A week after Clark Wendlandt had won his fourth Angler of the Year title, his first in the Bassmaster®
Elite Series after winning three with the FLW®
pro tour, the Yamaha Pro still had difficulty putting the experience into words.
“I am extremely fortunate, very proud, and deeply humbled to be able to say I won it,” the Texas-based angler says. “It was truly a different type of season because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the four-month layoff between the first and second tournaments, the lack of spectators, and the constantly changing schedules. On top of all that, the AOY race was still undecided until my last competition day in the final event of the season.
“No matter what happens to me during the remainder of my career, this title will always be extra-special.”
Wendlandt becomes the fourth consecutive Yamaha Pro to win what many consider the most coveted title in bass fishing. Scott Canterbury won the AOY title in 2019; Justin Lucas in 2018; and Brandon Palaniuk in 2017. Initially established in 1970 as part of the B.A.S.S.®
points system to determine qualifiers for the Bassmaster Classic®
, the award is now recognized by bass fishing fans throughout the world.
Wendlandt has been a fulltime bass pro for 28 years, and he admits when he won his first Angler of the Year title with the FLW®
in 1997 he honestly did not understand the significance of the accomplishment because it came so early in his career. Every tournament pro wants to win the Angler of the Year race at the beginning of every season, but today Wendlandt understands totally how virtually everything has to go right in every tournament for an entire season to be able to claim the trophy.
“That’s a large part of what makes the 2020 Bassmaster®
Elite Series season AOY title so special,” he says. “After I finished 16th in the season opener on Florida’s St. Johns River in February, B.A.S.S.®
could not continue our schedule because of the pandemic. We didn’t know if we were even going to have a tournament season.
“In truth, the long layoff may have helped me, because I spent the time fishing. I was on the water five or six days a week on different lakes near my home, just working on figuring out what the bass were doing that particular day.”
When competition resumed on Alabama’s Lake Eufaula in June, Wendlandt finished 8th, and a month later, with an 8th place finish on New York’s St. Lawrence River, he took over the lead in the Angler of the Year race. He stumbled only slightly when he finished 46th on Lake Champlain the following week, then rebounded with a 4th place in August on Lake St. Clair and 21st at Lake Guntersville in September.
“I absolutely love fishing for smallmouth in the northern lakes,” continues the Yamaha Pro, “and normally those events come at the end of the season, but this year the Elite Series made an autumn swing back into the South to be able to complete a full schedule. I did fine at Santee-Cooper (17th) in October, but then at Lake Chickamauga the proverbial wheels came off.
“Chickamauga is known as a big-bass lake so that’s what I concentrated on, but I only caught one fish in two competition days. I started that tournament with a 37-point lead in the AOY race, and after finishing 81st, I was 16 points behind in third place.”
As the Elite Series moved on to Lake Fork, another reservoir famous for big bass, Wendlandt decided to just try to catch fish, regardless of their size. He brought in five weighing 16-lbs., 11-oz. the first day and added 14-6 the next. That put him in 19th place and qualified him to fish the third day. Both contenders who had moved ahead of him at Chickamauga failed to qualify for the third day, so all he had to do was catch enough to keep him above 31st place in the final standings.
“That final day was the most stressful day of fishing I can remember in my career,” the Yamaha Pro says, “because I realized I had used up my fish in the back of the creek where I’d been fishing the first two days. I had to move to a new location, and when I did, I had no idea if I was going to catch anything or not. I had a marshal and a cameraman in the boat with me, but it was still a long, lonely boat ride.”
He did catch four small bass weighing seven pounds, four ounces, giving him a total of 38-5 for the tournament. More importantly, those four little fish, none of which weighed more than two pounds, put him in 28th place. It was that close.
“As soon as the hunting season closes after Christmas, I’ll be looking forward to the next fishing season,” Wendlandt laughs, “and yes, even as stressful as this season was, I definitely plan to go after another Angler of the Year title.” Y