Starting strong

About the author

Ken Duke

Ken Duke

Ken Duke is the Managing Editor of Fishing Tackle Retailer and the author of two books on bass fishing. Follow him on Twitter @thinkbass.

Every Bassmaster Elite Series angler starts the season with two goals: (1) win Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year and (2) qualify for the Bassmaster Classic.

Realistically, there are maybe 25 or 30 anglers in the Series who are capable of stringing together eight solid events and winning AOY. The rest of them simply aren't — they're inexperienced or the schedule doesn't fit their game or they just don't have the chops to get it done. I know that sounds harsh, but it's also true.

One way to look at the AOY race — and I think it's the most accurate way — is to think of it as a winnowing process. Each of the eight tournaments basically eliminates part of the field from contention. Halfway through the season, only seven or eight anglers will have any sort of realistic shot at the title. By the time we get to the final tournament, it'll likely be down to about three anglers.

Even the first tournament will take its toll and all but eliminate half the field from AOY contention.

So how important is it to start strong and have a good season opener if AOY is your goal?

It's critical — absolutely critical. Bomb and you're done. Sure, you can still qualify for the Bassmaster Classic, but your dreams of winning AOY are over. You'll have too many points to make up and too many other challengers to leap over to get there. Too many other anglers will have to crumble, and you can bet that some of them — a couple of them anyway — won't.

In Elite history, here's where the eventual AOY ranked in the first event of the season. For the 2010 and 2011 seasons, I'm using Skeet Reese for this comparison because he led the race at the end of the regular season, though Kevin VanDam ran him down in the postseason and took both AOY titles. Since there's no more postseason, those years have to be assessed a little differently for our purposes.

Year

AOY

Finish

2006

Michael Iaconelli

16

2007

Skeet Reese

9

2008

Kevin VanDam

31

2009

Skeet Reese

22

2010

Skeet Reese

2

2011

Kevin VanDam

4

2012

Brent Chapman

4

As you can see, four out of the seven were in the top nine, and the lowest ranked angler was KVD at 31st in 2008 — all the rest were in the top 22. It's probably safe to say that if you miss the first cut this week at the Sabine River, you can kiss your AOY hopes goodbye for the year.

Is 31st the worst you can start and still win AOY? Maybe. When VanDam did just that in 2008, there were 11 Elite events in the season. Since then there have only been eight. Fewer tournaments mean that each one is more important, a bigger percentage of the whole. It just might mean that more than two thirds of the Elite field is eliminated from AOY contention before they can put their boats back on the trailers and drive to Falcon Lake.

That sounds about right, actually.

It's like the old saying about the Bassmaster Classic: You can't win it in one day, but you can certainly lose it. AOY is like that. You can't win it with one good tournament, but you can lose it with a bad one — two bad ones for sure.

To win AOY you can miss one first cut (to the top 50), but not two — especially when there are only eight tournaments in the entire season. Here's a look at the AOY group above and the number of first cuts they made. I've also listed their worst finish for the year.

Year

AOY

Events

Cuts

Worst

2006

Michael Iaconelli

11

10

66th

2007

Skeet Reese

11

9

67th

2008

Kevin VanDam

11

10

56th

2009

Skeet Reese

8

8

29th

2010

Skeet Reese

8

7

59th

2011

Kevin VanDam

8

8

33rd

2012

Brent Chapman

8

7

68th

You don't have to be perfect to win AOY (Reese and VanDam were the only AOYs who made all the first cuts for a full regular season), but you have to keep your bad tournaments under control. Reese missed two first cuts and still won AOY, but that was in 2007 when there were 11 tournaments. It probably can't be done in an eight tournament season.

And none of the AOY leaders had any throwaway events. The worst finish was 68th by Brent Chapman last year, so even when you bomb you need to avoid complete disaster by finishing in the bottom 10 or 20 percent.

Who will be the Bassmaster Angler of the Year for 2013? Your guess is as good as mine ... as long as you're picking someone in the top 30 after the Sabine River.

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