Robinson holds off Gill to claim Polaris Rookie of the Year, BPT invite - Major League Fishing

Robinson holds off Gill to claim Polaris Rookie of the Year, BPT invite

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Marshall Robinson claimed the Polaris Rookie of the Year trophy and qualified for the Bass Pro Tour. Photo by Jody White. Angler: Marshall Robinson.
July 27, 2023 • Mitchell Forde • Invitationals

LA CROSSE, Wis. – Marshall Robinson found himself in a helpless position.  

Not only had his time on the water at Mercury Stop 6 at the Mississippi River, the final event of the 2023 Tackle Warehouse Invitationals season, come to a close, he’d already weighed his fish on Championship Thursday. His three-day total locked in at 39 pounds, 9 ounces, he knew his hopes of winning the Polaris Rookie of the Year title and qualifying for the Bass Pro Tour would depend on a complicated combination of where Drew Gill and Colby Schrumpf placed and how many anglers wound up between them in the final standings. 

“I was probably the most stressed I’ve ever been,” Robinson said. 

Even after Gill weighed a 14-pound, 3-ounce bag, Robinson had to sweat it out for a few more minutes. But eventually, it became mathematically impossible for Gill to pass him in season-long points. When emcee Chris Jones called Robinson onto the stage to present him the Rookie of the Year trophy, he knew he had also clinched an invitation to the Bass Pro Tour for 2024 — his ultimate goal — by finishing eighth in the Angler of the Year standings. 

Instantly, he went from the most stressed to the most elated he’d felt in his 19-year-old life. 

“I had a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders,” Robinson said. “The pressure coming into the tournament — I didn’t want to choke, and I wanted to just finish it off strong, and I’ve been dying to fish with my dad on the Bass Pro Tour. And then also you get one shot at Rookie of the Year, so that was great that I got that.”  

Achieving lofty goals 

Coming into his first season on a national tour, Robinson set his sights high. The son of BPT angler Marty Robinson outlined three goals for himself: qualify to fish the top tour alongside his father, win Rookie of the Year and make the cut in all six Invitationals. 

He missed out on two cuts, but otherwise, Robinson came pretty close to hitting all three. 

“I figured you have to set your expectations high if you want to do good,” Robinson said. “I think that’s one of the reasons I did good this year, because I had high expectations.” 

Marshall Robinson and his family, including Bass Pro Tour angler Marty Robinson, had to sweat it out during weigh-in to see whether or not he would win Rookie of the Year and qualify for the BPT. Photo by Jody White.

Ask around about Robinson, and the common refrain will be how naturally gifted he is, that he makes it look easy. Indeed, his rise through the tournament ranks has been meteoric. A little more than two years ago, Robinson was fishing the high school national championship. He opted to forego college, fishing in two divisions of the Toyota Series last year instead. He qualified for the 2022 Toyota Series Championship through the Northern Division, finished second at Lake Guntersville, and then took his talents to the Invitationals. Now, he’s off to the BPT. 

While Robinson acknowledges that growing up fishing around the country alongside his father gave him a leg up on other anglers, this season felt anything but easy. He missed the cut in both the second and third events of the season, the low point coming when he finished 98th out of 150 anglers at Lake Eufaula.

The dud put Robinson’s ROY and BPT hopes in serious jeopardy. But in hindsight, it turned out to be a blessing. To that point in his young career, Robinson hadn’t experienced much adversity. It showed him that he needed to hit another level in order to achieve his lofty goals. 

“You start fishing a little different when you know that now you have to catch them,” Robinson explained. “Now that I’d had a bad tournament, which was the 98th at Eufala, I knew I had to make up ground, and I just started absolutely working my tail off and going for it every tournament, because I knew I had to.”

Marshall Robinson needed a slight rally on the final day, and he did enough and the season on the perfect note.

Final day adjustment pays off 

As he arrived at the Mississippi River, Robinson felt more pressure to catch ’em than ever. He entered the season finale with a 20-point cushion over Gill for Rookie of the Year but one spot outside the top eight in the Angler of the Year standings. Still, he committed to his “go for it” strategy rather than worrying about points.

“I think some guys go wrong sometimes, including myself in the past, when you get a little cushion, it makes you feel like you want to be conservative, and that’s when you get beat,” Robinson said. “So coming into the tournament, I said I was going to treat it just like any other tournament, and I was going to go for the win.” 

That mindset paid off in the form of a 14-6 bag on Day 1. But a limit of 11-10 on Day 2 dropped Robinson to 34th place. He entered the final day still ninth in the unofficial AOY standings and with just a one-point lead over Gill. 

Feeling like he had run out of fish in the area he plied for the first two days, Robinson called an audible. He stayed in Pool 8 and targeted areas where main-river current was hitting wing dams or rock banks. He added a twist, though. Instead of throwing a topwater or crankbait like most other anglers in the areas, he took a finesse approach, using a swimbait, a drop-shot and a wacky rig to put five fish for 13-9 in the boat. 

“(In practice) I had caught a few off of some rocks, just current-oriented stuff,” Robinson said. “And I decided to run it this morning, and I started catching them right off the bat, so I just went with it. And I ended up getting lucky and catching two over 3 that pushed me to 13 ½.”

It proved to be just enough. Robinson finished five points ahead of Gill for both the Rookie of the Year award and the final BPT invitation. Had he weighed in 13 fewer ounces, he would have slipped five places and lost out on both awards.

Touring with dad

Once the Rookie of the Year trophy — and an accompanying Polaris Ranger 1000 4×4 — officially belonged to Robinson, he was greeted on stage by his mother, then his girlfriend, then his father. Marshall and Marty shared a long embrace. 

Even though the father-son duo have been fishing alongside one another for years, Marshall called this season — during which Marty also fished all six Invitationals — “the most fun year I’ve ever had in my life.” The two traveled and roomed together at tournaments and “shared everything we figured out.” 

Marshall is grateful for his father; he’s made that clear. But now that the two are set to be competitors at the top level of the sport, he has no plans to take it easy on his old man. A few seconds after the hug ended, Robinson threw down the gauntlet.

“I’m gonna be coming for him and try to put the pressure on him,” Robinson said. “I’m gonna be coming for everybody.”