The 2022 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit season is sure to be a good one, and with old and new stars returning, the field is quite strong. Of course, there are also some very exciting rookies in the mix, with 24 newcomers taking a crack at a pro career in the coming year.
In 2021, Clabion Johns took down Polaris Rookie of the Year honors and simultaneously qualified for the Bass Pro Tour. Other recent ROY winners include folks like 2020 Angler of the Year Ron Nelson, Kyle Hall and Matt Becker. Historically, winning Rookie of the Year is a very strong indicator of a successful career to come, and there could be new stars throughout this year’s crop of rookies.
Here’s a brief rundown of who’s who.
Sporting one of the best incoming mustaches, Stephen Albertson qualified out of the Southern Division of the Toyota Series. A former Marine, Albertson has fished a little all over the country, but calls Florida home and has had all his best finishes come from the Sunshine State. With only 10 events under his belt with MLF, Albertson is about as much of a rookie as you can be, but he had a stellar 2021 season and has always wanted to try pro fishing. Retired and with the time to dedicate to it, he wasn’t about to pass up the invitation when he qualified.
A veteran of MLF competition in and around Tennessee, Mickey Beck has been in and out of Toyota Series events since 2012. In 2021, he finished third in the Central Division with his worst finish being 22nd on Dale Hollow. Likely to have an edge on the Tennessee River, Beck doesn’t have extensive experience across the country, but his recent performance is nothing to sneeze at.
Possibly one to watch when the season kicks off at Sam Rayburn, Jeff Bridges qualified out of the Southwestern Division of the Toyota Series with a Top 10 at Rayburn in April and two finishes in the 30s at Rayburn and Texoma in January and March. Though not necessarily seasoned in tournament competition across the country, Bridges has put in the time around home and earned the right to take a crack nationally.
In on a sponsorship exemption, Keith Carson is an undeniably exciting rookie. John Cox’s running buddy, Carson fished the new National Professional Fishing League in 2021, where he won an event and even Angler of the Year. In years past, he’s knocked down a Bassmaster Open win, medaled in multiple PanAm events and generally crushed bass across the state of Florida. If you’re setting odds for ROY, Carson has got to be up there.
The reigning Angler of the Year in the Toyota Series Western Division, Phillip Dutra picked up stakes and moved east to chase a pro career before he’d even fished the Toyota Series Championship. Dutra has crushed out west in a variety of formats recently, and on the Delta for a long time. Taking the show on the road is always a challenge for western anglers, but Dutra might have what it takes.
When it comes to Mexican fishing, Ricardo Gonzãlez has won just about everything. In Mexico, Gonzãlez is a four-time National Champion and has a handful of wins and an Angler of the Year title at other levels south of the border. Outside of Mexico, Gonzãlez has fished some Bass Champs events in Texas with success, traveled to the Toyota Series Championship twice and fished multiple PanAm events. Qualifying out of the International Division via the Toyota Series Championship, Gonzãlez plans to travel back and forth between countries for each event. He doesn’t have a ton of experience on US waters, but he certainly has a pedigree that sets him apart.
Coming out of Oklahoma, Shonn Goodwin is pretty well prepared for the top level. With eight BFL wins to his credit, Goodwin has put in some serious time in and around his home state, plus, he won the 2007 All-American on the Ohio River. Maybe lacking a little in northern and southeastern experience, Goodwin is still going into his rookie season with good history. A Top 30 finish in the Toyota Series Championship in 2021 provides decent proof that he can still catch ’em outside of the Ozarks, and he’s got experience on Sam Rayburn that should have him feeling comfortable in the opener.
One to watch in Florida, Christian Greico finished sixth in points in the Southern Division in 2021, notching a Top 10 at the Harris Chain along the way. Pretty precocious, Greico has won a two-day BFL on Okeechobee and made the Top 10 in almost a third of his 31 events. Still, he hasn’t banked much time outside Florida, so he might run into a bit of a learning curve at the next level.
Every year, there’s a rookie or two on tour who enters with a head of steam and a theoretically perfect schedule for them. When Nelson won ROY in 2019, he got to finish the year with a pair of sight-fishing events on Lake Champlain and Lake Chickamauga where he finished 14th and third. In 2021, a shallow bite carried Johns to ROY in basically every event, and he got to fish more than a few tournaments on southeastern fisheries he’s spent his life on. This year, Blake Hall is one of the folks with a real schedule-based opportunity. A Tennessee River guide, Hall finished fifth in the Central Division in 2021 and rarely misses a check on Guntersville. Hall may need to do some northern learning, but he fits the mold of a successful southern angler perfectly.
In on a sponsorship exemption, Cole Harris is a bit short on success at the Toyota Series level, but he’s fished up and down the east coast a fair amount. Successful at the local level when he lived in Vermont, Harris has the history to do well at the season finale on Champlain. It’ll be interesting to watch Harris raise his game to contend on the Pro Circuit.
A former standout at Tennessee’s Tusculum University, Nick Hatfield looks as ready as an angler can be for the next level. Cleaning up shop around his home in East Tennessee, Hatfield has fished Bassmaster Opens around the rest of the country, on top of his College Fishing experience. In 2021, he fished the Northern Division of the Toyota Series and finished third in the points on a bunch of unfamiliar fisheries. Nobody is a lock for future success, but it sure seems like Hatfield has what it takes.
Having fished for UCF in college, Cole Hewett is one of a number of up-and-coming Floridians to hit the big time in recent years. Hewett’s rise has been fast – in a year as a co-angler and a year at the bow in the Southern Division, Hewett has never missed a check and finished fifth or better in the points both times. Still, roaming outside of Florida could be a big challenge. Recently, youngsters like Laramy Strickland and Jared McMillan have made the transition look pretty easy, but Hewett will still have some things to learn in the year ahead.
An interesting name for quite a bit, River Lee had a busy 2021, fishing in the Abu Garcia College Fishing National Championship for Stephen F. Austin, competing in the National Professional Fishing League and finishing fifth in the Southwestern Division of the Toyota Series. One to watch at Rayburn for sure, Lee has a lot of experience around the country for a rookie and looks well-positioned for a career at the top level.
One of only two northerners taking the plunge this year, Robby Lefere has eight Top 10s in 23 events with MLF. in 2021, Lefere fished a full slate in the Northern Division, finished fourth in points and earned a Top 10 at the Potomac, which is a bit of a change from his usual stomping grounds in Michigan. Having fished in high school (Lefere and his partner finished 14th in the National Championship on Pickwick in 2018), Lefere has a little seasoning outside the north, but not like some anglers who traveled around the country in college as well. For Lefere, the back half of the schedule could be good, and if he can make it happen early, or even just survive, the northern swing could give him a lot of opportunities to pick up points.
Pulling half a Hanselman, Andrew Loberg went ahead and won back-to-back Western Division events at the California Delta and Lake Havasu in 2021. So, you could say he had a good year.
Having come east for the Toyota Series Championship four times, and east three times for the College Fishing National Championship, Loberg is about as rounded as a western angler can be before hitting the big leagues. There are going to be logistical challenges and there’s a lot of new water on the schedule, but Loberg is versatile and dedicated, having quit his job to take a run at full-time fishing. Tai Au made his mark on the pros in ‘21, could Loberg do the same in ’22?
From a very Wisconsin town, Steve Lopez wrecked shop in the Central Division in 2021 and was in the running with Jimmy Washam up until the end. Lopez doesn’t have a long history of big-time fishing, but he’s been going hard locally for the last 10 years or so. Due to the Toyota Series and some other championship events, he has previous experience on both Tennessee River lakes on the schedule. Plus, being from Wisconsin usually makes you feel comfortable on rivers and Champlain for the northern events. Lopez beat a lot of really good anglers in 2021, and from the sounds of it, he’s going into the season with an open mind and good momentum.
Having competed in and around Texas for a while, Cameron Mattison had a spectacular season last year, knocking out a second-place finish in the Phoenix Bass Fishing League Cowboy Division points and finishing third in the Southwestern Division of the Toyota Series. Certainly on the radar for Rayburn, Mattison has done well in a wide range of conditions over the last few years and could very well be a threat elsewhere as well.
A Pickwick local, Jeff McLain has fished 75 events with MLF. Last year, he cracked ‘em in the Toyota Series Central Division, banking a pair of Top 10s on the Tennessee River and looking pretty good in the process. McLain doesn’t really have the resume of a hot young stick bound for success, but he’s got experience on his side for sure. With Pickwick and Guntersville both on the schedule, he should have a shot to make his mark, and if he can do well elsewhere, then he could line up a big rookie year.
Three Top 10s and an AOY in the Plains Division have Andy “The Beautiful” Newcomb is rolling into a pro career with a full head of steam. The winner at Grand Lake in 2021, Newcomb has been to the All-American and caught piles of fish in the super-competitive Ozark Division as well. Though he may be lacking a fully national resume, Newcomb doesn’t seem to have many weaknesses and is undoubtedly one of the more exciting rookies on the roster.
Hailing from Tennessee, Lance Oligschlaeger has made some Top 10s in the Volunteer State, but his real strength has been in Florida. In 2021, he put it together for an AOY in the Southern Division, never finishing worse than 19th on three Florida fisheries. Though he’s not really seasoned up north, Oligschlaeger has a pretty diverse skill set and isn’t coming in raw by any means. Maybe not as hot a name as Keith Carson or Phillip Dutra, he could certainly do well on tour nonetheless.
Overshadowed a bit by Newcomb and some of the big names in the Toyota Series Plains Division, Bruce Parsons nonetheless had an excellent year. Finishing no worse than 15th, he made a Top 10 and did well at a broad range of fisheries. Outside of the Ozarks, he doesn’t have a ton of experience, though he’s fished some Bassmaster Opens to broaden his horizons. In addition to his success on the Toyota Series, his Phoenix Bass Fishing League season in 2013 is also impressive – back then, he made a pair of Top 10s in the always stout Ozark Division.
Inevitably wearing the grungiest jeans in the field, Martin Villa has been lights-out since he started at the Toyota Series level. Locally, at the Phoenix Bass Fishing League level, Villa has made the Top 10 in standings of the Shenandoah Division and Piedmont Division five of the last six years. In 2020, he finished 16th in the Toyota Series Eastern Division, knocking out a Top 10 at Lake Norman. Then in 2021, he finished sixth in the Northern Division, making a Top 10 at Champlain.
Though he’s maybe not loaded with experience down south, Villa undoubtedly has a knack for catching bass. One to watch at the James River, he stands a good chance to do well about anywhere if he can keep the momentum train rolling.
Basically a veteran at the Phoenix Bass Fishing League level, Mitchell Webb has come on strong in the Toyota Series since he started fishing full divisions. In his last three complete seasons, he’s finished no worse than 31st in points and finished sixth in the Southwestern Division in 2021. Making a couple of Top 10s along the way and with a fair amount of time on Rayburn, Webb should be comfortable in the season-opener. After that, he won’t be on familiar ground often, but Oklahoma has a long history of kicking out pros, so the odds might be in his favor.