Don't believe the hype. It's not "anybody's game," there's not "plenty of time left" and chances are it's not "slipping away" from the leader.
At least in the world of tournament bass fishing, the lead is — almost always — everything.
Let's take a look at the 57 tournaments that make up Elite Series history. Almost all of them went the distance — four days — though a few were cut short due to inclement weather. Of those 57 events, the Day One leader went on to win the whole thing 15 times (that's 26.32 percent) and 11 times the first day leader went wire-to-wire, never looking back and leading each day of the event.
Here are the wire-to-wire winners in Elite history:
|1||Preston Clark||2006||Santee Cooper, S.C.|
|2||Mike McClelland||2006||Grand Lake, Okla.|
|3||Skeet Reese||2007||Potomac River, Md.|
|4||Kevin VanDam||2008||Kentucky Lake, Tenn.|
|5||Kevin Wirth||2008||Old Hickory Lake, Tenn.|
|6||Bobby Lane||2009||Kentucky Lake, Tenn.|
|7||Byron Velvick||2010||Clear Lake, Calif.|
|8||Kevin VanDam||2010||Kentucky Lake, Tenn.|
|9||Tommy Biffle||2010||Ft. Gibson Lake, Okla.|
|10||Dean Rojas||2011||Toledo Bend Reservoir, La.|
|11||Denny Brauer||2011||Arkansas River, Ark.|
What is about Kentucky Lake that put it on this list three times? I'm not sure, but it might have something to do with the style of fishing that usually wins there — cranking offshore ledges with big schools of bass. Once you get a lead there, you're probably on the school to win, so hanging on is relatively likely.
So, how about the Day Two leaders? Well, they've gone on to win 25 times (43.86 percent). And Day Three leaders have won 36 times (63.16 percent). That's right — the angler in the lead after Day Three is going to win the event nearly two thirds of the time!
Comebacks are rare, but they happen occasionally, and the eventual winner is not necessarily among the leaders all the way through. In fact, some winners have been pretty mediocre to start the tournament.
The worst start ever by an Elite winner came in 2007 on Clear Lake. You may remember that tournament because Steve Kennedy set the all-time weight record for the five bass limit era (4-day tournament) with 122 pounds, 14 ounces. But he didn't start very strong. In fact, he ended the first day in 51st place, well off the pace and teetering on the brink of elimination in the form of the Day Two cut.
Similarly, Morizo Shimizu and Casey Ashley were both in 49th place after the first day of the 2006 Kentucky Lake tournament and 2007 Smith Mountain Lake event, respectively, but they both went on to win.
Here are the five worst starts for Elite Series winners, by place after the first day:
|Angler||Tournament||Position after Day 1|
|Steve Kennedy||2007 Clear Lake||51st|
|Casey Ashley||2007 Smith Mountain Lake||49th|
|Morizo Shimizu||2006 Kentucky Lake||49th|
|Derek Remitz||2007 Lake Amistad||37th|
|Paul Elias||2008 Falcon Lake||26th|
And here are the five biggest Day One weight deficits ever overcome by eventual winners:
|Angler||Tournament||Weight deficit after Day 1|
|Derek Remitz||2007 Lake Amistad||16-7|
|Paul Elias||2008 Falcon Lake||13-11|
|Steve Kennedy||2007 Clear Lake||12-13|
|Jason Williamson||2009 Lake Amistad||10-13|
|Edwin Evers||2011 St. Johns River||10-1|
You can afford to fall behind if weights are high. If everyone's struggling, you need to be in the hunt from the start.
Naturally, as the tournament progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to mount a comeback. After Day Two, only five Elite winners were in tenth place or worse.
|Angler||Tournament||Position after Day 2|
|Jason Williamson||2009 Lake Amistad||38th|
|Ish Monroe||2006 Lake Amistad||19th|
|Fred Roumbanis||2008 Lake Murray||15th|
|Steve Kennedy||2007 Clear Lake||12th|
|Morizo Shimizu||2006 Kentucky Lake||10th|
Every other Elite winner was inside the Top 10 after Day Two and 82.46 percent of them were in the top five!
Here are the biggest weight deficits overcome by eventual winners after two days:
|Angler||Tournament||Weight deficit after Day 2|
|Jason Williamson||2009 Lake Amistad||26-10|
|Steve Kennedy||2007 Clear Lake||16-13|
|Paul Elias||2008 Falcon Lake||12-7|
|Edwin Evers||2011 St. Johns River||10-9|
|Todd Faircloth||2008 Lake Amistad||8-11|
Next time we'll take a look at Day Three, which is when we tend to hear all the hype about big comebacks. As you'll see, those comebacks are few and far between.
After that, we'll look at the biggest leads ever blown in Elite Series competition.