Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 04/21/2017

Story by Matt Pangrac

Moore, OK- While not all of the newcomers on the 2017 Elite Series qualify as rookies, the new crop of Elites have made a significant impact through the first three regular season events on Cherokee Lake, Lake Okeechobee, and Toledo Bend.  

The top three spots at the first Elite Series stop of the year on Tennessee’s Cherokee Lake (February 9th-12th) were all occupied by Elite Series newcomers (Jacob Wheeler (1st), Jamie Hartman (2nd), Jesse Wiggins (3rd)

Out of the 14 anglers fishing their first year on the Elite Series, nine of them recorded a Top 50 finish on Cherokee Lake including Skylar Hamilton (22nd), Alton Jones Jr. (25th), Dustin Connell (37th), Mark Daniels, Jr. (40th), David Fritts (45th), and Darrell Ocamica (50th).  

The trend continued at the second Elite Series stop on Lake Okeechobee (February 23rd-26th), where eight first year Elite Series anglers finished inside the Top 50 including: Jesse Tacoronte (16th), David Fritts (17th), Dustin Connell (26th), Alton Jones, Jr. (33rd), Stetson Blaylock (37th), Jesse Wiggins (40th), Tyler Carriere (45th), and Skylar Hamilton (48th).

The pace slowed down somewhat at Toledo Bend (April 6th-9th), as just five of the 14 newcomers cashed a check including: Jamie Hartman (3rd), Jacob Wheeler (10th), Mark Daniels, Jr. (28th), Jesse Wiggins (42nd), and David Fritts (48th).

Through the first three regular season Elite Series stops of the 2017 season, roughly 15% of the Top 50 finishers have been anglers fishing their first year on the Elite Series, even though they make up just 12.7% of the entire Elite Series field.  

As a result, the top of the Toyota Angler Of the Year point standings after three events is scattered with competitors who were watching the Elite Series from the bank in 2016:   

Jacob Wheeler (7th), Jesse Wiggins (8th), Jamie Hartman (10th), David Fritts (23rd), Dustin Connell (27th), and Mark Daniels, Jr. (36th) are all inside the 2018 Classic cutline (Wiggins is already qualified for the 2018 Classic via his Bassmaster Southern Open victory earlier this year on the Harris Chain).  

30% of the Top 10 in the TAOY standings are Elite Series newcomers, and 15% of the Top 40 are fishing their first year on the Elites.  

While Jacob Wheeler and David Fritts don’t qualify as Elite Series rookies due to their accomplishments prior to fishing the Elite Series, four rookies are currently inside the Classic cut led by Jesse Wiggins, who holds a four point lead over Jamie Hartman in the Rookie Of the Year race.  

Jesse Wiggins and David Fritts are the only two first year Elite Series anglers who have cashed a check in each of the first three stops in 2017.  Wiggins has only fished 12 B.A.S.S. events in his young career, but has cashed a check in the past 11 including Bassmaster Open and Classic competition.    The three-for-three start for Fritts, however, marks the first time since the 2007 FLW Tour season where the veteran angler has cashed a check in three consecutive regular season tournaments in a single year.  

Out of the 12 competition days so far in the 2017 Elite Series season, an Elite Series newcomer has led half of them.   Jesse Wiggins led Day Two and Day Three at Lake Cherokee, Jacob Wheeler finished on top at Cherokee and led Day One at Toledo Bend, and Jamie Hartman led Day Two and Day Three at Toledo Bend.  

The scary part is that if past history is any indication, the 14 newcomers on the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series are going to continue to keep making headlines at the remaining stops that include Ross Barnett Reservoir, Lake Sam Rayburn, Lake Dardanelle, the St. Lawrence River, Lake Champlain, and Lake St. Clair.  

David Fritts posted a Top 10 finish on Ross Barnett in FLW Tour competition in 1997, Alton Jones, Jr. recorded a Top 25 finish on the Mississippi Lake in 2015, and Gerald Spohrer finished in 6th on Ross Barnett at the 2013 Central Open.  When the FLW Tour visited Sam Rayburn in 2012, Jacob Wheeler scored a 3rd Place finish.  

Over the course of his career, Jamie Hartman has eight Top 10 finishes in BFL competition on 1000 Islands (St. Lawrence River) and he has an addition seven Top 10 BFL finishes on Lake Champlain, including three wins.   Alton Jones, Jr. finished in 3rd Place on Champlain in the 2016 Bassmaster Open, and Jesse Tacoronte, Gerald Spohrer, Stetson Blaylock, and Mark Daniels, Jr. all have Top 30 finishes on Champlain in FLW Tour, Bassmaster Open,  and FLW Costa Series competition.  Top op things off, both Blaylock and Tacoronte have Top 15 finishes in Bassmaster Open competition on Lake St. Clair.