AOY Update: Lawrence leads as the northern swing begins - Major League Fishing

AOY Update: Lawrence leads as the northern swing begins

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June 12, 2024 • Jody White • Invitationals

Heading into the season, Stop 4 at Lake Eufaula was not supposed to be the shakeup for Fishing Clash Angler of the Year on the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals circuit. But, Brody Campbell finished 78th and dropped out of the Top 10, Drew Gill finished 36th and fell from first to fifth, and the top anglers began to really put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack.

Last year, after the fourth event at Lake of the Ozarks, Ron Nelson was leading AOY with 777 points, Matthew Stefan was in second with 735 and Michael Neal was fifth with 719. This year, though Nelson’s point total would still be in the lead, Stefan wouldn’t even be in the conversation for the top five. Though the Invitationals circuit is fledgling, it feels like this year could see a historically excellent performance from the top of the field.

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

1. Jake Lawrence – 770 points
2. Alec Morrison – 757
3. Marshall Hughes – 756          
4. Colby Miller – 756    
5. Drew Gill – 752
6. Dakota Ebare – 744
7. Brock Reinkemeyer – 733   
8. Jaden Parrish – 729                 
9. Jacob Walker – 722
10. Andrew Nordbye – 718

In the lead for the $50,000 Fishing Clash payout and the Polaris Rookie of the Year award (the top three are all rookies), Jake Lawrence is averaging a finish of 8.5, and he’s finished first or second half the time. Though there is plenty of time left for things to change, he’s put a bit of a gap on the competition through four events. In second, Alec Morrison is running an 11.75 average and hasn’t missed a Top 30 cut all season. A hairsbreadth ahead of three other contenders, it’s a testament to how incredibly well he and his cohorts are fishing.

1. Unfamiliar waters ahead for Lawrence

The winner at Eufaula, Jake Lawrence made a big move in the standings as a result. Photo by Jody White

This year has been fantastic for Lawrence, but the one obvious thing never happened. Instead of winning at Kentucky Lake and enjoying a coronation ceremony on his home water, Lawrence finished 24th, his worst showing of the year, and was way off the pace for the win. In the next event, Lawrence tore through the locals and the rest of the field to win at Eufaula and rocket into the lead for AOY.

Now, he’s got the lead, but he needs to fish two unfamiliar bodies of water to finish the season out.

“I’m really excited, I’m not nervous,” said the Tennessee pro. “The mentality that I stick to, I don’t get too uptight or nervous. I’m excited about it, because I’m going to learn a tremendous amount, right or wrong. These southern lakes, they all have nuances about them, but overall, they act and set up very similar. It’s hard for me to learn something really big. So, I’m excited about that.

“From the tournament aspect, Champlain is one of those places that a couple ounces can be 15 or 20 places, so, that puts you on edge, knowing how tight everything is there,” he said. “But everybody, my roommates, say I’m going to have an absolute blast, that you can’t get away from 3-pounders.”

His roommates (Braxton Setzer and ex-northerner Mark Condron) are probably right about how much fun Champlain will be, but that’s not the whole battle. Detroit River smallmouth await at the season finale, which will be another interesting challenge for Lawrence to tackle. One thing is for sure: With the lead in hand, he wants to lock it down.

“To be honest, prior to 16 months ago, I was always an AOY guy — steady Eddy, I didn’t win a whole lot, but I don’t have a tremendous amount of bad tournaments,” Lawrence said. “Rookie of the Year, people were asking me about that early, and they still are, but I don’t worry about that – if you take Angler of the Year, the rest of it will take care of itself. The Bass Pro Tour invite is certainly something I’m wanting and vying for just as much as the next guy, but I’m not satisfied if I finish third and make it. It doesn’t matter what it is, I want to win.”

2. Home cooking could boost Morrison

Alec Morrison gets to fight out the rest of the season on northern waters. Photo by Jody White

After excelling through the southern start to the season, Morrison gets to finish out the year on his home lake and then chase smallmouth on the Great Lakes – a task he’s perfectly suited for. A virtual lock to qualify for the Bass Pro Tour considering the schedule, the young pro is mostly focused on this week at the home pond.

“I’m feeling good. I’m honestly not thinking much about AOY right now, I’m looking towards Champlain,” Morrison said. “Regardless of what happens on Champlain, I think that AOY will be decided on probably Day 3 of St. Clair. I’m looking to have a good event and get some good points on Champlain, but overall, I’m going into it thinking about how I could maybe win this event.”

Morrison was a popular pick for Rookie of the Year at the beginning of the season, and he’s lived up to the hype. But, for his part, Morrison was eyeing different trophies when he pointed the truck south from Peru, New York.

“At the beginning of it, looking at the schedule, I saw Rayburn first, and I thought that was an event I could potentially win,” he said. “Champlain goes along the same lines – I was really excited to be coming here. In the beginning, I was really just looking at two or three of the events as possibilities for me to do really well. I wasn’t all so concerned with Rookie of the Year and Angler of the Year at the beginning of this. But, I feel good being in the position I’m in with the two events left to go, and I’m definitely excited.”

3. Hughes and Miller are basically tied

Colby Miller is right in the mix for AOY and tied by points with Marshall Hughes. Photo by Rob Matsuura

With the same point count of 756 after four events, Marshall Hughes and Colby Miller are heading north in good position to contend for AOY and the BPT. Both anglers have duked it out on Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend for a while now, but they’ve come into their success this season from different paths. A rookie, Hughes has fished at a bunch of new places and taken his Texas skills on the road with amazing success. Miller, on the other hand, has been fishing nationally for a while – he’s got a lot of experience up north, and this year, the young pro has found a new gear.

While Hughes will be up against some new lakes to finish the season, Miller has fished events at Champlain before and done pretty well with northern smallmouth. He’s also been absolutely scorching hot this year across basically everything he’s fished – chances are good that Morrison and Lawrence have cause to worry about him before the end of the season.

That said, Hughes has been able to overcome something new basically every event. There’s really no reason he can’t keep the run going and challenge for AOY as well.

The rest of the rookies

Jacob Walker is one of a number of rookies who have had great seasons and are off the scorching pace set by the leaders. Photo by Rob Matsuura

There is a great chance the Angler of the Year will take home $50,000 plus a new Polaris as the Rookie of the Year. This year, the top of the class has remained pretty stable, but there’s been plenty of movement in the middle of the pack, and it sure looks like there are some really good anglers on the come up.

Top 10 rookies after four events

1. Jake Lawrence – 770 points
2. Alec Morrison – 757
3. Marshall Hughes – 756
9. Jacob Walker – 722
15. Brody Campbell – 695
19. Ken Thompson – 683
22. Brett Carnright – 650
28. Mitchell Robinson – 606
31. Taylor Parker – 596
33. Dillon Harrell – 584