By Jody Only
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Final results are tallied in the 2022 Wild West Bass Trail (WWBT) Angler of the Year (AOY) race presented by Price Simms Family. Pro angler John Branch of Yelm, Wash. sits atop the standings.
Branch, formerly of Lakeland, Fla. came into the final WWBT Pro/Am event on the California Delta trailing the leader, Beau Joudrey of Oakley, Calif. by 14-points.
A two-day tournament total of 25.88 on the tidal water fishery gave Branch enough to take over the lead and claim the title. It was an amazing feat as he has only fished competitively for four years and had never been to three of the four bodies of water in the Trail.
“Our first day of practice – for our first event at Shasta – was the first time I had even bass fished in the state of California,” he said. “I had been to the Columbia River a couple of times; but never Clear Lake or the Delta, either. They are world class fisheries – bucket list fisheries – just being there was a dream come true.”
Branch racked up the rest of his season’s points making the final field cut and finishing 10th on Championship Sunday at Clear Lake, adding a 24th place finish at the Columbia River and a 29th at Shasta.
His AOY status has qualified him for the APEX Pro Tour.
“I think the APEX format will suit my strengths,” he said. “The off-limits, the different lakes – I’m not saying it will be easy or anything, but I can usually figure out or at least quickly become competitive on new bodies of water.”
His current plan is to accept the invite.
“APEX is really next-level when you’re thinking about the competitors,” he said. “Not to take anything away from the Pro/Am’s, but APEX is just the top of the West Coast anglers and something I would really like to do.”
Branch expressed appreciation to his sponsors – Limit Out Performance Marine, 13 Fishing, Live to Fish, and Hooty Hoot Baits.
“I can’t thank any of them enough; but I also have to give thanks to my family,” he added. “First and foremost, I have to thank my wife that for some reason supports me and my crazy passion for fishing. My wife and my almost two-year-old son, Bo make the travel worthwhile when they’re both at the door waiting for me to get home.
“But, 100-percent, I have to thank my parents – my mother – the greatest mother on earth and my father. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have such a love for the outdoors and fishing. He had me fishing as soon as I could walk.”
CONSECUTIVE AOY HONORS
The conclusion of that same WWBT Delta bass battle, put Luke Wilson of Happy Valley, Calif., in the top spot for AOY on the Am side. It is a repeat accomplishment for Wilson as he was also crowned Am AOY for the 2021 WWBT season.
Wilson’s runner-up position on the Delta was added to a 4th place finish at Clear Lake, a 17th at the Columbia River and a 22nd on Shasta.
“It’s crazy because I just go fishing,” laughed Wilson as he reflected on the back-to-back achievement.
He attributed his co-angler success to fishing differently than his pro.
“In some situations, you may have to do a similar technique; but I always want to be fishing for my own fish and not the fish that the pro is fishing for,” he explained. “I’m always trying to vary something from how the pro is doing it, the technique, the speed, the target – something.
“It can get frustrating watching a pro pick up a ton of fish in front of you; but it doesn’t mean you can’t pick up the same amount fishing in a different water column. You just have to focus on doing something that they’re not.”
Wilson doesn’t have a “secret lure” or even a go-to or must-have for his catches from the backend of the boat.
“It is hard to have one bait for all the different places we fish,” he stated. “There are a few baits that may work at all the bodies of water: but not every day and not every year. Everything changes so much. For example, this year at the Delta, every day I changed. I caught the better fish on something different each day of the tournament.”
THE YEAR AHEAD
When looking to the 2023 season, Wilson is considering a move to the pointy-end; but not certain as work schedules don’t allow him the time to practice and travel. The opportunity to rack up a three-peat as the co-angler AOY is a draw for him to remain on the AM side as well.
“I enjoy fishing behind the pro,” he said. “I owe my success to all of my pros. There is nothing to say but good things about them all and Troy Mays. He kept the throttle on until the final day, pushing me to my 2nd place finish on the Delta and the AOY.
“You can learn so much from a pro. If you’re on the fence about becoming a co-angler, I have to say don’t be intimidated. Jump on board and give it a try.”
Wilson is sponsored by Bass Union, Dobyns Rods, Buck N’ Bass and Tug Life.