Don't look now, but Skeet Reese is having the best season of any BASS pro since Roland Martin in 1973. That was back in the day when Martin and Bill Dance traded off on who would win the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award. Reese and Kevin VanDam have those roles now. The two have taken each of the last three AOY titles.
With two wins, a second-place finish and two fifths in five tournaments, Reese is not only the favorite to win his second AOY title, he's got the rest of the Elites fishing for second place. His lead in the AOY race is now 258 points, more than twice as large as any other angler has ever held in Elite competition. If he were to sit out the next tournament, he might still be leading the race at the end of it. At the very least, he'd be close.
This is exactly where Reese hoped — but could hardly have dreamed — to be at this point. He had a bad experience at last year's postseason events. The AOY lead he took into the postseason disappeared when VanDam was awarded a bonus for winning a tournament during the season. And Reese's chances for his second AOY vanished with a bad performance over two days at the Alabama River.
With three tournaments to go in the regular season, Reese has the other pros just about ready to concede the AOY title, and why not? He's been amazingly consistent all year long. Even with the opportunity for new life in the postseason, Reese is head and shoulders above the rest right now.
So let's look at the rest of the race — the fight to qualify for the postseason as one of the Toyota 12 and the battle for a berth in the 2011 Bassmaster Classic.
The only members of last year's Toyota 12 currently in the top 12 are Reese (first), Cliff Pace (fifth) and Gary Klein (11th). The rest of the group is scattered between 14th (Michael Iaconelli) and 54th (Alton Jones).
With three to go, the lowest anyone has ever ranked and still finished in the top 12 is 36th place. That's where Gerald Swindle was last year at this point and where Iaconelli was in 2008. They both finished strong. Swindle ended the 2009 regular season in 12th place, and Iaconelli was 10th in 2008. That's encouraging for Swindle this year, too, since he's currently 35th in the AOY rankings.
As for the anglers currently in the top dozen, we can anticipate that about eight of them will make it to Montgomery, Ala., and the postseason. The highest ranked angler to fall out of the top 12 after this point was Aaron Martens in 2009. He was fourth with three to go last year but dropped all the way to 16th. Iaconelli (currently 14th) and Martens (currently 15th) are two consistently high finishers who expect to move up in the last three events.
If 36th is as far back as anyone has come to get into the top 12, how far back can you be at this stage and still have a realistic chance to qualify for the 2011 Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans? Well, Mike Wurm climbed all the way from 62nd place with three tournaments to go to earn a Classic berth in 2007. A year later, Greg Hackney made it from 61st place.
Those, of course, are the exceptions. Historically, if you're not in the top 50 or so by this point in the season, you're going to play the role of spectator at the Classic. Right now, that's about where perennial Classic qualifiers Boyd Duckett, Kelly Jordon, Davy Hite, Randy Howell, Terry Scroggins and Alton Jones find themselves. Tim Horton is further back at 62nd and all-time Classic great Rick Clunn is on the outside looking in in 82nd place.