ESCANABA, Mich. - Sept. 23, 2014 - It was a telling sign of how well Mercury pro Jacob Powroznik fished during the 2014 Bassmaster Elite Series season: 2004 Bassmaster Classic champion Takahiro Omori stopped Powroznik in the hallway during the pre-tournament rules meeting at the Angler of the Year Championship last weekend and shook his finger at the Virginia native.
"You're no rookie!" Omori told Powroznik, who had wrapped up the Rookie of the Year award long before the tournament even began. "You catch big fish everywhere we go. Everywhere!"
To Omori's defense, he's pretty darn accurate: Powroznik established himself as a force on the Elite Series right from the giddy-up by making the cut in the first three tournaments of the 2014 season (Lake Seminole, the St. Johns River and Table Rock Lake) and winning the fourth event of the year, at Toledo Bend Reservoir in Louisiana. Powroznik punctuated the season by racking up 47 pounds, 6 ounces at the Toyota Angler of the Year Championship Sept. 18-22 on the Bays de Noc, Michigan.
That weight - the heaviest of the two-day event - catapulted Powroznik to 723 points for the season, easily earning him the ROY trophy. Justin Lucas was a distant second with 638 points, followed by Randall Tharp (627) and fellow Mercury pro Chad Morgenthaler (615).
"You look at the lineup of guys who fished the Elite Series as rookies this year, it's a pretty stout lineup," Powroznik said. "We had four rookies - myself, Morgenthaler, Lucas and Tharp - finish in the Top 20 in the Angler of the Year and one guy (Tharp) who's won the Forrest Wood Cup. I'm pretty proud to beat all those guys, because they're good fishermen."
Powroznik's strength is shallow-water sight-fishing, and the 2014 schedule took the Elites to some excellent shallow-water fisheries. Powroznik responded, too: he finished 15th on the St. John's River, first at Toledo Bend and sixth at Lake Cayuga.
"I just kinda liked the way the season set up for me," Powroznik said. "I got to fish to my strengths a lot, and went into almost all of the tournaments feeling confident about how I'd fish. That just lets a guy relax and enjoy what he's doing, and it kept me on a pretty steady pace from the first tournament of the year at Seminole, all the way to the end."
Finishing strong at the AOY Championship: Powroznik showed his diversity during the weather-shortened AOY Championship on the wind-blown smallmouth waters of Green Bay. J-Proz jumped out to a smoking-hot start, boating over 23 pounds of smallmouth in the first two hours of Day 1 and settling into fourth with 24-1, and then following with 23-5 on Championship Monday when his bigger fish came off a deeper ledge (25 feet) on completely different baits than he'd fished on Day 1.
"Me and those smallmouth just seem to get along," Powroznik said. "I knew in practice that there were big fish here - I wasn't going to catch a lot of fish, but whatever I caught was going to be big."
Mercury plays a key role: Powroznik's season was marked by smooth operation of his 250 Mercury OptiMax ProXS over a grueling seven-month season.
"I've run that OptiMax three years hard and never had to go to the service yard," Powroznik said. "We put our gear through some heavy, heavy stress fishing places like Lake Michigan, and it's a big deal to know that you're going to be able to get everywhere you need to get, and get back in to weigh-in."
Notes: Powroznik's third place finish is one of the best in the history of the Elite Series, trailing on fellow Mercury pro Timmy Horton's historic 2000 AOY/ROY season and two other second-place rookie AOY finishes ... Powroznik's season winnings of over $200,000 is the highest of his career ... Powroznik qualified to fish the 2014 Elites after finishing second in the 2013 Northern Opens ... Powroznik had a very productive career on the FLW Tour before joining the Elites: he won over $900,000, finished in the top five of the FLW AOY standings three times, and qualified to fish the Forrest Wood Cup eight times.