Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 05/31/2018

Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos by Dave Rush and Matt Pangrac

Moore, OK – The 2018 Elite Series season returns to action next week with the rescheduled stop on the Sabine River in Orange, Texas.  Originally scheduled for early April, unsafe boating conditions on the river at the time forced B.A.S.S. Officials to reschedule the event for early June.  
The date change, coupled with the fact that the 109 Elite Series anglers will be limited to fishing Texas waters in air temperatures that are expected to peak in the mid 90s every day of the tournament, means that the fifth stop of the season could prove to be a critical turning point for many anglers’ seasons.  

Following the Sabine, just four regular season Elite Series tournaments remain on the schedule in addition to the TOAY Championship (where only the top 50 anglers will compete).  

Here are some highlights and interesting statistics from the first four stops of the season to keep in mind as the Elite Series pros prepare to slug it out in Orange, Texas:  

With each tournament early in the season making up a higher percentage of an angler’s overall Toyota Angler Of the Year points, it’s hard to believe that just four stops into the year not a single 2018 Elite Series winner is inside the Top 10 in the TAOY standings.  

Takahiro Omori, who won the first stop of the year way back in February on Lake Martin in Alabama, sits in 19th place in the TAOY standings with finishes of 27th place on Grand Lake, 105th place on Kentucky Lake, and 17th place on Lake Travis.  

Kevin VanDam won the second stop on Grand Lake and currently sits in 14th place in the TAOY standings after surrounding his victory with finishes of 76th at Martin and 54th at Kentucky Lake.  

Wesley Strader, the Kentucky Lake champion, sits in 34th place in the TAOY standings.  Texas Fest champ Drew Benton is currently in 56th, but Benton can breathe easy knowing that his victory on Lake Travis came with an invitation to the 2019 Bassmaster Classic.  

Out of the nine Elite Series rookies fishing the 2018 Elite Series season, Roy Hawk is the only one currently inside the Classic cut.  Thanks to back-to-back top five finishes to start the season, the Arizona pro leads Ray Hanselman, Jr. by 41 points in the ROY race and currently sits in 24th place in the TAOY standings.  

Outside of Hawk, not a single rookie is in the Top 50 in the TAOY standings.   Hanselman sits in 52nd in the TAOY standings and Jake Whitaker sits in 65th.  The remaining six rookies all find themselves below 85th place in the standings.  

Interestingly, eight of the nine rookies have recorded a Top 50 finish this season and cashed at least one $10,000.  The lone exception is Hunter Shryock, who missed his first Elite Series Top 50 cut on Grand Lake by less than 1-pound.   

After his 2017 Angler Of the Year campaign that featured six Top 12 finishes,  Brandon Palaniuk entered the 2018 season with a lot of eyeballs focused on how he would back up the impressive performance.   Through the first four stops, Palaniuk has yet to crack the Top 30 and has made two of four Top 50 cuts.  He currently sits in 50th place in the TAOY standings.  

While he hasn’t been fishing on Sunday, he has avoided the bomb to this point.  He missed the Saturday cut by just 1 pound, 7 ounces on Lake Martin and just 6-ounces on Grand Lake.  With five regular season Elite Series stops left on the schedule, he is currently just 144 points out of the TAOY lead meaning the bid for back-to-back TAOY titles is still alive.  

After his first Classic victory on Lake Conroe, interested spectators wanted to see how Jordan Lee would respond during the remainder of the 2017 Elite Series season as the reigning Classic Champion.  He finished the year in 4th place in the TAOY standings and knocked out four Top 10 finishes.  

After his second consecutive Classic win this past March on Hartwell, it’s no surprise that Lee is still catching them and is apparently immune to the Classic hangover.    Following his win, Lee has made three straight Top 50 cuts including a 10th place finish on Grand Lake.  He currently sits in 26th place in the TAOY standings heading to the Sabine River, a fishery where he finished in 22nd place back in 2015.  

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over five full years since Brent Chapman lifted the TAOY trophy back in the fall of 2012.   Since that time, the Kansas pro has qualified for just two Bassmaster Classics (2013 and 2014).    

Chapman appears to be back in form in 2018.  He’s leading the TAOY standings with finishes of 19th, 20th, 9th, and 5th.    He’s headed to the Sabine River looking for his third consecutive Top 10 finish in Elite Series competition.  The only other time he’s accomplished that feat was in 2012 when he walked away with the TAOY trophy.  

The season is far from over.  He holds a 32 point lead in the TAOY race, but 21 anglers sit within 100 points.