KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Upon catching his fourth fish Saturday morning, Skeet Reese let out a yell that was heard over a cell phone on a nearby boat.
At approximately 8:33 a.m. ET, Reese boated his fourth bass in the Sunshine Showdown, presented by Allstate Boat Insurance. Estimating the 2-pound bass was enough to sew up the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year title, Reese released a tremendous amount of emotion. He hooted, hollered and high-fived. Then he became reflective, kneeling down on the bow of the boat in tears of joy.
"I've caught me a limit this morning to put this AOY race to bed," he said while standing on his boat in the Kissimmee Canal minutes later to ESPNOutdoors.com photographer Doug Cox — who was on his cell phone to ESPNOutdoors.com's reporting team. "That one was a pretty decent fish and that put me over the 4-pound mark, and that pretty much sealed the deal."
"I figured if I caught 4 or 5 pounds, I wouldn't drop lower than 40th. If (Kevin VanDam) led today and won, I have to finish at least 40th. To do that, I needed 3 or 4 pounds. I probably got 6 pounds in there — that's more than enough."
Reese entered the final Elite Series event of the year with a 107-point lead on VanDam. Reese knew all he had to do was stay close to VanDam in the event and he would take his first AOY title.
"AOY, this is what I've been pursuing for the last 20 years of tournament fishing," Reese said. "AOY titles have always been the most prestigious to me and this is the most prestigious in the world. Since I''ve been on tour, I've always fantasized about it. I've come close. To have the year that I've had … "
Reese was interrupted as his co-angler hooked up with a 3-pound bass.
"My partner has a big ole bass on. You better get him in the boat," Reese told him."Sorry for the interruption."
Taking time out from fishing to talk to a reporter is unusual, but only disaster in the form of disqualification or not making the weigh-in would sidetrack Reese now. He's already making plans, and fishing in the top 12 Sunday is not one of them. Reese said he figures he needs to be under 10 pounds Saturday.
"The ultimate is to finish 13th and not have to fish tomorrow," he said. "Then I can have a pretty good party tonight, take care of my friends and family."
If he could win the Sunshine Showdown, Reese said it would be a different story.
"I'm 10 pounds off the lead, I'm not being all that optimistic," he said. "I'll take my 13th-place check and run, 'cause I've got a lot bigger check coming."
The Angler of the Year receives $125,000, a place in the BASS record books and more sponsorship opportunities.
Reese came into the tournament knowing all he had to do was take care of business. And he did. After Day Two, VanDam was in 13th place and and Reese was 15th place. Reese knew it would only take a small limit Saturday, and he broke his butterflies with a small fish early.
"I caught the first one this morning, it was maybe 12, 13 ounces," he said. "You don't get real excited. Second, it was putting it closer. In my mindset, I needed more as a competitor. It was just a matter of doing my job and catching fish."
The fourth put him over the top. When first asked how it was going, he let out a long laugh.
Now he just has to make sure he gets back to weigh them in, but he won't head back too early.
"I don't know," he said. "I don't want to sit up by the ramp and be bored all day. [Voice is heard in background] My partner doesn't either. I'll stay down for a while and fish and catch the biggest limit I can. Anything near 10 pounds or more is putting it too close to fishing tomorrow."
Having to fish Sunday would hamper his plans for Saturday night.
"I believe I am hosting a party. I've invited all the media and fishermen, BASS staff and my sponsors," he said. "It' s probably going to cost me a hell of a lot of money, but it'll be worth it."