From the beginning, 2019 was a good year of fishing. The FLW Tour got off to a rollicking start on Sam Rayburn, and it really stayed pretty great from there, with a lot of good fishing and a killer Angler of the Year race. Beyond the Tour, all the other circuits had plenty of highlights, too. We saw impressive feats accomplished at all levels and some very exciting individual events.
Here’s a rundown of the year that was.
The Northern Division AOY race was pretty rad
Sometimes FLW Series Angler of the Year races can get a bit buried by other tournament action, which is an unfortunate circumstance. But, the hard-core fishing fans were treated to one simply beautiful AOY showdown in the Northern Division in September. Going into the season finale at the St. Lawrence River, Scott Dobson held a two-point lead over Casey Smith, Troy Morrow and Adrian Avena.
It felt like a foregone conclusion that Dobson would make the cut at the river, considering his smallmouth expertise and what was on the line, but it was impossible to count out any of the others. In the end, Dobson iced it with a second-place finish, but it was not without drama. On day one, the Michigan pro caught “only” 19 pounds and languished outside the top 20, behind both Avena and Smith. Catching 23-6 on day two, Dobson cruised into third place and slightly ahead of Smith. On the final day, he did enough with an overall tough bite to hold off the New Yorker for his first Northern Division AOY title.
Sam Rayburn shows out
Despite being one of the best lakes in the country at nearly any point in time, Sam Rayburn hadn’t hosted an FLW Tour event before 2019 since Bryan Thrift won there in 2014. In January, when the pros descended on the big lake, they ran plumb into a fascinating scenario – super-high water during the winter. Many boat ramps around the lake closed, and there were miles of new water to fish, with possible patterns changed up quite a bit.
The fishing turned out to be phenomenal, if somewhat difficult for those that got left out. Despite the flooded cover, if you were on ’em, you most likely fished offshore, and there were some places that seemed to have nearly infinite fish, even if the 8-pounders did get a little scarce on the weekend. Still, four pros weighed 25 pounds or better on day one, two did it on day two (including a 33-9 haul by eventual winner Terry Bolton) and Thrift came literally an ounce shy of the mark on the third day.
There was also a ton of huge individual fish. Sam George caught a giant, Troy Morrow caught one about as big as he was and Bolton nailed one that was nearly 10 pounds to anchor his mega-bag. For the daily big bass awards, Scott Martin weighed a 9-12 on day one, and Andy Wicker caught an 11-2 on day two.
Heck, even the bad stuff turned out good at Rayburn. After postponing the final day due to bad weather, everyone enjoyed a good breakfast before the tournament wrapped up on Monday. It was the first time the final day of a Tour event took place on a weekday in the FLW Live era, and it was an all-around success.
Terry “Blade” Bolton was undisputedly the feel-good story of the year through Lake Seminole. One of the most well-liked anglers on Tour, the newly married and refocused Bolton put together a masterful event at Rayburn to win for the first time in 24 years on the FLW Tour. Then, he kept on catching, making day three at Toho, the final day at Seminole and the third day at Grand. At Seminole, he punctuated the final day with a 27-2 catch, which was the biggest of the event. Though Bolton trailed off a bit as the season wore on, he still put together a wonderful year that resulted in a seventh-place AOY finish – the best of his career.
Thrift finally wins the Cup
Going into the FLW Cup at Lake Hamilton it felt like it might finally be Bryan Thrift’s year. Not only was he perfectly suited to Hamilton, everyone knew there was a possibility that this would be the last Cup and his last chance at a win. Luckily for history and Thrift’s trophy case, he did win, leading wire-to-wire and characteristically doing a bit of everything to secure the win. And so, on his 13th try and after so many close calls, the Shelby, N.C., angler finally got to hoist the Cup and check the last box in his FLW resume.
The B. Lat win
Pretty much everyone loves Brian Latimer, and it is with good reason. He’s a genuinely wonderful individual, and he’s shared his journey to the top levels of fishing in a uniquely engaging and down-to-earth manner. This year at Seminole there were some other pros with high-flying single-day showings and exciting flurries, but Latimer kept plugging, not catching many, but catching the right ones as the tournament wore on. Super engaging on FLW Live, his final day was tense and exciting, and when he weighed his fish and hoisted the trophy the emotion was unbelievable.
Butler makes waves on Chickamauga
It takes a lot to legitimately assault the record books, but Brent Butler did it on day two of the FLW Series event this year at Lake Chickamauga. Weighing 37 pounds, 5 ounces, Butler rocketed into the lead with the fifth biggest bag in FLW Series history. Butler’s big fish was an 11-10 on day two, and he went on to win the tournament with a total of 68-8.
You wouldn’t think an angler from Zimbabwe would come anywhere near the lead in an FLW Series Championship event loaded with pros on Lake Cumberland, but Roger Cousens did it on day one this year. A hammer in Zimbabwe, Cousens was representing the International Division, and though he didn’t make the cut, it was the first time in FLW history that an international angler led at the Championship.
The College Fishing Natty was a good one
Because it was held on the heels of the Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American, the FLW College Fishing National championship could have easily been a lesser redux of the prior week, but that was not the case. Instead, the fishing was markedly better, with the grass-winding bite taking off and plenty of bass hitting the scale. Though Jarrett Martin and Nickolas Marsh of Adrian College probably had the best catch of FLW Live, it was the Murray State duo of Blake Albertson and Adam Puckett that got the win by 3 ounces over Tristan McCormick and Dakota Pierce of Bethel University.
G-Ville goes off
Lake Guntersville hasn’t been a slam dunk the last couple of years, but this spring the FLW College Fishing Southeastern Conference hit it perfectly. Houston Calvert and Justin Lane of the University of North Alabama won with 29-3, and everyone in the top 30 weighed 19 pounds or better, with 23 teams surpassing the 20-pound mark. Vibrating jigs in grass reigned, and a big wave of late-February and early-March prespawn fish seemed to roll up to be caught at just the right time.
The clutchest double ever
Catching a double is really cool, even a little one on an umbrella rig. Now, imagine catching a double on a crankbait in the FLW Cup. Also, imagine both the fish being the kickers you need to make the final day. Well, that actually happened to Kyle Walters this summer. One moment he was mired in small fish and a tough day, and the next he’d landed two kickers in one indelible moment. We’ll probably never see the likes of it again, but gosh is it special that it happened.
MLF acquires FLW
In fall of 2019, one of the biggest business moves in the history of professional bass fishing was finalized as Major League Fishing acquired FLW. The deal combined MLF’s star-laden 80-angler no-entry-fee Bass Pro Tour with FLW’s hierarchy of tournament fishing that spans from the grassroots level to the pro ranks. With the change came a lot of positives, including lower entry fees for the FLW Series and Phoenix Bass Fishing League and the promise of more live broadcasts and television time for fans to enjoy.
Cherokee shows out
Andrew Upshaw won the tournament, but the real winner was everyone who watched this spring’s FLW Tour showdown on Lake Cherokee. East Tennessee was resplendent in her spring colors, but the smallmouths stole the show. Seemingly every bass in the lake pulled up to the banks to start spawning, and plenty of pros got on the bite, meandering around islands and rocky points and banks and plucking smallies on just about every cast with a Ned rig.
Nobody really expected the fishing to be as good as it was, but by golly it was great. During the event, the top 23 all averaged better than 15 pounds through three days, with most of that weight being brown. The only pro catching largemouths in the top 10 was Dylan Hays, and even he couldn’t keep up with the smallies, as both Upshaw and Grae Buck beat him out.
Cox in his element
Watching John Cox put on a sight-fishing show in Florida is something of a winter tradition now, and this year at the FLW Tour event on Toho was no different. On day one, Cox started fast with a big one, and then another, plucking some huge spawners early. Then, he did a little fishing, and he ended the day with a giant on a worm. When it was all said and done, Cox weighed 31-9 on day one. Though he didn’t end up winning (he’s due for a Florida W soon, though), he still had arguably the most exciting day of the tournament, even accounting for Buddy Gross taking the trophy.
Some Phoenix Bass Fishing League magic
We’ve hit on a lot of notable Phoenix Bass Fishing League performances lately, but one angler that has missed a little of the shine is Bryan Elrod. This year, Elrod picked up three regular-season wins: one in the Shenandoah Division on the James River and the other two in the Piedmont Division on the James and Smith Mountain Lake. Three dubs in a year is super hard to do, and it’s even more impressive that he didn’t get them all on the same body of water.
Another record for Dudley
David Dudley has been among the uber-elite of bass fishing for years as FLW’s all-time leading money winner and a Cup winner, but this year he really set himself apart. Winning an unprecedented fourth AOY title in a tightly contested race against John Cox gave Dudley the most AOY titles of all-time, bumping him ahead of Clark Wendlandt and Andy Morgan.
Dudley had a phenomenal season from the get-go, making the cut in every event but Seminole. To fishing strong, Dudley placed fifth at Chickamauga and went into Champlain just one point ahead of John Cox. There, he closed things out on one of his favorite lakes, weighing more than 17 pounds each day en route to a seventh-place finish and the title.
Thrift on Champlain
You can come up with about a hundred Thrift highlights in any given year, but he put together one pretty special run in 2019 at a lake that he’s not known for success on. In June, Thrift finished third in the FLW Tour event on Champlain, in part because of an electrifying topwater bite he had rolling on his first stop of the morning. Then, he followed it up by winning the FLW Series Northern Division event in July. For that event, he dropped a massive 22-6 bag on day one, then survived brutal wind on day two and a big charge by Edward Levin to earn his first win on a Northern fishery.
Eric Jackson makes a cut
There’s no denying that Eric Jackson has struggled since his debut as a pro on Tour, finishing below 125th in the standings every year and not cashing a check until this season, when he earned two. However, Jackson literally beat Thrift twice this year, and he ended the season in style, making his first top 10 and almost winning the Champlain FLW Tour event.
Running to Ticonderoga each day, Jackson was simply off the hook on FLW Live, as you’d expect if you’ve spent any time around him. He dominated the discussion in the live chat on YouTube, and came dangerously close to winning the event over a lot of Tour pros with much more on their resumes.
Bradford Beavers closes strong
Summerville, S.C., pro Bradford Beavers has been a hammer in the FLW Series for several years, but 2019 was arguably his breakout year. Beavers was a rookie on the FLW Tour, racking up two top 10s and finishing 12th in the points. During that time, he also grabbed a W in the FLW Series Southeastern Division event on Santee Cooper – one of his favorite lakes in the country. But, even after the FLW Cup when most pros let off the gas, Beavers kept cruising. He won a Phoenix Bass Fishing League Super Tournament on Lake Hartwell, and a few weeks later grabbed a Regional title up at the Potomac River. Not a bad season for the 33-year-old pro.
Rapala Varsity Bass takes flight
Spawned off the idea of Circuit Breaker, this year FLW launched Rapala Varsity Bass presented by General Tire with the idea to shine a light on college and high school anglers from across the country. From how they deal with adversity during events, to success in life off the water, Varsity Bass has been a great way to spread the word about high school and college fishing. With six episodes out, covering individuals to entire school teams, the series is just one more way FLW has helped try to grow the future of our sport.