Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 01/03/2018

Story by Matt Pangrac - photos by Dave Rush (Martin photo courtesy of Brandon Gordon) 

The 2018 season begins on January 25th when the FLW Tour visits Lake Okeechobee. The Elite Series kicks off a few weeks later on Alabama's Lake Martin. Here are some of the storylines to follow during 2018 in professional bass fishing:  

It’s no secret that the home field advantage is alive and well in bass fishing, particularly in the Bassmaster Classic over the past five years.  Alabama’s Randy Howell won the 2014 Bassmaster Classic on Guntersville, South Carolina’s Casey Ashley won the 2015 Classic on Hartwell in 2015, and Oklahoma’s Edwin Evers won the 2016 Classic on Grand Lake.  

This March, Casey Ashley will have the opportunity to become the first angler in history to win two Bassmaster Classic titles in his home state when the Classic returns to Lake Hartwell in March.  

Ashley has made some serious coin in South Carolina over the years.  In addition to his Classic win on Hartwell, Ashley has an Elite Series victory on Lake Murray in 2011 and an FLW Tour victory on Hartwell in 2014.  

Scott Martin stepped up his video game in 2017, hiring a full time cameraman to film, edit, and produce content throughout the entire FLW Tour season (The BASS ZONE ran a feature story on his cameraman, Brandon Gordon, back in October.  CLICK HERE to read the full story).    

Brandon Palaniuk also released a video series on social media (also filmed by a fulltime cameraman), covering his 2017 Elite Series season that culminated with an Angler Of the Year title.   

On the FLW Tour, anglers like David Dudley and Carl Jocumsen used the Facebook Live feature to broadcast entire days of tournament competition to their followers.  Heading into the 2018 season, it will be interesting to follow the evolution of how anglers promote their brand and the avenues that they choose to use in order to gain more exposure.   

Chris Lane qualified for the Bassmaster Classic five consecutive seasons from 2012-2016, but it became apparent early on last season that a sixth consecutive Classic appearance would be highly unlikely.  The 2012 Classic champ started his 2017 campaign with three consecutive finishes of 100th place or lower.  

Prior to the 2017 Elite Series season, Lane (who has been on the Elite Series since 2006) had never finished below 100th place in a regular season Elite Series tournament.   

He did finish in 10th place on Lake Champlain last year, showing signs that he could be getting back on track.  With five B.A.S.S. wins since 2012, it will be interesting to see if Lane will make in number six in 2018. 

Alabama’s Justin Atkins had a ridiculous 2017 with FLW.  In his rookie season on the Tour, he finished in 22nd place in the Angler Of the Year standings with two Top 10 finishes during the regular season.   In August, he won the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Murray.  

He also qualified for the BFL All-American on Pickwick Lake, where he finished in 3rd place. As if the Cup win wasn’t enough, he closed out the season with a BFL victory in late September on Ross Barnett.

Just to put things into perspective, prior to 2017, Atkins had fished in 65 FLW tournaments (including College, BFL, and Costa) with seven Top 10 finishes.  In 2017, he fished in 14 FLW tournaments …with seven Top 10 finishes.  

Will he be able to keep up the pace that he set in 2017?

From 2012 to 2015, Kevin VanDam never visited the winner’s circle.  That all changed in 2016 when he won two regular season Elite Series tournaments (Toledo Bend and Cayuga) and also posted a victory in the Classic Bracket on the Niagara River.  Last year, VanDam led wire-to-wire on the St. Lawrence River to win his record 24th Bassmaster tournament.  

Looking at the 2018 schedule, there’s a good chance that he’ll once again lift a blue trophy over his head.  While the schedule features several new venues, there are three stops in 2018 where VanDam has been fairly dominant:  Grand Lake, Kentucky Lake, and the St. Lawrence River.   Between those three fisheries, KVD has six wins and a total of 10 Top 10 finishes.  

Will KVD once again rise to the top on a familiar body of water in 2018 and post a victory for a third consecutive season? 

The 2018 Elite Series will feature 11 anglers who have never fished on the Elite Series before.  Nine of those anglers are classified as rookies, while two are classified as “Elite Series Newcomers” due to their prior success on the FLW Tour.  

Tennessee’s Wesley Strader and Texas’ Shin Fukae will both make their Elite Series debuts in February on Lake Martin.  The two veteran anglers have combined earnings of over $2.5 million with FLW.   

Since 2013, four Elite Series trophies have been won by anglers fishing their first year on the Elite Series after moving over from FLW.  Jason Christie won on Bull Shoals in 2013, Brett Hite (Seminole) and Jacob Powroznik (Toledo Bend) won in 2014, and Jacob Wheeler won on Cherokee in 2017.  

If history is any indication, there’s a good chance that they’ll make an impact at the top of the leaderboard at some point during the season.