THE MONTH AHEAD
Story by Matt Pangrac - Christie and Dudley photos courtesy of FLW Outdoors Communications
Moore, OK – Across much of the country, it’s hot. While it may be the dog days of summer, fans of professional bass fishing have a lot to look forward to during the month of August. Within the first two weeks of the month, FLW will crown a new champion, as the Forrest Wood Cup kicks off on Georgia’s Lake Lanier on August 9th.
Just two weeks later, the Bassmaster Elite Series will crown a new Toyota Tundra Angler Of the Year at the regular season finale on New York’s Oneida Lake.
In both August tournaments, there are several fascinating storylines that, depending on how they play out, could have the possibility of adding an exclamation point on an already exciting season.
History on Lanier
As it stands now when the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup kicks off on Lake Lanier the second week of August, Oklahoma’s Jason Christie will be the only professional bass angler in the field who also has a date on Grand Lake for the Bassmaster Classic in February of 2013.
The amazing thing about Christie is the fact that less than a month ago, it looked as though he would be on the sidelines for both the Cup and the Classic. After leading the AOY race through the first three tournaments in the 2012 FLW Tour Major season, Christie recorded back-to-back-finishes of 125th and 128th to fall outside of Cup qualification. With an 11th place finish on Champlain to close out the Major season, Christie moved to 39th in the standings and made the Cup by a single point over Mark Rose.
This past weekend, Christie won the Bassmaster Northern Open on the Detroit River to punch his Classic ticket to Grand Lake in Oklahoma – a body of water that he has notched five BFL victories on between 2001 and 2008.
When the Forrest Wood Cup was last held on Georgia’s Lake Lanier in August of 2010, Christie was in 2nd place after the first day before eventually finishing the tournament in 8th place. If he is able to bottle some of the same Lake Lanier magic that he experienced briefly in 2010 and come out on top, Christie would enter the Classic in his home state as the overwhelming favorite with the opportunity to win the two biggest tournaments in bass fishing in a span of just over six months.
After turning in an already historic performance in 2012, where he won two FLW Tour Majors and secured his third Angler Of the Year title, David Dudley will enter the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Lanier with his sights set on closing out one the best seasons in professional bass fishing history.
Having already pocketed over $400,000 in earnings during the 2012 season alone, Dudley could break the $900,000 mark with a victory on Lanier. In the 2010 Cup on Lanier, Dudley finished in 11th place, and he has recorded top 15 finishes in the Forrest Wood Cup each out of the last five times he has qualified for the tournament.
It seems unlikely that an angler finishing the year in the top five in the AOY point standings could fly under the radar, but California’s Cody Meyer quietly put together a very solid season in the 2012 FLW Tour Majors.
He finished all six regular season tournaments between 13th and 41st place, and in the process, qualified for his fourth consecutive Forrest Wood Cup with a fifth place finish in the AOY standings. While he didn’t grab many headlines during the season, if history is any indication, Meyer’s name will rise to the top during the Cup on Lake Lanier.
In his three Cup appearances, Meyer has yet to finish outside the top 10, recording a 7th place finish in 2009 in Pittsburgh, a 2nd place finish on Lake Lanier in 2010, and a 3rd place finish on Ouachita in 2011. If he is able to turn in another stellar championship performance this time around on Lanier, Meyer will become the first angler in FLW history to start his career with four consecutive single digit finishes in Forrest Wood Cup competition.
For the first time in the past three years on the Bassmaster Elite Series, the Toyota Tundra Angler Of the Year will be determined based on overall points at the conclusion of the regular season. With seven tournaments in the books, New York’s Oneida Lake will serve as the playing field for the final Elite Series tournament of the 2012 season during the last weekend in August, and the venue couldn’t be better in terms of generating intriguing storylines.
In July of 2006, Oklahoma’s Tommy Biffle went shallow on Oneida Lake and opened the eyes of many to the fact that Oneida Lake had the potential to turn in a winning stringer of largemouth bass. With a four day total weight of 63-10, Biffle notched his first B.A.S.S. win in over a decade.
After starting the 2012 Elite Series season with three consecutive top 40 finishes, the veteran Oklahoma pro dropped in the TTAOY standings after missing the cut in the following three tournaments. With an 8th place finish on Lake Michigan at the end of June, Biffle will enter Oneida Lake precariously perched on the Classic bubble in 37th place in the TTAOY standings.
If he is to fish in the 18th Bassmaster Classic of his career and first in his home state, Biffle is going to have to turn in another solid performance on Oneida. In 2007, he finished in 15th place in the Bassmaster Major that was held on Oneida, and he recorded finishes of 16th place and 8th place on Oneida in 2008 and 2009.
Dean Rojas also has a lot riding on the line during the season finale in New York. While he is in 10th place in the TTAOY standings and appears to be safely inside the Classic cut, the Arizona pro, who finished 14th in the TTAOY standings in 2011, is desperate to make his first All-Star Week appearance.
With 494 Angler Of the Year points, Rojas sits just 18 points behind Randy Howell in 8th place for the final automatic qualifying position for All-Star week.
Like Biffle, Rojas has turned Oneida Lake into his playground in recent years. He finished 4th in the Bassmaster Major in 2007 and then claimed his first Elite Series trophy with a victory on Oneida the following year. Then in 2009, he recorded a 3rd place finish.
While Biffle will be fishing for a Classic berth and Rojas will be vying for an automatic All-Star week qualification, Texan Todd Faircloth will make his Elite Series return to Oneida Lake with a very different goal.
Faircloth finished in 23rd on the New York fishery in 2009, but it was what happened during the 2008 season finale on Oneida Lake that has him looking for redemption. Locked in a tight battle with Kevin VanDam for the Angler Of the Year title, Faircloth struggled and finished the tournament in 93rd place.
In the nearly four seasons since that tournament, Faircloth has missed the top 50 cut in Elite Series competition only five times, and he has made it very clear that the TTOAY title is at the front of his mind. Currently, Faircloth sits in 3rd place in the standings, seven points behind Ott DeFoe and 20 points behind Angler Of the Year leader Brent Chapman.
It’s been a while since Rick Clunn was at the dance. With four Classic trophies and a string of 28 consecutive Classic appearances between 1974 and 2001, Clunn last stepped foot on the Classic stage during the Red River Classic in 2009.
Currently, Clunn sits in 29th place in the TTAOY standings with only Oneida Lake standing in the way of the 33rd Classic qualification of his storied career. He has had mixed results on Oneida in the past, finishing in 25th place in 2008 and 69th place in 2009.