Bradley Dortch’s familiarity with tidewater fishing didn’t exactly help him blow out the competition in the final 2017 FLW Tour event on the Potomac River, but at least it helped him claim the Rookie of the Year title over fellow Alabama pro Justin Atkins. Dortch, who grew up fishing the Mobile River Delta of south Alabama, also placed 9th in the Angler of the Year standings and earned a berth in the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Murray in August. He finished 86th on the Potomac, while Atkins came in 47th in the tournament, which ends Sunday.
“Making the Forrest Wood Cup was my main goal this season, but Rookie of the Year is a nice bonus,” says Dortch, 37, of Atmore, Ala. “When the schedule came out last year, I was glad to see the Potomac River in there because I figured it would be my kind of deal. But I never thought it would be the make-or-break tournament for Rookie of the Year or that I would even be in the running.”
Dortch established himself as a contender with a fast start that saw him place 15th at Guntersville, 87th at Lake Travis and then first at the Harris Chain of Lakes. Atkins was ninth at Guntersville and took the ROY lead, but Dortch gradually moved up on him in subsequent events and took over first place for good at Beaver Lake, where he finished 14th. Dortch then wound up in 32nd place on the Mississippi River out of La Crosse, Wis., and ranked 50 points ahead of Atkins coming into the Potomac. The title didn’t come easy however, as Dortch had to scrape and claw his way to back-to-back consistent limits this week in order to claim the prize.
“Fishing the Potomac reminded me of fishing back home,” says Dortch, who credits his years as a Costa FLW Series and T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League co-angler for laying the groundwork for a successful rookie season. “I was really looking forward to fishing it, being it was tidal water. Still, I was a little surprised I didn’t do better. My finish wasn’t what I thought it could be and certainly not what I hoped it would be, but I weighed in two limits and overall feel good about how I fished. I just never could get on the better fish.”
Dortch recalls that it was his performance in the season opener at Guntersville in February that provided him with the cash and the confidence that would help him gain momentum through the rest of the season.
“I told my wife [Rebecca] that if I could make a check every two out of three tournaments, we would be in good shape,” he says. “Guntersville showed me that I was ready to step up. When you first start out, you wonder what it’s going to be like to fish against the best. You have doubts and that can work on your mind. But finishing 15th at Guntersville really helped my mental attitude.”
Dortch considers himself “a jack of all trades and master of none” when it comes to fishing, but hopes to have a career patterned after Andy Morgan and Bryan Thrift, two seasoned veterans known for their overall consistency on all types of fisheries. In the meantime, Dortch plans to return home to celebrate his championship with his wife and their 12-year-old daughter, Presley.
“I’ve already got a place picked out for the Rookie of the Year trophy,” confides Dortch. “It’s up in my man cave above the garage, right next to the trophy I got at the Harris Chain.”