Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 08/21/2017

Moore, OK – Practice for the final Elite Series regular season tournament on 2017 begins Monday in Michigan on Lake St. Clair.  

While the only trophy that will be handed out this upcoming Sunday will be for the tournament winner, there’s a lot at stake in terms of the Angler Of the Year race, Rookie Of the Year race, and TAOY Championship week qualification.  

At the conclusion of the St. Clair tournament, the Top 50 in the Toyota Angler Of the Year point standings will move on to the Toyota Angler Of the Year Championship tournament in September on Mille Lacs Lake, while those below the Top 50 cut will be watching from the bank.  

Currently, 45th place in the TAOY standings (Steve Kennedy – 491 points) and 55th place in the TAOY standings (Mike Iaconelli – 462 points) are separated by just 39 points, meaning that for a chunk of anglers hovering around the 50th place mark, every ounce will be critical this week on Lake St. Clair.  

After qualifying for 14 Classics in the past 15 seasons, Skeet Reese currently sits in 51st place in the TAOY point standings, and is on the bubble for the Top 50 cut which would give him one more chance to climb into a position to qualify for the 2018 Classic.  

Reese has his work cut out for him on St. Clair, as he as competed on the fishery four times over the course of his career with finishes of 125th place in 1999, 73rd place in 2001, 83rd place in 2013, and 43rd place in 2015.  

Other notable anglers currently below 50th who have a shot at making a move and qualifying for the TAOY Championship include  (which is occupied by David Mullins – 476 points) include Jeff Kriet (52nd- 471 points),  Dean Rojas (54th – 462 points), Gary Klein (57th – 442 points), and Justin Lucas (64th – 425 points).  

The St. Clair stop is also the last chance for anglers at the top of the TAOY standings to make a run at catching Brandon Palaniuk, the currently TAOY leader who opened up a 40 point lead after back-to-back 3rd place finishes on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain.  

Palaniuk leads with 729 points, while Jacob Wheeler and Casey Ashley are tied for 2nd place with 689 points.  Jason Christie is in 4th with 686, and Greg Hackney rounds out the Top 5 with 658 points.   Currently, it appears as though Wheeler, Ashley, and Christie are the three anglers with a legitimate shot at catching Palaniuk, but in order to do so the young Idaho pro will have to slip on St. Clair.  

The statistics show that such a slip is unlikely to happen.  Palaniuk finished in 35th place on St. Clair in 2013, 11th place on St. Clair in the 2014 Bassmaster Open, and 2nd on St. Clair in 2015.  Out of his 15 Top 10 finishes with B.A.S.S., seven of them have come on fisheries that are historically dominated by smallmouth bass.

This week on Lake St. Clair is also the last opportunity of the anglers on the Classic bubble to make a move.  Last year, Andy Montgomery finished the season in 39th place in the TAOY standings and was the last angler to get a Classic spot through TAOY points.  

While the final positions won’t be solidified until after the TAOY Championship on Mille Lacs, 35th and 45th place in the TAOY standings are currently separated by just 16 points.   

In the Rookie Of the Year race, the battle has come down to Dustin Connell (616 points) and Jamie Hartman (596 points).   Both anglers have had stellar rookie seasons.  Connell posted a victory on Ross Barnett, but has relied primarily on consistency notching five additional finishes inside the Top 40.   Hartman has four Top 10 finishes in Elite Series competition this season, but also has two finishes below 80th place. Hartman’s advantage is in the fact that nine of his 11 Top 30 finishes with B.A.S.S. have come on fisheries with smallmouth.