In 2019, Ron Nelson won the Polaris Rookie of the Year award and made it look easy, even with an actual zero posted on the first day of the season. Now, he’s leading the Angler of the Year race on the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit.
This year’s contenders for the ROY title aren’t flying quite as high as Nelson did, but with two events left, it’s time to take a closer look at the contenders. Historically, the winner is almost guaranteed a successful pro career, and this year they’ll also take home a Polaris Ranger 1000.
In years past, we’ve seen a home-field advantage of sorts play out in the ROY race. In 2012, when Clent Davis was the top rookie, he finished in the top 20 in two of the last three events on the Tennessee River. In 2018, Matt Becker finished 26th at an epic smallmouth beatdown on St. Clair to roar back to win the title. Last year, Ron Nelson iced it down with the most gimmie event ever for the smallmouth hammer – a spawn-time derby on Champlain.
With the final two events of the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit regular season slated for the Mississippi River and Sandusky Bay, on Lake Erie, there’s really no candidate that is perfectly suited for both. Because of that, the final two events set up well to test true fishing talent, and it won’t be easy for someone to get on a roll to close it out.
26th place – 600 points – Jimmy Washam
Leading the way among the rookies is Jimmy Washam, from Covington, Tenn., who qualified for the Pro Circuit after finishing third in the Toyota Series Central Division in 2019.
At 26th overall, Washam would be having an absolutely sparkling year were it not for a 100th-place showing at Lake Martin, but he’s still doing very impressive things as a rookie. Of particular note is his second-place finish at the Harris Chain, where it seems like he would have triumphed with one more tournament day, and his 39th-place finish in the Super Tournament on Chickamauga.
With his home lake being Pickwick, Washam doesn’t really have any easy ones left on the schedule. Though he undoubtedly has the chops to do well shallow and in current on the Mississippi River, he might be a bit at sea when the schedule turns to smallmouth. Of course, he’s an adept offshore angler, and there are plenty of offshore opportunities for green and brown fish around Sandusky.
28th place – 587 points – Jason Vance
Also coming out of the Central Division, Jason Vance is an Indiana product and is sitting at 28th in overall points.
Looking at Vance’s history, it’s plain that he’s got a good grasp on the more upland type of fishery. Good finishes on Cumberland and Lake of the Ozarks are commonplace for him, and he really excelled this spring on Lake Martin. With that being said, the final two events of the season might really test him. Though he’s got some good results on riverine fisheries like Dardanelle, there’s nothing in his tournament history that really compares to the likes of the Mississippi or the Great Lakes.
For Vance to win, he’s likely going to have to fish at the top of his game the rest of the season.
30th place – 580 points – Kyle Hall
At 30th overall, Kyle Hall is a Texas product with some impressive smallmouth experience already under his belt. His biggest accomplishment in FLW events to date is his win at the 1000 Islands in the 2018 Toyota Series event there. This year, Hall stumbled really badly at Sam Rayburn, but has finished 45th or better in the last three events.
For Hall, the Mississippi could be a challenge, but he might be in good shape to make up some ground in the final event on Erie. Hall has been to St. Clair before, and he's got a lot of time on Ontario under his belt. Though he's not overflowing with a lifetime of smallmouth skills like some in the field, he's got an aptitude for them and time on the water.
36th place – 571 points – Laramy Strickland
Maybe the most exciting rookie so far, Laramy Strickland has sandwiched some amazing results between some very poor finishes. Coming off a top 10 in the Toyota Series Championship on Cumberland, Strickland started his Pro Circuit career by finishing 119th on Sam Rayburn. Then, fishing near home, he won the Harris Chain event, whereupon he went up to Alabama and finished fifth at Lake Martin. Then, he came back to earth pretty hard in the first Super Tournament at Chickamauga, barely scraping more than 10 pounds each day and finishing 155th.
At just 23 years old, Strickland has already impressed, and he’s definitely within range of qualifying for the Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota in his first year as a pro. How he finishes the rest of the season could make the difference between a good year and a great year – a win and a ROY title is a heck of a way to start a career. Though he really is lacking in applicable experience at the final two stops, he’s already shown that he can catch ‘em outside of his home state of Florida.
37th place – 570 points – Barron Adams
Buddy Gross says Barron Adams is pretty good, which should be enough for anyone, really. But, if you need more convincing, a 54th-place showing in the Super Tournament on Chickamauga is a good start, and the fact that he’s in 36th place (one point behind Strickland) should do the rest.
Adams had a triple-digit finish in the first event of the season at Rayburn, but he’s looked really competitive since, finishing 84th, 13th and 54th in the last three. From Georgia, Adams has a really solid record in the southeast, but he’s low on experience outside of that region. Like many other rookies, he’s really going to be stretching his fishing muscles the rest of the year.
47th place – 553 points – Cole Floyd
The fishing world has been waiting for Cole Floyd to break out for a while now, and he finally did it in the Super Tournament on Chickamauga, beating everyone besides Jacob Wheeler to finish second.
There’s no doubt Floyd is a threat in any season on the Tennessee River, and he’s got enough good showings across the Central Division to prove he’s adept elsewhere as well. Still, he’s got a minimal amount of smallmouth experience and has underwhelmed in college national championships on rivers without a potent ledge bite.
At the same time, Floyd is someone who has stood above the competition for a while now, and it wouldn’t really surprise anyone to see him go on a tear now that he appears to have his feet under him at the pro level.
48th place – 552 points – Darold Gleason
Based on Darold Gleason’s history in triple-A events, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise for the 38-year-old to be in his third or fourth year at the pro level. So, while he’s not superlatively young like some of the rookies, he’s got a broader base of experience than almost any of them. Years of fishing the Toyota Series and Bassmaster Opens have seen him chase bass from Wisconsin to New York, and though the results haven’t always been pretty, he’s seen a lot more than just his homeland of Texas and Louisiana.
Scrolling through his history shows an angler who is plainly improving. Though his results in the last two events have been pretty dismal, Gleason could get right back on the horse at the Mississippi. Last year, he finished 50th in the Bassmaster Open there, so he’s got a decent base of experience to work from. Moving on to Sandusky is going to be a bit of a mystery, but he’ll be in the same boat as a lot of the rookies, and he’s got a little more smallmouth experience on his side.
The top 10 rookies
26. Jimmy Washam – Covington, Tenn. – 600 points
28. Jason Vance – Battle Ground, Ind. – 587 points
30. Kyle Hall – Granbury, Texas – 580 points
36. Laramy Strickland – Bushnell, Fla. – 571 points
37. Barron Adams – Mineral Bluff, Ga. – 570 points
47. Cole Floyd – Leesburg, Ohio – 553 points
48. Darold Gleason – Many, La. – 552 points
57. Mitch Crane – Columbus, Miss. – 542 points
66. Kyle Gelles – Pingree, Idaho – 535 points
74. Kevin Martin – Crown City, Ohio – 523 points