With the Bassmaster Elite Series set to kick off next week, here are our top anglers going into this season.
Pre-season rankings tend to combine stats with aptitude, maybe some trending and tendencies; so we've molded a little of each into a Bassmaster Elite Series 2022 season outlook.
Each of the 94 competitors possess the potential to excel on any fishery but the following handful merit a close watch.
Let's take a look.
Bassmaster LIVE host Mark Zona endearingly calls him "young Patrick Walters," but the 28-year-old from Summerville, South Carolina, who finished fourth in 2021 AOY points, is mature beyond his years. More importantly, he knows how to win.
With an Elite trophy, two Bassmaster Opens titles and a Bassmaster College Series Regional win, plus two Bassmaster Century Club belts (awarded for breaking 100 pounds in a four-day event), Walters has built an impressive start to his career. He's an ace with forward-facing sonar and that will only continue to improve his game.
A big-rod, heavy-line flipping specialist with mad spinnerbait skills, the Oklahoma pro notched his fourth Elite win in his first season back from a two-year absence (last year at the Sabine River). Christie also posted four top-10s in 2021 and he's gunning for his first Classic win—his stated reason for an Elite return.
He's lived in the Fort Worth, Texas, since 2013, but growing up in San Jose, Califorina, Zaldain's a finesse wizard who's also fond of hefty swimbaits. He likes to swing big and if the stars align, he has the tools and the drive to execute an eye-popping performance. Zaldain has 19 Elite top-10s, including a win at the 2015 AOY Championship on Sturgeon Bay, but the 10th-year pro is due for a blue trophy.
Bassmaster emcee Dave Mercer calls him "The Prodigy" and Palaniuk's string of 28 top-10s validates the moniker. He topped a Bassmaster Open on the James River last year, but hasn't won an Elite since 2020, when he doubled down with wins at Santee Cooper Lakes and Lake Champlain. Palaniuk's cool, measured nature belies an internal fire.
The Johnston Brothers
They are their own individuals, but Chris and Cory work together in tournament planning and execution, often with strong results. In 2020, Chris topped the St. Lawrence River event and became the first Canadian to win an Elite title. Last year, Cory won a Bassmaster Open on the St. Lawrence. Both are frequent top-10 finishers. Chris and Cory placed second and fifth in last year's AOY race, respectively.
The Angler of the Year title recognizes consistency and Seth Feider defined that in 2021 with four top-10s and a semi-final cut in all nine events. He tightened his game last year, so expect more in 2022.
Momentum matters in fishing and with back-to-back Bassmaster Classic wins (Lake Guntersville, 2020 and Lake Ray Roberts, 2021) the Elite from North Carolina will wear the spotlight this season. Cherry reached the top-10 twice last year.
After three years away from the Elites, blue-collar work ethic plus natural angling talent carried the Virginia pro through his grueling 2021 quest to re-qualify by fishing the nine Bassmaster Opens. En route to his goal, "J-Pow" won the Open on Lewis Smith Lake and earned the Opens AOY title. If Powroznik brings that same determination to the 2022 Elite season—and he will—he could position himself to add another Elite trophy to the one he earned eight years ago on Toledo Bend Reservoir.
Few can match his charisma, but the New Jersey pro and 2003 Classic champ pairs his crowd appeal with an authentic angling passion that makes him a perennial threat. Ike's Elite return after a two-year absence should produce several highlight reel moments.
The former college fishing standout starts his seventh Elite season and you can bet his two 2021 second-place finishes (Sabine River and Pickwick Lake) will fuel his fire. Mosley has steadily improved year after year and many agree he's close to a breakthrough moment.
Rick Clunn — The 76-year-old, 4-time Bassmaster Classic winner carries a bass fishing encyclopedia between his ears, and you can be sure that his fellow competitors revere him for this.
Takumi Ito — In only his second Elite season, the Japanese star proved his diversity by sacking up huge smallmouth to win on the St. Lawrence River, earning third place at the super-stingy Sabine River and finishing seventh at Lake Fork's toad-factory.
Austin Felix — They call him the "Sleepy Assassin," but the 2020 Rookie of the Year is tack sharp and capable of delivering on any fishery.
Greg Hackney — The veteran from Gonzales, La. starts his second season back on the Elites and after nearly winning last year's opener on the St. Johns, notching two more top-10s and finishing eighth in AOY points, Hack is hungry.
NEXT: WHAT YOU MISSED FROM THE 2021 BASSMASTER ELITE SEASON