Fans at the Great New York State Fair cheer for Kevin VanDam at the Day Three weigh-in of the 2012 Ramada Championship in Syracuse.
There are number of notables who will not be fishing the 2013 Bassmaster Classic without a bit of semi-divine intervention at Oneida or one of the remaining Opens.
Twenty-one time qualifier and 1998 champ Denny Brauer is out, as is 1982 champ Paul Elias and 1999 champ Davy Hite.
The second- and third-place finishers from this year's Classic (Greg Vinson and Keith Poche) will not be back in 2013. It's the first time that's happened since 2007, when none of the Top 3 finishers from the previous Classic requalified.
Perennial Classic qualifiers Gary Klein, Casey Ashley, Kelly Jordon, Steve Kennedy and Tim Horton are out.
Jeff Kriet of Oklahoma was a pre-Classic favorite for Grand Lake, but he'll miss the big dance.
And although it looked like he was coming back for a 33rd championship, Rick Clunn was one bass short of a limit on Friday, so he's going to need a whole lot of help from his friends if he's going to fish the 2013 Classic.
Brent Chapman is probably one bass away from, as he said yesterday, "a life-changing event," which is the AOY title. But Chapman has been stuck on a total of four fish for several hours now. And you can't help but recall something else he said yesterday: "I culled my sixth fish [of the day] at 10 o'clock and I never caught another fish. That's got me a little nervous."
No one can imagine the pressure that Chapman will be under for the rest of the day.
He doesn't have to make the Top 12 cut to win the AOY title. But he'll clinch it if he does. Then he could just go out on Oneida Sunday and never make a cast – just sit in his boat and smile.
But he probably needs at least one more bass to get there.
No review of a season finale would be complete without a look at who wants or needs a breakout performance the most. Taking a look at the top dozen anglers on BASSTrakk (they're the ones with a chance to win, after all), Randy Howell, Nate Wellman, Ott DeFoe, Terry Scroggins, KVD and Brent Chapman are already locks to make the 2013 Classic. Boyd Duckett, Scott Rook, Takahiro Omori and Jason Quinn need to hang on to their high positions, improve if there's room and maybe even get some outside help by having an angler already qualified for the Classic through the Elites double-qualify by winning one of the remaining Opens. That leaves Fletcher Shryock and Matt Greenblatt; the only way those two can make the 2013 Classic is by winning at Oneida. It's very simple for them.
Cliff Prince, who is chasing Brandon Card for the Rookie of the Year title, is having a slow day so far. One fish in the livewell — a 3 1/4-pounder. Prince was throwing a topwater when we caught up with him.
There's a nice little breeze blowing now. Just enough to ripple the water.
Prince said these are the same conditions where he caught fish in the afternoon yesterday. He believes 14 pounds today would put him in contention with Card. So he is hoping to repeat yesterday afternoon's performance.
Ott DeFoe was asked yesterday if the pressure of the AOY race gets in your head. "Absolutely," he said, without a second's hesitation.
In retrospect, DeFoe's 59th-place finish on Day One may have brought him some relief from the bright lights of this Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. It wasn't as if DeFoe bombed Thursday; 12-5 is a good day on Oneida this week. But it allowed him time to step back and refocus. "I was a little bit down [Thursday]," DeFoe said. "I don't know what turned it around. I really just went fishing."
DeFoe is one of the few anglers – and possibly the only one – who hadn't seen Oneida Lake until practice started on Monday. As differently as Oneida has fished from year's past, that might ultimately be another advantage for DeFoe.
Aaron Martens has four small fish in his livewell. He told us he keeps seeing a school of smallmouth, but then when he goes after them he's not able to locate the school. It sounded like he's feeling it may be a waste of time chasing them.
When the Elite Series comes to Oneida Lake, ounces seemingly always make a bigger difference than at any other tournament site. The following has been mentioned previously this week, but it bears repeating today, with this AOY race evolving minute-by-minute: In 2008, Bernie Schultz and Dave Wolak earned the final two spots in Sunday's Top 12 with the exact same three-day totals – 41 pounds, 6 ounces.
Chris Lane finished only three ounces behind them, in 13th place with 41-3.
A measly ounce-a-day can prevent you from being haunted by Oneida Lake.
Kevin VanDam quietly set another record yesterday. He made the first cut in an Elite event for the 20th straight time. In fact, he hasn't missed a cut since the middle of 2010. And in case you're wondering, the record he broke already belonged to him. KVD made 16 straight first cuts between 2008 and 2010. That's a lot of checks and a big statement about why he's so good.
Matt Reed is now fishing close to Scott Rook and Aaron Martens. Reed made it into the Top 50 when Zell Rowland was disqualified yesterday.
When asked how he's doing today Reed said, "I'm struggling mightily. Only have three little babies in the livewell."