Gerald Swindle may have missed the win by 1 ounce Sunday in the TroKar Battle on the Bayou, but he was one of the biggest winners of Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points.
Swindle's second-place finish in the Toledo Bend event jumped him from 34th into 12th place in the 2011 points race, now at the halfway mark.
The race will determine three prizes at the end of the season: the TTBAOY award, worth $100,000; eight spots in the postseason, another $100,000 contest; and 28 qualifications for the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.
Swindle already owns a Classic berth. He earned it when he won the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open early in the season. Having the Classic in the bag has helped him relax as he competes in the Bassmaster Elite Series, he said. And, ironically, not obsessing over points has helped him win more points.
"I'm learning now: Don't worry about points," Swindle said. "If there's any way, keep it out of your mind; fish each day to win."
Last Sunday's winner, Dean Rojas, advanced even more places in the points standings than Swindle did. Rojas improved by 23 spots, from 31st into that magic eighth place, the cut line for an automatic berth into the July 23-31 Toyota Trucks All-Star Week postseason.
"I've got to keep up the momentum from here on out and fish well and make it to the postseason. That's my next goal," Rojas said. "My first was to make it to the Classic, and now I've done that."
He was referring to the Bassmaster Classic seat he was awarded by winning at Toledo Bend. At the same time, Rojas pushed aside the suggestion that the Angler of the Year prize was on his radar.
"Now, I'm looking at the postseason," he insisted.
Rojas may be feeling the caution of the slow starter. After the season's first event, he was 51st in points. His gains have been steady: 44th after the second event; 31st after the third; and now eighth after four tournaments.
If Rojas and Swindle are the hares, points leader Alton Jones is the tortoise. This season, he's traveled only forward, nose up and trained on the finish line. After his 16th-place finish on Toledo Bend, Jones not only maintained at No. 1, he put 26 more points between himself and No. 2, Terry Scroggins.
Jones, now with a total of 1,096 AOY points, has held the lead for three tournaments running. Ditto for Scroggins in second, Kevin VanDam in third and Jeff Kriet in fifth. The only change Sunday in the Top 5, in fact, was Chris Lane moving into fourth, a spot relinquished by Sunshine Showdown winner Shaw Grigsby, who slipped to 10th.
Besides Rojas and Lane, new to the Top 8 were Fred Roumbanis (seventh, up from 19th) and Steve Kennedy (in sixth from 13th).
Others to watch include Davy Hite, who has been up and down but claimed 13th place Sunday.