With 2017 fast approaching, FLW anglers are looking forward to a new season of opportunity. Before we make the transition, however, let’s take a look back at some of the highlights from what was another incredible tournament season in 2016.
10. Bryan Thrift doubles up
What’s a tournament season without a Bryan Thrift victory? Well, if it’s 2016, it’s a season with two Bryan Thrift victories. The North Carolina pro caught 30 pounds, 7 ounces on the final day of the Costa FLW Series Southeastern Division event at Santee Cooper to earn his first win in 2016, then locked up a 2017 Forrest Wood Cup berth when he won the FLW Tour Invitational in his backyard at Lake Norman in the fall. Thrift actually had a down year on Tour by his standards. He finished 19th in the points. It was the first time since 2007 that he didn’t finish in the top 10.
9. The world meets the Johnston brothers
Two brothers from Ontario, Canada, made waves in their rookie season on the FLW Tour in 2016. Chris and Cory Johnston finished second and 29th in the AOY standings, respectively, with Cory earning a top 10 and more than $40,000 and Chris earning three top 10s – including at the Cup – and more than $76,000. Perhaps many anglers in the South and Midwest had not heard of the Johnstons before, but folks farther north know them well. They’ve been dominating the scene in Ontario and the Great Lakes region for several years. The Johnstons are also Costa FLW Series Northern Division hammers. Cory won his second consecutive and third career Northern Division AOY title in 2016. Chris finished runner-up. Combined, they have four Northern Division AOY titles and have finished in the top 10 in the standings eight times.
8. Browne dominates the Southeastern Division
Glenn Browne has quite handily mopped up the competition at the Costa FLW Series level in recent years. The Florida pro, who’s less than $3,000 away from the $1 million career earnings mark, finished third in the 2015 Northern Division standings and first in the 2016 Southeastern Division standings. The Southeastern AOY was the second of Browne’s career. The first came in 2008, which was the last time he fished the Southeastern Division. Yet this year’s AOY title was highly impressive because Browne finished in the top five in all three events. The Southeastern Division is one of the most popular tournament circuits that FLW hosts. The three tournaments in that division in 2016 fielded 250 pros at Lake Okeechobee, 197 pros at Santee Cooper and 154 pros at Wheeler Lake.
7. BFL, TBF stars shine
The T-H Marine Bass Fishing League and The Bass Federation churned out some worthy and impressive champions in 2016. BFL All-American champ Jeremy Lawyer (shown above) and TBF national champ Joseph Webster both finished in the top 10 at the Forrest Wood Cup at Wheeler Lake. It’s the first time that the BFL and TBF representatives at the Cup each made the final cut. Lawyer’s stats, in particular, were quite impressive in 2016. He logged five top-10 finishes, including seventh place at the Costa FLW Series Championship and fourth place at the BFL Wild Card, which earned him a return trip to the All-American in 2017. Interestingly, in terms of top 10s, that’s not his best season with FLW. Lawyer did it nine times in BFL competition in 2015. He and Webster will fish the FLW Tour in 2017.
6. Scott Martin makes it three at Champlain
One of the winningest anglers in the history of FLW, Scott Martin made history in 2016 when he won the season finale at Lake Champlain. It was the third Tour win at Champlain in Martin’s career, and his sixth Tour win overall – a record. Martin has now earned more than $2.5 million in his FLW career. That’s second only to David Dudley’s $3.4 million.
5. Jason Lambert wins two in record-setting fashion
It was an up-and-down year for Tennessee pro Jason Lambert, who opened the 2016 Costa FLW Series season with a $105,000 win – the largest winning prize in FLW Series regular-season history – at Lake Okeechobee. Lambert struggled a bit on Tour in 2016, missing the Cup at Wheeler Lake where he would have had more prior experience than just about everyone else in the field. Though he was out of the running for the Cup by the second-to-last event on Kentucky Lake, Lambert proved that he definitely was not off his game. The event fell right into Lambert’s wheelhouse – a full-on ledge-fishing slugfest. The new Lord of the Ledges smashed 29 pounds on the final day for a winning tournament total of 97 pounds, 2 ounces, which is a record for the heaviest weight in an FLW Tour event on Kentucky Lake. He wasn’t done there, however. Lambert finished runner-up at the FLW Tour Invitational on Norris Lake in October and missed tallying his third win of the season by finishing just 3 ounces behind James Watson. In all, Lambert tallied more than $271,000 in winnings on the season.
4. South Carolina makes it two in a row
For the second time in the history of FLW College Fishing, a school won back-to-back national championships in 2016. The University of South Carolina’s Chris Blanchette and Hampton Anderson won the 2016 championship on Lake Keowee, succeeding Gamecock teammates Patrick Walters and Gettys Brannon, who won the title in 2015 at Lake Murray. The first school to double up was the University of Florida. Gator anglers Jake Gipson and Matt Wercinski won the 2010 and 2011 championships.
3. Korean becomes first International Division Cup qualifier
Though he didn’t earn near the headlines that FLW’s top Tour stars earned in 2016, Korea’s Hyochul Kim made history in 2016 by becoming the first Costa FLW Series International Division angler to earn a spot at the Forrest Wood Cup. Kim will compete alongside Andy Morgan, John Cox and company at Lake Murray this coming August. More importantly, he represents a successful expansion program in the fishing industry that is being spearheaded by FLW. In 2017, the International Division will be comprised of Korea, Canada, Mexico, China and South Africa.
2. Andy Morgan wins his third AOY
It’s the same story every year. OK, it’s only been the story for three of the last four years. Andy Morgan won his third career AOY title in 2016, and all have come in the last four seasons. He’s now tied with David Dudley and Clark Wendlandt for the most AOY titles ever. What’s more remarkable is Morgan’s streak over the last decade. In that time, he hasn’t finished worse than 10th in the AOY standings. Now that Morgan is a proven closer in the AOY race, the question everyone wants to know is this: Can anyone beat him in 2017? He looks pretty flawless right now.
1. John Cox wins Hartwell and the Cup from an aluminum boat
The only thing that could overshadow Andy Morgan’s third AOY title is what John Cox accomplished in 2016. Just a year after he nearly won the AOY from an aluminum boat (he finished runner-up in 2015), Cox took his tin rig out on Tour and won a regular-season event at Lake Hartwell and the Forrest Wood Cup at Wheeler Lake. At Wheeler in particular, Cox proved just how powerful a tool an aluminum boat can be by running way up a tributary and tapping into a secluded creek that no one else had found, and most probably couldn’t reach. All year long, Cox fished the way he fishes, bouncing around the shallows and disregarding more or less everything offshore. Cox is now within easy range of the $1 million earnings mark with more than $928,000 in his career. More importantly, in 2016 he reminded everyone that instinct and skill still trump expensive equipment in the world of bass fishing.