The Bassmaster Elite Series finale on Oneida Lake raised an interesting statistical point that's right up the alley of Bassonomics. I wonder how many of you caught it. At first, I certainly didn't.
It centered on Florida pro and Bassmaster.com columnist Bernie Schultz. After a tough start to the season, Schultz came on strong at the end, earning a check in the last three events and finishing in the Top 12 of the final two.
What was most interesting about Schultz's performance was the last tournament at Oneida, where he finished 12th. It was the fourth time the Elites competed on Oneida and the fourth time that he finished in the Top 12. I wondered how often that had happened before. As you might imagine, the eventual answer was "not often," and I learned something in researching it.
The first thing I did was identify the fisheries that have hosted multiple Elite events. Only five have hosted four Elite tournaments: Amistad, Clarks Hill, Guntersville, Kentucky Lake and Oneida. Two others have hosted three events: Smith Mountain and Wheeler. A dozen have hosted two Elite tournaments, but that's too many to list here and too statistically insignificant to concern us (though I checked that data, too, of course).
Starting with the waters that have hosted the Elites four times, I learned that Schultz has some company. There was one other angler who had finished in the Top 12 in all four events on one body of water. Let's take the fisheries alphabetically.
In the first four years of the Elite Series (2006-09), Amistad was a regular stop. Weights were big (it usually took better than 100 pounds to win) and a wide variety of anglers performed well, but no one made it to the finals each time.
Edwin Evers, Todd Faircloth, Gary Klein, Dean Rojas and Kevin VanDam made the final round in three of the four tournaments with Evers coming the closest to joining the "quad-squad." After finishes of 11th (2006), 8th (2007) and 9th (2008), he was 25th in 2009. Close, but no cigar. Nevertheless, those five anglers really, really like seeing Amistad on the schedule. None, however, could match Schultz's four finals in four tries.
Of the venues that the Elites have visited four times, none shakes things up more than Clarks Hill. Only one angler has managed a Top 12 finish in three of those four events, and it's South Carolina pro Casey Ashley, for whom the lake is basically home water.
Ashley was 8th in 2007, 5th in 2008 and 7th in 2010. He'd probably have a perfect record for making cuts on Clarks Hill except that he wasn't in the Elite Series in 2006 when it made the first stop there. I can't give him a pass for that first tournament, but I bet he would have made the finals then, too. I'll certainly have Ashley on my Fantasy Fishing team if the Elites go back to Clarks Hill.
The Elites fished Guntersville in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010, and no angler made the finals all four times. In fact, despite the plethora of pros living in Alabama and the innumerable times the Elite pros have fished the lake in other competitions, only two anglers made the finals in three of the four Elite events: Alton Jones and Kevin VanDam.
KVD came the closest to establishing Guntersville mastery. He was 4th in 2006, won in 2007 and finished 9th in 2010. The only year he failed to make the finals (2009), he was a very respectable 20th. Obviously, you want the Kalamazoo Kid on your Fantasy team anytime the Elites are on Guntersville.
Here's where Bernie Schultz gets company. In fact, with the exception of the dominance that Robert Lee showed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he won four California Delta B.A.S.S. events in a row, the Kentucky Lake Elite tournaments give us the most dominant single fishery performance in B.A.S.S. history, and it belongs to ... Kevin VanDam, of course.
In four Elite events on Kentucky Lake, VanDam has won twice (2008 and 2010), finished second once (2009) and third once (2006). And in the worst of those stellar performances, he led the first two days of the tournament. Obviously, KVD has the inside track when the Elites visit Kentucky Lake.
Edwin Evers and Kelly Jordon are the only other anglers who deserve mention on Kentucky Lake. They've both posted Top 12 finishes in three of the four Elite tournaments there, and Jordon narrowly missed making it a perfect four. The one tournament that KJ missed the final cut (2008) he was 15th.
Bernie Schultz is the only angler who's come close to showing consistent excellence on Oneida, making all four final cuts in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012, though his best finish was 8th in 2006. No one else has made more than two Top 12s.
Showing that kind of consistency on a single body of water at the Elite level is obviously very rare, making the accomplishments of VanDam and Schultz even more impressive.
Then there are the two waters that have hosted three Elite tournaments each — Smith Mountain and Wheeler. Since the Elites don't have an event scheduled at either of these venues for 2013, it's going to be a while before anyone can join VanDam and Schultz in the "4 for 4 Club" (four events and four finals). Nevertheless, there are two anglers who will have a chance to do it the next time around on Smith Mountain: Skeet Reese and Dean Rojas.
Reese and Rojas have been "money" on Smith Mountain. Neither has ever finished worse than 9th, and Reese won the 2010 tournament there. You can bet they look at upcoming schedules while chanting, "Please have Smith Mountain, please have Smith Mountain...." It's been very, very good to them.
Wheeler's been a tougher nut to consistently crack. No Elite angler has made the finals all three times there.
And there you have it. If you're interested in mastery of a single body of water in Elite tournaments, look to Kevin VanDam on Kentucky Lake and Bernie Schultz on Oneida. They have those ponds figured out.