2018 Tour Predictions - Major League Fishing

2018 Tour Predictions

Out pundits take a guess at the season
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Andy Morgan Photo by Patterson Leeth. Angler: Andy Morgan.
January 2, 2018 • MLF • Archives

There are a lot of unknowns at the start of every FLW Tour season. How good will the fishing be? Will a new star emerge? Will anyone manage to beat Andy Morgan?

Rather than simply debate the topics, a few members of FLW’s media team dug out their crystal balls and decided to make a few predictions. Some of the prognostications contradict those of other members of the team. Some predictions are bold, while others won’t garner much disagreement from anyone. A few are probably just wishful thinking.

What do you think?

California dreamin’

Cody Meyer will pick up his first win in the FLW Tour at some point during the 2018 campaign. After a lot of near misses, the California pro is zeroing in on an elusive victory. Since joining the FLW Tour ranks as a pro in 2010, Meyer has chalked up 13 top-10 finishes, for a career total of 24 with FLW. The California pro’s strong suit is finesse fishing, which should serve him well in 2018, given the schedule will land on a few finesse-friendly lakes. – Colin Moore, FLW Editor Emeritus 


Cue the confetti

That Bryant Thrift has never won a Forrest Wood Cup is insane, but that’s about to change. The North Carolina pro has been tiptoeing around winning the Big One for the past several years, and in 2018 it will be his turn to hoist the trophy. There’s no particular reason for that prognostication, other than that the defending AOY has reached the zenith of his prowess as a competitor. Consider: Thrift has been a pro since 2007 and hasn’t missed qualifying for a Cup yet. Also, in the last six championships, he hasn’t finished lower than seventh place. Granted, Lake Ouachita – site of 2018’s championship – hasn’t been all that kind to the two-time AOY, but he did score a sixth-place showing there in the 2015 Cup, after placing 29th in the 2011 championship on the lake. In 2018, he gets his due. – Colin Moore


Shane LeHew wins one

If I had to bet, I’d put my money on Lewis Smith being the lake where Shane LeHew finally gets his first FLW Tour win. That is, if he doesn’t win at Lake Lanier the month before. Both are clear reservoirs with spotted bass (though I bet LeHew cracks the shallow largemouth code at Smith this year, too). He should find plenty of opportunities to finesse fish with small swimbaits or drop-shots, and to catch fish on a jig around docks, points or shoreline cover. I predicted LeHew would have a big season in 2017, and he turned out another quality showing, but 2018 is when he gets his breakout moment. – Curt Niedermier, FLW Editor-in-Chief


Birge wins a tournament, too (or AOY)

Have you forgotten about Zack Birge, and how just a few years ago he won the Costa FLW Series Championship? And how the next year he dominated the Rookie of the Year race, while also contending for Angler of the Year most of the season? Yeah, he had a tough sophomore showing on Tour, but he bounced back in 2017 to finish 35th in the standings. Based on how his career is trending and the schedule of events in 2018, if he’s slipped a little from your radar, you might want to re-tune your frequencies.

Birge has had good success in Florida, where the Tour will make two stops this spring, and he threatened for the win the last time the Tour went to Lewis Smith. Kentucky Lake this year could very well be a bush-flipping, shallow-pattern event, which should be just right for Birge. And I suspect he’ll figure out the shallow largemouths at Cumberland. I can’t predict how he’ll fare at Lanier in March or St. Clair this summer, but I promise you the odds are low that he’ll bomb at either tournament.

All this equates to two things: Zack Birge puts himself in contention to win a tournament on more than one occasion this season, and by the time we head north for the finale, he’s somewhere near the top of the AOY standings. – Curt Niedermier


Josh Weaver makes his first pro Cup appearance

The 2018 Tour schedule favors Weaver’s strengths right off the bat. Since coming on Tour, Weaver is two-for-two on top-10 finishes at Lake Okeechobee and Harris Chain. Not to mention, he posted a second place finish at Lake Okeechobee in last year’s Costa FLW Series Southeastern event. Based on his recent success in Florida, Weaver should be on your radar in the first two events of the 2018 Tour season. As long as the Georgia pro can ride a strong start, look to see him at Lake Ouachita in August. – Drew Aspinwall, FLW Communications & Social Media Specialist


Bryan Thrift goes back-to-back as AOY Champion or wins the Cup

Thrift has countless accomplishments throughout his career. The only things left to check off his list would be winning the Forrest Wood Cup and going back-to-back as AOY Champion. He has six straight top-10 finishes at the Cup and since 2008 Thrift is 9/10 on finishing top-10 in the AOY race. There is a realistic chance we see the reigning FLW Tour AOY hit another milestone in 2018. – Drew Aspinwall


Jared McMillan wins Lake Okeechobee event

I predict a McMillan will win the 2018 FLW Tour season-opener on Lake Okeechobee, but not the one you’d expect. I think Jared McMillan, the younger brother of FLW Tour veteran Brandon McMillan, will take the trophy this time around. McMillan has spent the past few years picking apart Lake Okeechobee through the T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League Gator Division (which only competes on Okeechobee), and the ultra-competitive Costa FLW Series Southeastern Division. He’s posted multiple top-10 finishes on the Big O, including a second-place showing as a boater in the Series in 2014. This year, I think he’ll have both the knowledge and the confidence to give the grizzled veterans a run for their money. – Brian Johnson, FLW Communications Specialist 


Jay Yelas earns top-10 finish flipping bushes on Kentucky Lake

Normally when the FLW Tour visits Kentucky Lake, it’s a steamy June slugfest out on the ledges. This year, the FLW Tour arrives in May, which means a lot of fish could still be up shallow. Yelas earned his last top-10 finish on the FLW Tour in 2013 when he flipped buck brush on Grand Lake in early June. I expect the 15-year Tour veteran to capitalize on similar conditions this time around. – Brian Johnson


The Johnston brothers make the Cup

Cory and Chris Johnston had a blazing debut in the Tour in 2017. Cory earned a top 10, finished 29th in the point standings and qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup. Chris did even better, earning Rookie of the Year honors, finishing second to Andy Morgan in the Angler of the Year race and booking a pair of top 10 finishes himself. Both Canadians fell off hard in 2017, missing the Cup and really only excelling (as usual) in the Northern Division of the Costa FLW Series. This year sets up well for the Johnston duo, with Okeechobee, the likelihood of a lot of fishing spawning at Cumberland and a smallmouth slugfest to finish things off. As such, I think both brothers will get over their sophomore slump and make the Cup – with a little luck, it wouldn’t shock me to see one of them in the running for AOY. – Jody White, FLW Associate Editor


Jeff Sprague gets a win

The Texan has picked off one top 10 finish each of the last two years on Tour and finished in the top six in the AOY race both times. There’s no doubt that Sprague is fishing at the top of his game; he’s just lacking a signature accomplishment – be it a win or an AOY. His two best chances are probably in the grass in Florida, but he’s versatile enough that anything is possible. – Jody White


Big O starts with big bang

Every time the FLW Tour kicks things off in Florida, thoughts of a slugfest captivate anglers and fans alike. I mean, after all, Florida is the land of giants and January and February can be prime months to produce big bags of bass. The only issue is the last few trips to the Sunshine State have been somewhat lackluster.

Sure, hefty limits have been taken to the scale, but we haven’t seen a monster event from start to finish since Randall Tharp won back in 2012 with over 100 pounds – and even then the rest of the field struggled. But this year will be different. In 2018, I think that it’ll take 100 pounds to win the event.

How do I know this? Well, for starters, the lake has been kicking out some very solid bags throughout various tournaments in 2017. But the more important factor is the moon. This year the Tour event will line up closely with the full moon – a proven factor that triggers a push of big females to spawn during Florida’s winter months. The full moon will actually occur a few days after the event, but still, it’s close enough to have an effect on the bass.

The last few Tour trips to Okeechobee saw the full moon occurring a few weeks after the event. Pending any crazy cold front, it could be the perfect storm for hawgs. Pop some popcorn for this one; it’s going to be good! – Kyle Wood, FLW Senior Writer


Half of the Minnesota crew makes the Forrest Wood Cup

Last year there were four anglers from the Land of 10,000 Lakes on the FLW Tour and while only Austin Felix managed to qualify for the Cup, I’m willing to bet that the number will increase this coming season. Veteran Jim Moynagh will be joined by Andy Young, Josh Douglas and Felix on the Tour in 2018. They will welcome David Larson (who fished the last two Tour seasons as a co-angler) and longtime Tour pro Chad Grigsby.

Minnesota is quickly becoming recognized as a great place to hone fishing skills, and for good reason. The similarity between Minnesota fisheries and the lakes on the Tour schedule are numerous – grass, smallmouths, largemouths, deep structure, clear water, dirty water and so on. Back-to-back Florida events will provide a great starting point for the six pros and capping the season on a stout smallmouth venue only sweetens the deal. Expect a strong season from the Minnie boys. – Kyle Wood


Another two-time winner

Last season, Mark Rose became the first pro in FLW Tour history to win back-to-back events in a row. I’m not necessarily predicting back-to-back wins will happen again in 2018, but I think the possibility exists for someone to win two or go back-to-back. 

The main reason I think it’s a possibility in 2018 is because there is some strong “venue similarity” among several of the events. The first two tournaments will be held in Florida. Lake Okeechobee is not far from Harris Chain and both involve shallow, natural lakes full of vegetation and Florida-strain largemouth bass. If a new lure or technique pops up that Florida fish have never seen and only a few guys have their hands on it, they could score big in both events.

I remember when new innovations such as tungsten weights, the ChatterBait, the Horny Toad and even the Senko first showed up in Florida in season openers – if a guy had some of these “magic wands” in his possession, he was at the top of the leaderboard.

Beyond that, the venues of Lake Lanier, Cumberland and Smith are all similar in that they are highland, clearwater impoundments with mixed species. Same principle applies here: If a pro discovers one of those never-before-seen Japanese lures or uncovers a forgotten-but-still-productive technique that dominates on these kinds of lakes, there is a possibility he could ride such a proprietary lure or technique to two victories. – Rob Newell, Field Editor


The Millennial matrix will get stronger

In the modern era of tournament bass fishing, “local information” is quickly paling in comparison to real-time information. Not only have stricter rules come into play on the national tours regarding local help, but yesterday’s “secret spot” is today’s community hole. For that reason, the most premium information in today’s top tier events is the bite that happened two minutes ago – or say, the bite your trusted roommate/confidante had two minutes ago.

The 2017 FLW Tour and Bassmaster Elite Series both shed light on the new era of young pros who are not afraid to “crowd source,” so to speak, among themselves as competitors for the sake of sharing real-time information, which is both legal and lethal. Yes, pros on tour have always shared information with their pro buddies to some degree. But this information today is of a different quality and magnitude in terms of detail and the tools being used.

This sort of millennial matrix of young, sharp anglers working together to draft off each other’s real-time information to improve all their positions in the standings is something we’re going to see more of in 2018. – Rob Newell