Reigning 2006 Classic champ takes early AOY lead

Takahiro Omori

Current Angler of the Year standings

 It is only the first week of the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Tour season, but already the race for CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year is shaping up to be interesting.

 The biggest headline is that Takahiro Omori continues to make history. First, the Japanese pro became the first foreign national to win the CITGO Bassmaster Classic. He followed that by becoming just the third reigning Classic champion in modern BASS history to post a victory in the season-opening tournament. David Fritts (1993) and Denny Brauer (1998) are the others.

Now, Omori hopes to become among the elite of the elite: a Classic winner who goes on to win Angler of the Year the following season. Only Fritts and 2002 Classic champion Jay Yelas have followed up with the Angler of the Year crown.

 Omori began thinking about the 2005 Angler of the Year race soon after making Classic history last summer in Charlotte.

 "My next goal is Angler of the Year, honestly, because I've already made the (2005) Classic and I don't have to worry about that," he said months ago. "I'm going to do my best to win it this year."

 Obviously, Omori jumped out to the early lead by winning last week's Tour event on Lake Tohopekaliga and the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. His lead could be short-lived, however, since the Tour pros head back into action this week at the Harris Chain of Lakes in Leesburg.

 On Omori's heels is Toho runner-up and veteran Tennessee pro David Walker. Walker is a former FLW Tour Angler of the Year, but he has never made a run at the top angler crown on the Bassmaster Tour.

 "It's a good start, I agree," he said. "No, I haven't even thought about (Angler of the Year). Not after the first tournament. It would be nice. I'd love to win it. It would be my way into the Elite 50s, and I'd qualify for a couple of Classics. That would be real nice.

 "I always try to win a tournament, and this year I am hoping I can win Angler of the Year. But with just one tournament completed, it's too early in the race to even speculate. Maybe after three tournaments or so, we'll have a better handle on it."

 In third place after the season-opener is Oklahoma's Jeff Reynolds. Veteran Arkansas pro Ron Shuffield is fourth, followed by Florida's Terry Scroggins.

 And in sixth place — don't look now — is reigning CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle, who surprised himself with his success at Toho after enduring a frustrating three-day practice period.

 But none of the leaders can feel comfortable with a pair of hard-charging former Anglers of the Year (Kevin VanDam and Yelas) right behind them.

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