It’s only mid-April, but already we can see the finish line for the 2019 FLW Tour. There are just two events left, which means there isn’t much time left for pros to compete for the Angler of the Year prize and spots in the 2019 FLW Cup.
This season, the top 40 pros on Tour will qualify for the Cup. In a typical year, at least a few pros double-qualify, extending the cutoff down the standings. It looks like that won’t be the case this season.
The only FLW Tour pro currently qualified for the Cup is Ryan Salzman, who’s in 60th place. He could certainly shoot up the standings at the next event on Lake Chickamauga and bump the cut line back a spot, and if he does then FLW would extend another invite.
That said, because 2018 Cup winner Clent Davis and 2018 FLW Tour AOY Mark Rose are not fishing the Tour this season, they have forfeited their Cup qualifications in this year's event. Those two spots will be granted to the 41st and 42nd pros in the 2019 standings.
Here’s a look at the current crop of FLW Cup bubble boys vying for a spot in the field at Lake Hamilton Aug. 9-11.
36. Darrell Davis – Dover, Fla. – 693 points
In vying for his second Cup appearance, Darrell Davis has had an up-and-down season, finishing as high as third and as low as 127th. He was probably cruising toward missing the Cup until he put together an impressive tournament at Cherokee to finish 38th. He’s in decent shape now.
While he’s finished worse than 100th at Chickamauga before, Davis finished in the top 10 the last time the Tour visited Dayton, Tenn., and the timing this year bodes well for him. There’ll be fish offshore, but Davis should have no trouble finding a shallow bite, which is where he excels.
For Davis, the season will probably come down to Champlain, a lake that hasn’t been kind to him. If he can unlock a shallow largemouth pattern in Ticonderoga he’ll get back to the Cup for the first time since 2015.
37. Matthew Stefan – Junction City, Wis. – 691
Wisconsin pro Matt Stefan’s 2019 season has been one of steady improvement. He opened the season with a 124th-place finish at Rayburn, then followed with finishes of 57th, 49th, 55th and 29th. If Stefan’s season continues to peak, he’ll waltz right into the Cup cutoff without a problem.
His track record on Chickamauga and Champlain suggest he’ll do just that. Stefan has three top-30 finishes combined on the two lakes in Tour competition. Don’t expect him to fall very far, if at all.
38. Darrel Robertson – Jay, Okla. – 689
What a remarkable career Darrel Robertson has had. The Oklahoma veteran has been on Tour since 1997 and doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all. He’s hoping to make the Cup for the 11th time and could hit the $2 million career earnings mark in the process.
Robertson has made two checks this year on Tour, but has had a few stinkers, too. It’s tough to predict how he’ll finish out the season. Robertson has fished six FLW Tour events on Champlain and never finished higher than 52nd, with an average finish of 94th. On Chickamauga, he’s finished 29th, 55th and 32nd. If he stays on pace at Chick, he’ll be fine, but Robertson probably needs to finish near the higher end of his historical range on Champlain to avoid missing out on a trip to Hot Springs.
39. Dylan Hays – El Dorado, Ark. – 687
Dylan Hays did a lot of good for his Cup chances by finishing third at Cherokee Lake last week. Now he’s on the cusp of making his first Cup and getting the chance to compete for FLW’s highest prize in his home state.
Hays’ season has been as up-and-down as you can imagine, with finishes of 34th, 150th, 29th, 102nd and third. If he can stay on the upswing in the remaining events, he can avoid the same pain he felt last season when he finished 45th in the standings and narrowly missed out on the championship.
Hays hasn’t fished a Tour event on either of the remaining lakes on the schedule, but he’s fished them both at the Costa FLW Series level. He finished 47th at Chickamauga back in March, and has finished 39th and 32nd at Champlain.
A top-50 finish at Chick should be good enough to stay above the cut. If Hays can hang at Champlain, he’ll get to go to the Cup for the first time.
40. Bryan Schmitt – Deale, Md. – 685
Bryan Schmitt started the season with back-to-back top-20 finishes before finishing 129th at Lake Seminole and failing to make a check at Grand and Cherokee. With an average finish of 64th place, he can’t afford to slip at the next two derbies. Don’t expect him to, either.
When the Tour last visited Chickamauga in 2015, Schmitt finished 16th. He should be able to power-fish there this time, too. The finale on Champlain bodes even better for Schmitt. He has two top-10 finishes there on Tour and seems to flourish anywhere bass live around vegetation.
Expect to see Schmitt competing for the top prize on Hamilton.
41. Joey Cifuentes – Clinton, Ark. – 684
Joey Cifuentes is a protégé of Larry Nixon. The two used to travel together when Cifuentes was a co-angler. Now, they’re duking it out for a spot at the Cup in their home state. You can expect either one of them to be a favorite should he make it.
Cifuentes has never fished a Tour event as a pro on either of the remaining fisheries, but he has fished them both as a co-angler and even made the top 10 at Chickamauga in 2015. In two and a half seasons as a pro, Cifuentes has had his best finishes on Northern fisheries and lakes with mixed bags, so he’ll probably do just fine at Champlain. His Tennessee River track record isn’t so hot. If he gets through Chickamauga OK, he’ll probably make the Cup.
42. Larry Nixon – Quitman, Ark. – 682
Larry Nixon, especially, is one to watch. He finished 15th at Chickamauga in 2015 and has been to Champlain enough times to know how to survive there.
More importantly, this Cup could be a big one for him. While we all hope the General will compete on Tour forever, you have to expect that before long he might consider retiring. To win the Cup at home on the same lake as where his longtime friend George Cochran won it in 2005 would be a fitting way to cap what has to be one of the five best pro fishing careers of all time.
Speaking of 2005, Nixon finished 11th that year. He should do well this year, too, if he makes it. The Cup on Hamilton won’t be a power-fishing showdown. It’ll probably be a finesse worm-fest, which means, at age 68, the legendary worm fisherman shouldn’t be at any physical disadvantage and should feel quite comfortable competing for five bites a day.
43. Jamie Horton – Centerville, Ala. – 681
Horton, a veteran, hasn’t done great up north in his FLW Tour career, but he’s seen enough and is consistent enough to not bomb. He's probably going to feel most at home at Chickamauga, and a good finish there should bump him up into Cup range. Then he just has to survive at Champlain.
44. Austin Wilson – Citrus Heights, Calif. – 672
Austin Wilson is somewhat of a wild card because this is his rookie season. However, most California pros bring a diverse set of skills and feel at home fishing clear smallmouth waters. Like Cifuentes, if Wilson can hang tough at Chickamauga, he has a good shot to get into Cup range at Champlain.
45. Jared Mcmillan – Belle Glade, Fla. – 670
Jared McMillan has to make up some ground to get in the Cup, but his deficit isn’t insurmountable. He’s 15 points back of Schmitt, who’s on the bubble. Historically, Florida pros have done well at Champlain (see: Glenn Browne and Scott Martin). Perhaps they feel comfortable on a natural lake with grass. Chickamauga bass have Florida-strain genetics mixed in, and there should be plenty of shallow hawgs for him to target. Don’t count the young pro out.