SYRACUSE, N.Y. After a slow and steady season of progression through the ranks of nine first-year BASS pros, Billy McCaghren of Mayflower, Ark., was officially named Bassmaster Elites Series Rookie of the Year after Day Three of the Ramada Champion's Choice, the regular-season finale at Oneida Lake.
McCaghren, 35, surprised front-runner Matt Herren during the regular-season finale, breaking Herren's six-tournament grip on the ROY points lead. A solid showing of 25th at Oneida propelled McCaghren to first place among rookies as Herren stumbled, finishing 76th.
Along with the win, which is based on Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points, McCaghren also looks good for one of the 37 Elite Series qualifying berths for the 2010 Bassmaster Classic, set for Feb. 19-21 on Lay Lake out of Birmingham, Ala., also based on AOY standings. Heading into Day Three on Oneida, he was 32nd in the standings, which won't be made official until tournament's end.
The Classic will be the first of his career.
"That was my goal at the beginning of the year, to win Rookie of the Year and to make it to the Classic," McCaghren said. "I'm really blessed. To have done this well I thought I could, but until you actually do it you don't know."
Incidentally, the rookie who started the season with the ROY lead after the first tournament, Chad Griffin of Cresson, Texas, holds the tournament lead heading into the final day Sunday at the Champion's Choice.
Through eight Elite Series tournaments, McCaghren placed in the top 50 and earned a check in five, including a third-place finish at Arkansas' Lake Dardanelle in March. He officially accepted the Rookie of the Year trophy during Bassmaster Elite Series festivities Saturday at Oneida Shores County Park with an overall weight of 41 pounds, 5 ounces for the event. Official Rookie of the Year standings will be posted Sunday, Aug. 16, on www.bassmaster.com.
The Arkansan, a bass fisherman since he was about 6 years old, has only been a pro for three years, but has been competing since he was 16 or 17. All the while he has watched, idolized and learned from some of Arkansas' heavy hitters, Larry Nixon, Kevin Short and Mark Davis all of whom have storied BASS careers.
"Mark's always been one of the people I wanted to emulate," McCaghren said. "He's maybe the nicest person I've ever met. And he's won everything there is to win."
At the start of the season, McCaghren finished 95th on Texas' Lake Amistad, but quickly bounced back with a 14th-place finish in the second event, on Lake Dardanelle in his home state. That helped McCaghren's confidence, as he admits the names on the Elite Series roster had intimidated him a bit at the start of the season.
"I'm still light years behind most of these guys," he said. "That really helped, going there for the second tournament.
"That was a turning point, because I thought, 'If I just go out there and catch as much as I can it doesn't matter who I'm fishing against.' And I've tried to block that part out you can't expect to go out there and beat the KVDs and the Denny Brauers of the world."
He then went on for finishes of 56th at Alabama's Wheeler Lake; 35th (Smith Mountain Lake, Va.); 42nd (Lake Guntersville, Ala.); 63rd (Kentucky Lake, Tenn.); third (Mississippi River, Iowa) and 27th at Oneida.
McCaghren joins past ROY winners Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla. (2008); Derek Remitz of Grant, Ala. (2007); Steve Kennedy of Auburn, Ala. (2006); Dave Wolak of Wake Forest, N.C. (2005) and Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La. (2004).
2009 ROOKIE OF THE YEAR STANDINGS
1 Billy McCaghren Ark.
2 Matt Herren Ala.
3 Chad Griffin Texas
4 Greg Vinson Ala.
5 J Todd Tucker Ga.
6 Vince Fulks Okla.
7 Luke Gritter Mich.
8 Mark Burgess Mich.
9 Brent Broderick Ohio