The 2014 Bassmaster Elite Series season is about to begin, and I got to thinking about how important it is to get off to a good start. Then I got to wondering about who the fastest starters are in the Elites.
I realize there's a lot of anecdotal babble out there regarding such things ("Joe Schmoe always seems to get off to a good start!"), but I hate that kind of uninformed prattle that somehow passes for intelligent commentary. I decided to check for myself.
Not surprisingly, a fast start is pretty important (more on that later), and the fastest starters are the guys who go to the Bassmaster Classic most often and annually challenge for Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
I counted only the first tournament of the season and disregarded last year's rookies. I only looked at anglers who have fished two or more years in the Elite Series.
These anglers are the best 10 starters of the Elite era (2006-13):
1. Alton Jones (8 events; 5 times in top 8; never worse than 37th)
2. Kevin VanDam (8 events; 4 times in top 8; never worse than 31st)
3. Dean Rojas (8 events; 6 times in top 13; never worse than 51st)
4. Brandon Card
5. Todd Faircloth
6. Stephen Browning
7. Edwin Evers
8. Skeet Reese
9. Steve Kennedy
10. Bill Lowen
To give numbers to those names, Jones averages a finish in the top 14 percent of each Elite opener. KVD is close behind at 15 percent. At 10th, Lowen scores 27 percent. The average, of course, is 50 percent, and Matt Herren has been the most average starter in Elite history, scoring 49.82.
In the Elite era, those top 10 anglers have only missed 11 Classics out of a possible 74 (that's 85 percent and just about anyone not named Kevin VanDam would be happy with that). Yes, it's true that Browning made it last year by winning a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open and not through his Elite performance, but that hardly dings the percentage at all (84 percent).
Are these guys strong starters because they're among the best anglers in the Elite Series or is it something else — superior talent in the early season, better eyesight for the sight-fishing events that dominate the early season, greater familiarity with the venues (three of the eight openers were on Lake Amistad; two were on the Harris Chain)?
It's certainly a mix of those things and probably more. Realistically, we'll never know exactly how it shakes out.
What we do know is that starting strong is important. It puts you on the path to the Bassmaster Classic and gets you in the running for AOY.
A slow start doesn't eliminate an angler from Classic or AOY contention, but it means he'll have to be extra good later in the year, that he won't control his own Classic or AOY destiny, and it adds pressure to an already challenging career. Few handle that well.