Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 09/27/2017

Story by Matt Pangrac

Moore, OK - With the 2017 Elite Series behind us, The BASS ZONE takes a look back at some the impressive, interesting, and quirky things that went down between the start of the season this past February on Cherokee Lake to the last cast of the season at the Classic Bracket on Pokegama Lake in Minnesota:  

Ott DeFoe started the 2017 season on fire with finishes of 10th place in the Elite Series opener on Cherokee Lake and 2nd place the following week on Lake Okeechobee.  Leading the Toyota Angler Of the Year points race after two stops, the Tennessee pro then proceeded to record a 5th place finish in the Bassmaster Classic on Lake Conroe.  

DeFoe remained in the hunt for the TAOY title for the majority of the year, cashing a check in all but one Elite Series tournament (99th place at the St. Lawrence River).  In the end, he finished the season with a Bassmaster Open win on Douglas Lake and a 7th place finish in the TAOY standings.  

While Ott DeFoe started out the season on top, Skeet Reese spent the majority of 2017 trying to recover from a dismal start.  With finishes of 97th place on Cherokee Lake and 82nd place on Lake Okeechobee, it seemed like the Californian’s chance at qualifying for his 18th Bassmaster Classic was over before the season was a month old.  

He rebounded with five Top 35 finishes in the following seven Elite Series stops, but entered the TAOY Championship at Mille Lacs on the outside of the Classic cut looking in.  Reese finished in 3rd place at Mille Lacs and somehow managed to close out the season in 33rd place in the TAOY standings – well inside the 2018 Classic cut.  

When Mike Iaconelli failed to make the 2018 Bassmaster Classic through the Classic Bracket on Pokegama Lake in Minnesota, he broke a streak of 16 consecutive Classic appearances (the longest active streak in professional bass fishing).   Unless the winners of each of the final two Bassmaster Opens fail to qualify for the 2018 Classic and Ike miraculously earns an invitation, the streak now belongs to Aaron Martens.  

With a 16th place finish in the 2017 TAOY standings, Martens qualified for his 15th consecutive Bassmaster Classic.  

The 2016 Toyota Angler Of the Year did some serious grinding during the 2017 Elite Series season.  Swindle finished the season in 15th place in the TAOY standings, and did so with just one Top 10 finish all season.  He cashed a check in six regular season events and had five finishes between 20th place and 40th place.  

After missing the Classic in both 2016 and 2017, it appears that Mississippi’s Cliff Pace has regained the consistency that he became known for on the Elite Series.  In 2017, Pace cashed a check in seven tournaments including a season-high 7th place finish at Lake Dardanelle.  

With a 26th place finish in the TAOY standings, Pace qualified for the 7th Classic of his career – which is significant because it will be the third Classic that he will fish on Lake Hartwell where he finished in 2nd place in 2008 to Alton Jones. 

When Kevin VanDam won the 24th B.A.S.S. tournament of his career on the St. Lawrence River this past July, he pulled within 17 points of Brandon Palaniuk for the lead in Toyota Angler Of the Year points.   

With finishes of 2nd place on Ross Barnett and 3rd place on Lake Dardanelle, the win on the St. Lawrence was the third Top 3 finish in four tournaments for VanDam.  With stops remaining on Lake Champlain, Lake St. Clair, and Mille Lacs, it appeared as though VanDam was in prime position to make a run at his eighth TAOY title.  

VanDam recorded finishes of 79th place in Lake Champlain and 72nd place on Lake St. Clair.  He finished in 17th place on Mille Lacs in the TAOY Championship to end the season in 10th place in the TAOY standings.  

It was only the second time in his career that VanDam had won a Bassmaster tournament and not recorded at least one Top 25 finish in the two following tournaments. 

2017 was a rough season for past Bassmaster Classic champions on the Elite Series, as five former Classic champions finished below 80th in the final TAOY points.  

Takahiro Omori (2004 Classic champion) finished in 84th, Paul Elias (1982 Classic champion) finished in 92nd, Chris Lane (2012 Classic champion) finished in 95th, Boyd Duckett (2007 Classic champion) finished in 96th, and Rick Clunn (1976, 1977, 1984, and 1990 Classic champion) finished in 101st.  

To put that in perspective, only two former Classic champions finished below 80th place in the final 2016 Elite Series TAOY standings.

The fourth stop of the Elite Series season on Ross Barnett in Mississippi was perhaps the most intriguing tournament of the 2017 season.  Weather pushed back the final day to Monday, and rookie Dustin Connell edged out Kevin VanDam for the trophy.  

The craziest thing about this tournament, though, was the fact that no less than 16 anglers who would go on to qualify for the 2018 Bassmaster Classic through the TAOY points would miss the Top 50 cut in this event.  

On the flip side, 17 of the anglers who finished inside the Top 30 at Ross Barnett failed to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic through the TAOY points. 

Including the TAOY Championship, The 2017 Elite Series season consisted of 10 tournaments.  Out of those 10 events, five of them were dominated by smallmouth bass including Cherokee Lake, Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence River, Lake St. Clair, and Mille Lacs Lake.