AOY Update: Gill still ahead at the halfway mark - Major League Fishing

AOY Update: Gill still ahead at the halfway mark

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April 26, 2024 • Jody White • Invitationals

This year is shaping up to be a banner year on the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals circuit, with the top of the field setting an absolutely scorching pace. Halfway through the six-event season, 10th place in the season-long standings has accumulated 542 points, which works out to an average finish of 20.3. Meanwhile, Jake Lawrence and Marshall Hughes are tied for fourth, both with 570 points and an 11th-place average.

Running at top speed, the Top 10 in Fishing Clash Angler of the Year hasn’t changed a lot. Only two pros dropped out of the Top 10 after Kentucky LakeKeith Poche, who finished 43rd (still good!), and Cal Lane, who came in late on Day 1. The new arrivals are Dakota Ebare, who moved up with a runner-up finish, and Michael Harlin, who finished 13th and slid into 10th in the standings.

Of course, out in front, to nobody’s surprise, Drew Gill is setting the pace. But, he’s followed by four rookies in Alec Morrison, Brody Campbell, Lawrence and Hughes who are keeping the pressure on high.

Top 10 in AOY after three events

1. Drew Gill – 587 points

2. Alec Morrison – 578               

3. Brody Campbell – 572         

4. Marshall Hughes – 570       

5. Jake Lawrence – 570

6. Colby Miller – 558  

7. Dakota Ebare – 552                

8. Cole Breeden – 551               

9. Brock Reinkemeyer – 543 

10. Michael Harlin – 542      

Complete standings 

1. Gill still cruising

So far, Drew Gill hasn’t broken a sweat on the Invitationals. Photo by Jody White

As you’d expect, Gill isn’t making the AOY race easy on the competition. After starting the season with a win at Sam Rayburn, he’s finished fifth and 10th to keep up the pace and is gunning hard for the $50,000 payout from Fishing Clash.

For his part, Gill expected Kentucky Lake to be a key point in the AOY race, and it turned out to really not be. Instead of creating separation, everyone just kept rolling.

“Kentucky Lake was a big bullet — there were a lot of question marks between fishing pressure, Jake’s homefield advantage, the smallmouth deal getting exposed last year but not knowing how far it could carry everyone in the tournament,” he said. “A lot of question marks got put behind after that event, so I’m feeling good about the second half.

“It’s unbelievable. The thing after Kentucky that blew my mind is Cole (Breeden) finished 25th and fell one spot in AOY,” he said. “After having a Top 10, a teens finish and another Top 25, he fell from seventh to eighth. It’s unbelievable. Kentucky, I thought it was going to be the speed bump that separates the blistering pace everybody is running, and it didn’t. Everybody caught ‘em.”

For Gill, the event he’s most worried about is Stop 5 at Lake Champlain – he’s not too fussed about the upcoming throw down at Eufaula (the real one, on the Chattahoochee).

“Eufaula I feel like is pretty much in my wheelhouse,” he said. “There’s going to be a whole lot of brush fishing going on, a whole lot of fishing for single, postspawn fish, which I think I do well. Still, the biggest question mark, in my opinion, is when we go up north and fish for smallmouth.”

Typically a very confident angler, Gill doesn’t like the idea of going north in a dead heat with second-place Morrison, who may basically live on the road these days but still sports a New York address.

“What I want to do is have a good event at Eufaula,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Alec will as well, but my last chance to build separation is at Eufaula. When we go up north and start fishing for brown fish, we’re going to be in his playground, and I’ll be trying to hold on for dear life.”

2. No problems at Kentucky Lake for Morrison

Alec Morrison adapted well to southern smallmouth in his first event on Kentucky Lake. Photo by Jody White

Moving up from fourth to second, Morrison also moved into the lead for Polaris Rookie of the Year – though, with how he’s fishing, he’s got bigger goals in sight now.

“I feel good,” said Morrison after his fourth-place finish. “Kentucky was the one I was most nervous for upon reading the reschedule when it came out. Then, I was even more nervous when I went there for two days after the (Toyota Series) Championship and really didn’t find anything to my liking. But, it feels good to come out of that one with a good finish.”

Morrison has high hopes for Eufaula, and he’s proven over the last few seasons that he’s plenty dangerous on lakes where he’s lacking tournament history.

“I’ve never been to Eufaula — never fished an event there — but I spent a decent amount of time idling and looking around, and I really like the looks of how it sets up,” he said. “A lot of structure, a lot of good-looking stuff offshore, and I think it could be a really good event, based on the timing.

“I feel good going into the last three events – halfway through and sitting good,” he added. “I feel like if I could Top 10 at Eufaula, I’ll have a good shot at Angler of the Year.”

In 2014 on the FLW Tour, Cody Meyer and eventual AOY winner Andy Morgan set a blistering pace in the points. Between them, their worst finish through three events was 27th. At that point, Morgan was averaging a 12th-place finish. This year, Morrison’s average finish is 8.3, while Gill’s is 5.3. Now, Gill and his pursuers might come back to Earth, but with every event, it looks less likely.

It’s something Morrison and everyone else scrapping for points are very aware of.

“It’s been a lot of the same guys in the top of these last few events, and I expect the same individuals to keep doing good,” Morrison said. “It’s pretty dominating. I think Jaden (Parrish) only moved up one or two spots, and he made the Top 10 at Kentucky. There are a lot of good anglers up at the top – it’s no surprise to see the ones who are doing well continue to do well.”

3. Campbell on the come-up

Nothing has phased Brody Campbell in his rookie season. Photo by Rob Matsuura

Sliding up from sixth, Campbell has finished 15th, 11th and fifth on the season to remain neck-and-neck with the pace the rest of the leaders are setting. Going into the season, Campbell brought a lot of confidence to the table, and he’s fished up to it.

“I’ll tell you what, these guys are stiff competition this year,” he said. “I’m really, really gunning for that Angler of the Year. I don’t feel like a rookie — I’d like a new Polaris — but I really want that Angler of the Year.

“What’s killed me is my execution,” he added. “If I wouldn’t have lost or broke off as many fish as I have, I think Angler of the Year would look different. At West Point, I broke four fish off in one day, off the same brush pile I caught a 4- and 5-pounder off. I need to get better with execution – one fish is so key in these points.”

Eufaula is next up, and Campbell is looking forward to it despite a lack of experience on the pond.

“I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard about it; my dad has been there multiple times,” he said. “I feel comfortable with it. If they’re offshore on ledges, I have a ton of experience doing that, catching them on a deep crank, or on brush. Regardless, I feel like ‘Scope is going to play, so I doubt the guys in front of me are going to falter. But, I could see me catching them good. If they eat that ball and chain down there, them boys might be in trouble.”

After Eufaula, Campbell is looking forward to the northern swing and figuring on a photo finish.

“I have a lot of experience with smallmouth,” he said. “I’m comfortable and feel good. It’s going to be a tight race, I think it’s literally going to come down to one or two points between us.”

The rest of the pack

Behind the leaders, Hughes and Lawrence are setting the bar for qualification to the Bass Pro Tour, each with 570 points and three cuts under their belts. Though neither is especially experienced with the rest of the schedule, they both seem to be fishing very well and haven’t given any reason to doubt their skills.

In sixth, Colby Miller is one of the hottest anglers in the country when you include some of his accomplishments outside of the Invitationals, and he’s got a decent amount of northern experience. Though he needs to move up one spot to make the BPT, he’s certainly one to watch.

Breeden, Harlin and Brock Reinkemeyer make up the bottom of the Top 10, and the Ozark trio have all impressed in recent years. This year, they’re also all fishing super well, and they’re all skilled at brush, ‘Scope and all the right things for the rest of the season.  

Rookie watch

Marshall Hughes is one of many impressive rookies on tour this year. Photo by Rob Matsuura

The Polaris Rookie of the Year race is shaping up to be almost a mirror of the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year race, but it’s still worth keeping an eye on the best rookies.

Here’s how they’re doing at the midway point.

Top 10 rookies after three events

2. Alec Morrison – 578 points
3. Brody Campbell – 572
4. Marshall Hughes – 570
5. Jake Lawrence – 570
13. Jacob Walker – 538
16. Ken Thompson – 526
24. Brett Carnright – 497
26. Taylor Parker – 474
31. Mitchell Robinson – 456
32. Rick Harris – 455