AOY Update: Lawrence and Morrison set for a smallmouth showdown - Major League Fishing

AOY Update: Lawrence and Morrison set for a smallmouth showdown

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June 24, 2024 • Jody White • Invitationals

The Tackle Warehouse Invitationals event on Lake Champlain went a long way to solidify the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year race – both making the Top 10, Jake Lawrence and Alec Morrison are six points apart heading into the season finale in late July at the Detroit River. There, the two will duke it out for the title over hundreds of miles of water with almost unlimited variables in play.

Top 10 in AOY after four events (top five make the Bass Pro Tour):

1. Jake Lawrence – 961 points
2. Alec Morrison – 955               
3. Drew Gill – 947         
4. Marshall Hughes – 938       
5. Colby Miller – 926  
6. Jacob Walker – 922                
7. Jaden Parrish – 915                
8. Nick Hatfield – 902                 
9. Brody Campbell – 889         
10. Cole Breeden – 888            

Both rookies, Lawrence or Morrison stand to take home the $50,000 prize from Fishing Clash as well as a new Polaris Ranger 1000 for Polaris Rookie of the Year. With Drew Gill skipping the last event of the season (more on that later), it should make the battle for the last couple Bass Pro Tour spots absolutely fascinating as well.

1. Day 2 proves key for Lawrence

The only stumble on the season for Jake Lawrence came at home on Kentucky Lake. Photo by Jody White

Sitting in 29th after Day 1 at Champlain, Lawrence managed to catch 18 pounds of feisty smallmouth and somehow drop into second in the AOY race. On Day 2, Lawrence sacked up 19-9 and rolled up into the Top 10, which let him re-take the lead over Morrison, who was competing for the win on his home waters.

“The one huge advantage I had, I kind of squabbled it off this year,” said Lawrence about his 24th-place finish on Kentucky Lake. “That’s why it was so relieving and so cool to get out of Champlain having that lead. That was a huge feat to come out of there still holding on.”

Fully aware of how tight the race is, Lawrence is not trying to think about it too much.

“It’s so cliché, but I try to focus on just going out and catching bass; the points and the AOY will take care of itself,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to know that I’m ahead of such a spectacular class of guys. From a fishing standpoint, when we get up here, it’s going to be just like the rest of them. I need to catch every one that bites and see where the points settle. If I’m gonna win one, I wanna win one this way, where it’s going to come down to the very last cast. It’s so much fun.”

Lawrence and Morrison both expect the race to only be settled at the final weigh-in at the Detroit River. But, they both acknowledge that there are a lot of variables in play, any of which could derail things in a major way. With St. Clair and Erie open for fishing, there are a lot of decisions to be made at the last event.

“I’m really wanting to spend the majority of my time on St. Clair,” Lawrence said. “I know the potential of Erie, but with the points, I’m scared that I could invest a lot of my time in Erie and not get there, or only have a couple hours and have the fish move some place a couple miles away that I don’t know about. It just seems more high risk, high reward.”

2. Homefront treats Morrison right

Alec Morrison defended his home waters to move closer to the top. Photo by Rob Matsuura

Sitting in second place since the third event of the season, where he knocked out a Top 10 at Kentucky Lake, Morrison hasn’t hit any speed bumps on his rookie campaign. Finishing third at Champlain gained the New Yorker some points on Lawrence, which has him a slim six points out of the lead.

“Honestly, I stumbled at Eufaula with a 22nd-place finish,” Morrison said. “At the very beginning, I really wasn’t too sure how it would shake out. I didn’t know all these guys, but I really didn’t expect it to be as tight of a race as it has been.

“Like I said prior to the event, this one wasn’t going to determine anything,” Morrison said of Champlain. “I’m sure it will still come down to the last day at St. Clair. Once again, the same guys caught ‘em, so, it just got tighter.”

At this point, it doesn’t seem worth wondering about who is best suited for where or what the fishing will be like. All year, the top of the class in the Invitationals have figured out the fish to the nth degree no matter what. For Morrison, triumphing over a group fishing as well as this one would be special.

“It would be awesome,” Morrison said. “AOY wasn’t really my initial goal going into the season, but most certainly now, it’s the goal. It would mean so much to wrap up the year on a note like that. Being crowned Angler of the Year is definitely a huge accomplishment with the stature of anglers that are all at the top fighting for it.”

3. Sportsmanship wins out for Gill  

A winner on the Invitationals and BPT already this year, Drew Gill has been a season highlight in many ways. Photo by Rob Matsuura

Just 14 points off the lead and eight points out of second place, Gill should theoretically be in play for AOY at the Detroit River. But, instead of battling it out for the top prize, the young angler and Bass Pro Tour rookie has elected to bow out so as not to take up a spot in the final standings that determine BPT qualification.

“Last year I was the first one out of the BPT cut because of a BPT angler that fished all of the events,” Gill said. “Not saying that’s unethical for anyone else, but I almost missed the BPT last year because of that. I got the opportunity this year, and this is my pay-it-forward moment. There are definitely five guys, if not more, that deserve the opportunity and would be ecstatic to have their chance at the next level.”

Last summer, in a sweaty Wisconsin parking lot, Gill did all the math to find out he missed qualifying. After an offseason with some unexpected angler departures, he got the call, but he still remembers being on the outside.

“If I hadn’t gotten the opportunity to fish the BPT this year, if missing that cut was a done deal for me, I could have missed out on one of the most life-changing years,” Gill said. “It did more for me than anything else could have, and you never know when it’s your time. I’m not going to stand in the way of somebody getting the opportunity that I feel like they earned.”

It’s a decision that is not without cost – someone low in the standings on the BPT will have a harder time requalifying as a result, and Gill is possibly costing himself money. But, it’s one of the most honorable decisions we’ve seen in recent bass fishing history.

“It’s just as much for my conscience as it is for somebody else to get the opportunity,” Gill said. “Regardless of if I won it or not, $50,000, when I’m 70 years old, looking back on my fishing career, I’m not going to think about that.”

The rest of the race

Young Jaden Parrish is one of a few anglers who have a lot on the line at the season finale. Photo by Jody White

With Gill out of the picture, Marshall Hughes and Colby Miller are next up as potential AOY thieves. Hughes is 17 points out of second place, and Miller is 29 points out – not impossible deficits, but not ideal. On many fisheries, considering the anglers in question, it would be hard to imagine a comeback like that at the end of the season. At the Detroit River, that sort of swing is very much in play. With St. Clair, the Detroit River and Lake Erie in play, there’s a lot that can happen – between weather, mechanical failure and simple decision-making, it’s one of the most dynamic playing fields possible to end a season.

On the BPT side of things, the battle for the top five spots should be pretty intense. Miller is in fifth, and he figures to move up with the absence of Gill. Sixth and seventh are Jacob Walker and Jaden Parrish, and they’re seven points apart – that’s a nose length. There’s a good chance that both those anglers are headed for some pretty stressful weigh-ins later this July.