Mercury pros Brent Ehrler, Jordan Lee battled to the end for B.A.S.S. Elite Series Rookie honors

Despite 11 years of tour-level experience under his belt, a Forrest Wood Cup trophy on his mantle and more than $2 million in tournament winnings on his resume, Mercury pro Brent Ehrler looks back on the 2015 Bassmaster Elite Series as a season of firsts.

Ehrler had never competed in a B.A.S.S. Elite Series tournament prior to the 2015 season-opener on the Sabine River in March. He had never faced Elite superstars such as Aaron Martens, Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese and Edwin Evers day after day. And he had never powered through a draining nine-tournament Elite schedule.

But after all was said and done when B.A.S.S. personnel broke down the stage at the Elite Series Angler of the Year (AOY) Championship tournament Sept. 20 in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, Ehrler had added another "first" to his list: the 2015 Elite Series Rookie of the Year (ROY) trophy.

"I'm a little tired," Ehrler said half-jokingly as he assessed his first season on the Elites. "I feel blessed to have the opportunity to compete for Rookie of the Year. It's a long, difficult season – a lot of work, a lot of travel – and anything can happen, but I've really enjoyed fishing the Elites this year. I'm fishing against a lot of the guys I grew up watching; it's a heck of an honor."

Ehrler finished the 2015 season with 615 points in the AOY race (just ahead of fellow Mercury pro Jordan Lee with 595). But perhaps more importantly, the Redlands, California-based pro hovered in the Top 5 of the AOY standings for much of the season, and notched three Top 15 finishes.

Ehrler's success surprised no one competing against him this year on the Elites. Ehrler had been one of the most successful anglers in the history of the FLW Tour and FLW Series from 2005 to 2014, racking up eight wins and 33 Top 10s, finishing in the Top 5 of the FLW Tour AOY race five times, and winning the 2006 Forrest Wood Cup. When he opted to fish the Elites in 2015, he instantly became a threat to compete for AOY, and was a clear favorite for Rookie of the Year honors.

"I've been fishing head to head against Brent for 10 years; he's as good as they get," said 2014 Elite ROY Jacob Powroznik. "There was no doubt that he was going to make some noise on the Elites when he came over here."

Ehrler powers through 2015
Ehrler admits the nine-tournament Elite schedule (plus the Toyota Texas Bass Classic, which he won) was the most grueling effort of his career, both physically and mechanically. Starting with the sprawling, treacherous floodwaters of the Sabine River in southeast Texas and finishing with the gear-busting waves of Sturgeon Bay in the Bay of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Ehrler put his Mercury 250 OptiMax ProXS through more than 65 long competition and practice days, and thousands of miles of water over the course of seven months.

"You can't imagine the abuse we put these motors through in a season," Ehrler says. "I've had 13 Mercury motors in my tournament-fishing career, and the reliability and durability is just something you can't function without at this level of competition."

Lee makes the most of first year on tour
First-year Mercury pro Lee gave the Elite Series a preview of things to come when he finished sixth at the 2014 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville in north Alabama after a highly successful run on the Bassmaster College Series. He carried that momentum into the Opens and through his rookie year on the 2015 Elites with a ninth-place finish in AOY points (just behind 2014 AOY/Mercury teammate Greg Hackney). Lee finished sixth at the Angler of the Year Championship with 45.9 pounds, not far behind Ehrler.

"Jordan will be a threat to win Angler of the Year for a long time to come," Ehrler said. "He had a phenomenal year out here."

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