MARBURY, Md. – With T-H Marine Stop 5 at the Potomac River representing the penultimate event of the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals season, the Angler of the Year race has hit the home stretch. This year, there’s more than just a trophy at stake, as the top eight finishers in the standings will earn invitations to join the Bass Pro Tour in 2024 and the winner will receive a spot in REDCREST 2024.
So, after each day of action on the Potomac, we’re taking a look at the potential ramifications for the AOY race.
Perhaps the biggest shakeup came before the event started, with Dakota Ebare opting to skip the tournament to practice at Saginaw Bay. That will likely open up an additional spot for BPT qualification. Ebare, who is already a member of the top circuit, entered this weekend in eighth place.
Who else will make major moves up or down the standings? Here’s a look at the headlines from Day 1.
Martin Villa’s solid season has only gotten better at each event. After a 32nd-place finish at Lake Okeechobee, he finished 15th at both Clarks Hill Lake and Lake Eufala before taking ninth at Lake of the Ozarks.
Through one day on the Potomac, he appears poised to continue that trend. Villa’s 18-pound, 15-ounce bag has him in third place, 1 pound behind leader Blake Hall.
If Villa can continue that success over the next two days, he could shake up the AOY standings in a major way. Were the event to end today, Villa would be virtually tied with Ron Nelson in first place.
Brock Reinkemeyer was the biggest beneficiary of Ebare’s decision to skip the Potomac, as he entered the tournament in ninth place. He then capitalized on the good fortune by sacking up 14-15 on Day 1, good for 31st place.
As a result, Reinkemeyer would move up to sixth in the unofficial AOY standings (the standings won’t become official until after the event). Reinkemeyer would also maintain his lead in the Polaris Rookie of the Year race, although Drew Gill cut into his cushion with his big Day 1 bag — more on that shortly.
Joining Reinkemeyer as an angler who looks to be positioned to move inside the top eight is Joshua Weaver. The Macon, Georgia, native sits in 27th place after catching 15-7 on Day 1 and would be seventh in the AOY standings if the tournament ended today.
Reinkemeyer and Weaver were able to climb the standings thanks in part to a dud from Grae Buck. The Pennsylvania native entered the event as one of the favorites due to both his experience on the Potomac and his strong start to the 2023 campaign, which had him fourth in the AOY race. But a limit of 7-13 has him 141st out of 150 anglers through one day of competition — proof that local knowledge is not always a good thing in bass fishing. Buck will look to gain ground and salvage some points with a big bag on Sunday.
Nelson built a sizable, 42-point lead in the AOY race by racking up three Top 10s and one 15th-place finish through the first four events. He’ll have some work to do in order to continue that torrid pace, and to keep his lead intact.
After weighing in 14-4 on Day 1, Nelson sits in 50th place — square on the cut line. The Top 50 anglers will fish the third and final day of the event.
Given Villa’s hot start, it feels like Nelson needs to make it to Monday to retain much of a cushion going into the Mississippi.
Matthew Stefan has been rock-solid through the first four stops of the season, finishing between 10th and 21st place in each event. And with the final event scheduled to take place on the Upper Mississippi River, not far from Stefan’s hometown of Junction City, Wisconsin, this feels like the last major hurdle Stefan needs to clear in order to secure a spot on the BPT.
So far, so good. Stefan weighed in 15-11 on Day 1, which has him in a familiar position, 20th place. While Stefan, who entered the event in second place in the AOY race, fell one spot in the unofficial standings, he’s positioned himself to cut into Nelson’s lead and to increase his cushion over ninth place.
Three months ago, it would have been almost impossible to imagine Gill factoring into the race for a spot on the BPT. The rookie kicked off his Tackle Warehouse Invitationals career with finishes of 65th and 110th in the first two events.
However, Gill has been on a tear lately, finishing second on Lake Eufala and fourth at Lake of the Ozarks. He looks to have carried the momentum with him to the Potomac, as his 17-4 bag was the fourth-heaviest of Day 1.
The strong start vaulted Gill from 17th place to ninth in the unofficial AOY standings. He’d also only be 18 points back of Reinkemeyer for Rookie of the Year honors if the tournament ended now.
If Stop 5 ended today, the Top 10 in the AOY standings would be as follows: