MARBURY, Md. – Following T-H Marine Stop 5 at the Potomac River, which saw Nick Hatfield run away from the field with his 20-pound, 11-ounce bag on the final day, just one event remains between someone being crowned the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals Angler of the Year and up to eight competitors earning invites to the Bass Pro Tour.
The action on the Potomac threw a wrench into both races, which appear poised to deliver dramatic endings.
Ron Nelson maintained his lead atop the points standings, but saw his cushion over a few of his closest pursuers shrink. There are now three anglers within 50 points of Nelson — including two-time reigning Angler of the Year Michael Neal, whose bid for a rare three-peat is still in play. Plus, two new anglers moved into the top eight, which will earn invitations to join the BPT next season.
Here are the biggest movers from the final day of Stop 5 as well as the storylines to watch entering the final tournament of the season, which will be held July 25-27 on the Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
For the first time since the year’s opening event, Nelson didn’t threaten to win on the final day. But even though it might not have made headlines, his 15-0 bag went a long way toward protecting his lead in the AOY race.
Nelson, who entered the day in an unofficial tie for first place with Martin Villa, moved from 45th place at the start of the day to 25th in the final standings. Couple that with Villa and Neal both losing a bit of ground from where they started the final day of competition, and a lead that looked precarious 24 hours ago now seems pretty stable. Nelson has ensured that, if he finishes among the top 24 at the Upper Mississippi River, he’ll take home the AOY title. Prior to this week, he hadn’t finished worse than 15th all season.
Should Nelson keep the top spot after Stop 6, he would receive a berth into REDCREST 2024.
A split has emerged among the top eight, with more than 50 points separating fifth-place Matthew Stefan from sixth-place Grae Buck. As a result, the top five anglers (Nelson, Villa, Neal, Stefan and Keith Carson) have put themselves in a position where they need only make the Top 50 cut at Stop 6 in order to ensure they finish the season among the top eight.
Neal already has a spot on the BPT, which might make him more dangerous in his quest for the three-peat. While the rest of the top anglers in the standings will have to guard against a flop on the Upper Mississippi, Neal can throw caution to the wind.
The bottom three spots in the race for the BPT, meanwhile, remain wide open. Thirty-two points separate Buck from Hatfield and Marshall Robinson, who are tied for ninth place. And with another nine anglers within 30 points of those two, there could be a dozen or more competitors vying for three BPT invitations at the final event of the year.
Hatfield already secured a spot in REDCREST 2024 — not to mention a $115,000 payday — with his first-place finish.
He might not be done cashing in.
Hatfield’s win vaulted him from 23rd place entering the event to 10th in the AOY race. While he and Robinson have the same number of points, Hatfield would lose the tiebreaker, decided by total weight, if the season ended today.
That said, Hatfield is only seven points out of eighth place and 12 points out of seventh, which means another strong event could send the reigning Polaris Rookie of the Year to the BPT.
Speaking of seventh and eighth place in the standings, two anglers who came to the Potomac outside the top eight now find themselves in line to make the BPT.
Both anglers have to like their chances of defending their positions. The last time the two visited La Crosse — for the 2021 Pro Circuit TITLE — Weaver finished sixth and Moynagh 14th.
The race for the Polaris Rookie of the Year crown is even more tightly bunched than the AOY battle. Robinson’s 40th-place finish at the Potomac, keyed by a 17-7 Day 2 bag, lifted him into the lead. He now enters the final event of the season with a legitimate shot to both win that title and join his father, Marty Robinson, on the BPT.
Robinson has several pursuers hot on his heels. Brock Reinkemeyer, who entered the event in the ROY lead, is just 12 points behind him. Drew Gill, fresh off his third consecutive check, is another eight points back, while Scotty Villines is only five points behind him.
Here’s how the Top 10 competitors in the AOY race stand entering the final event of the season.