Certain anglers have a reputation as big bass catchers. Some of them may not always come to the scales with a limit, but more often than most they have a "kicker," and sometimes that one fish gets them a check.
In the Bassmaster Elite Series, where limits are the norm (the average angler brings 4.55 bass to the scales each day he competes), having a lunker or two makes all the difference. Some get there by catching more bass than everyone else and culling down to the best five. Others seem to have a special ability to catch the kind of individual fish that make a difference.
So who in the Elites is the best at catching big bass?
Fifty-seven Elite tournaments give us a decent sampling, made worse unfortunately because B.A.S.S. hasn't always tracked this category very diligently. In fact, over the past two seasons, daily big bass have been tracked only infrequently, so some important data has been lost.
We'll have to make do with what we have, and what we have are several hundred daily big bass and 57 big bass of the tournament. Let's start with big bass of the tournament — the single biggest fish weighed in over four days of competition and roughly 260 angler days of fishing (two rounds of the full field plus a round with half the field and a final round with just 12 anglers).
As you might imagine, the competition is pretty close. Kelly Jordon leads the way with three. Ten others have two each (Scott Campbell, Grant Goldbeck, Greg Hackney, Kenyon Hill, Tim Horton, Randy Howell, Gary Klein, Bill Lowen, Takahiro Omori and Jason Williamson.
Campbell is the most interesting of the group that trails Jordon since he fished only 30 events — roughly half of what the others have fished.
But big bass of the tournament only gives us 57 cases to analyze. Daily big bass offers a much larger survey and much better numbers. Not surprisingly, KJ is still on top. He leads with 8. Dean Rojas has 7. Todd Faircloth, Greg Hackney and Randy Howell each have 6. Brent Chapman, Edwin Evers, Tim Horton, Alton Jones, Steve Kennedy and Ish Monroe all have 5.
As you would expect, everyone on this list has been in the Elite Series since its inception. More tournaments means more chances, after all.
With these numbers, it's easy to see that Jordon, Dean Rojas and the others are doing something right — something different that is appealing to big bass. Are they fishing big bass lures, like jigs and topwaters? Yes, of course they are, but so is the rest of their competition. Are they "swinging for the fences" and taking a "hero or zero" attitude? Not a chance. The anglers on the list are perennial Bassmaster Classic qualifiers. Ten of the top 11 will be competing in the 2012 Classic, and Jordon (who's currently on the bubble) might make it unanimous if someone double qualifies in the final Central Open.
So if these guys are "big bass anglers" (and I think they are), who among the Elites are not big bass anglers?
Well, of the 60 Elite anglers who have fished all six seasons of the circuit, only six have never weighed in a daily big bass. Alphabetically, they are Stephen Browning, John Crews, Charlie Hartley, Yusuke Miyazaki, Rick Morris and Jason Quinn. Of that group, only Browning and Crews have qualified for the Classic more often than not in the past six years. Maybe big bass catches are more a factor of being "on" fish than anything else.
Between the anglers who have cemented their reputations as big bass fishermen with a place on the top lists and those who have never caught a daily big bass are several numbers that make little sense ... at least to me.
First is Tommy Biffle's one daily lunker. One? Come on! Tommy Biffle is a die-hard pitcher and flipper who fishes a lot of jigs and (and least I though) caught a lot of big fish. But he's only posted one daily lunker in Elite history.
Also a little strange is Kevin VanDam's total of three. That seems a little low for the man who fishes more competition days than anyone else and who has an indisputable reputation for catching bigger than average bass. Three? To put that number in perspective, it ties VanDam in the daily big bass category with Grant Goldbeck and Ray Sedgwick.
But the biggest surprise of all was Skeet Reese's total of just one daily big bass (and no tournament big bass). He's winning tournaments and making more cuts than just about anyone, and he's getting it done without lunkers. In fact, his one daily big bass weighed 4-15 and came on the final day of the 2006 tournament on Table Rock Lake. Five pounds is a nice fish at "The Rock," but it's not anything to text home about.
On one hand, Reese's lack of daily lunkers may be a commentary on his fishing style, but on the other it's a testament to his ability to locate and catch better than average fish in great numbers. Reese gets the job done — time after time after time — without catching giants.
For a look at the 10 biggest bass in Elite Series history, check out the Love those lunkers photo gallery.