After competing in all eight 2020 Bassmaster Open tournaments, North Carolinian Bryan New nabbed the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year title by a single point. The last Open of the year at Lay Lake, Alabama, was gut-wrenching for New. He caught the bass that clinched the coveted AOY trophy 20 minutes before his final weigh-in of the season.
“Without that 3-pound largemouth, I don’t win Angler of the Year,” New said.
In addition to qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series, New pocketed $10,000 from Falcon Rods. New also earned a berth to the 2021 Bassmaster Classic by winning an Opens event in Florida last January.
“This is a lifetime childhood dream come true for me,” New said. “I fought hard to get here, and I’ll need to fight hard to stay here.”
Winning the Falcon Rods Opens AOY title is undoubtedly one of the most difficult accomplishments in tournament bass fishing. Every Open event in 2020 drew large fields that included many of the country’s top pros and a host of local hot sticks.
Stepping up to the Opens
Prior to 2020, New had never competed in a Bassmaster Open. But he was hardly a rookie. He had won nearly $400,000 fishing mainly as a co-angler in a variety of FLW events. He stated that his co-angler experience forced him to learn how to “fish the moment.”
“As a co-angler you can’t plan on anything because you don’t know what you’re doing next,” New said. “You have to evaluate what’s in front of you and try to determine the best way to catch a bass in that situation.”
New’s 2020 Open season
Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, Florida, Jan. 15-20
Offshore hydrilla in 6 feet of water produced most of the bass New weighed at Kissimmee. He plied the submerged greenery with a Greenfish squarebill crankbait, a Megabass jerkbait and Zoom’s Ol’ Monster worm.
“I was catching bass that were staging to spawn and postspawn bass coming back,” New said. “I also caught some fish on a prop bait and by punching hyacinth mats.”
Arkansas River, Oklahoma, June 18-29
On the first day of the tournament, New duped one fish on a swim jig and another on a buzzbait. He caught every other bass by flipping a Zoom Baby Brush Hog into water willow.
“As tough as the bite was everywhere, I didn’t want to deal with locking out of the pool,” New said.
Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Texas, Sept. 10-12
A bent prop shaft on his outboard forced New to baby his engine by running slowly and fishing close to takeoff. He focused mainly on brush piles in 8 to 22 feet of water. His primary lure was an Ol’ Monster worm.
“I love fishing brush piles and feel I’m pretty good at it,” New said.
He also caught a few bass on crankbaits, swimbaits and one on a Whopper Plopper.
Lake Hartwell, South Carolina, Sept. 23-25
“I scratched my head a lot at Hartwell,” New said. “I had just enough largemouth bites upriver in practice to sucker me into it. I wasted half of my first day up there.”
He fished the rest of the day on the lower end of the lake casting for spotted bass. He caught his fifth bass minutes before weigh-in. A Greenfish Toad Toter Buzzbait sporting a Zoom Horny Toad, a drop shot and a walking stickbait produced his fish.
“Like a dummy, I fished upriver for two hours the second day,” New said. “Then I went downlake and caught them good, mostly casting a Zoom Super Fluke to cane piles.”
Neely Henry Lake, Alabama, Oct. 22-24
New had a decent practice “bite-wise” at Neely Henry, but his fish were relating to water willow and docks, the most obvious and heavily fished cover on the lake.
“To me, a good practice is finding something sneaky,” New said.
His morning pattern of fishing a buzzbait in the water willow failed to get a bite the first day. He salvaged a small limit by skipping a Greenfish Tackle Brandon Cobb All Purpose Jig under docks, but his confidence was shaken.
“It is so rare for stuff to get to me,” New said. “I normally shake it off and work through it. The next day was my worst of the year. I couldn’t do anything right.”
He boated only two keeper bass that day, one on a jig and the another on a shaky head. As disappointed as New was in his performance, he would not be the AOY without those two fish.