WETUMPKA, Ala. — If Skeet Reese goes on to win the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award, he can point to one moment on Day One when he turned around what could have been a disaster.
At 12:30 p.m., Reese only had three fish in the livewell, needing two more keepers to round out his limit and keep himself in contention. The bites had been few and far between, but Reese knew he had to keep grinding it out through the hot Alabama afternoon.
"I knew it would be hard, but I felt like I could grind out five," Reese said. "When you are not catching them, it is hard to be optimistic and have fun."
Throwing a shaky head, Reese finally got his fourth keeper fish to bite with a little over an hour remaining. Then, about 15 minutes later, a small pack of bass came up schooling out in the middle of the area Reese was fishing. He trolled over to the spot, but they had quit hitting shad on the surface.
Nevertheless, Reese seined the area with a topwater and shaky head without a sniff. He made a quick adjustment to a deeper crankbait and on his first cast hooked up with one of his best fish of the day. A few exciting jumps later and the fish was in the boat, rounding out a limit and easing some of that tension he was feeling.
"Catching those fish at that time was pivotal," Reese said. "When I caught my fifth one, I told my cameraman that may have been the fish that changed everything."
Getting back in the groove again, Reese was able to hook up again in the waning moments of the day, looking for a necessary cull.
"I had a double and I was hopeful that they would be two big ones," Reese said. "They were both 2.25-pounders, but one jumped and got off. It was not an easy day of fishing, but I kept my head down and tried to keep my cool and it paid off."
His final cull got him to 12 pounds, 4 ounces and placed him squarely in sixth. While it wasn't a dominant showing, it was far from the disaster that could have been and he retained the AOY lead after one day of competition. His nearest competitor, Edwin Evers, faltered as well and sits in eighth place for the tournament.
"Based on who did what, I'm still OK," Reese said. "It tightened up, but I think I'm still in the driver's seat. I've got to go out and try to bust a 14-pound bag or more. If I can come out of here with a top-three finish, it would be hard for anyone to catch up."
Was that time today the critical moment in his quest for a second AOY crown?
"Those fifth and sixth fish, that may have done it."