably needs to improve across the board.
Impossible? Likely not. Probable? We’ll have to wait for the season to start so we can find out!