For the second year in a row, the Lake Jordan segment of the postseason was a topsy-turvy, up-is-down kind of tournament. In 2009, the story was Tommy Biffle's culling problem. He accidentally had six bass in possession for a brief time and the penalty cost him the tournament.
This year, the culling issue belonged to Aaron Martens. He was loading the boat early, but dying fish in his livewell caused him to release several bass that weighed better than three pounds — bass he was not able to compensate for over the course of the day. Instead, he replaced them with smaller fish ... a couple of which died.
Martens wound up losing to Russ Lane by just 4 ounces. It was a crushing defeat because he had the tournament won ... until he started culling some of his best fish. Even with penalties, Martens could have easily beaten Lane.
The pain was two-fold. First was what it cost Martens in terms of the tournament payout — a $60,000 boat and motor rig. Second was the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points. With his second place finish, Martens jumped from a tie for last (actually 9th in AOY points) all the way up to fourth, just 10 points behind Skeet Reese. Without his culling gaff, he would have been second and just 5 points behind Reese.
But that wasn't the only drama in the first postseason event. Most of it surrounded AOY leader Skeet Reese and the grip he's had on that title all year long. No more.
Baseball great Satchel Paige once said, "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you." For Reese, that "something" is Russ Lane, Aaron Martens, Kevin VanDam and Edwin Evers — the Four Bassmen of the Apocalypse. Lane, Martens and VanDam all had solid tournaments, finishing one, two and three, but even Evers gained ground on Reese with his ninth place finish. Those four anglers are now all within 10 points of the most prestigious title in bass fishing.
Last year, Reese ended the regular season with the AOY points lead, but lost the title when VanDam dominated on the Alabama River in the postseason finale. VanDam secured the title (his fifth overall and second in a row) by letting other pros fish his spots in hopes they would pass Reese in the tournament standings. It was a game plan that worked wonders and one that KVD is using again this year.
On the final day on Lake Jordan, VanDam and Terry Butcher were sharing an area, but it was VanDam who was having most of the success. Once VanDam had a solid limit, he invited Butcher to move in and fill out his catch.
The move paid off to perfection for VanDam as Butcher, in 11th place after the first day, caught 13-2 and moved ahead of Reese, helping VanDam close the points gap a little more.
That kind of gamesmanship can pay big dividends in tournaments with small fields and on small waters. Expect more of it on the Alabama River, especially from Lane and VanDam. They'll be two of the most aggressive "hunters" in the tournament.
Skeet Reese is clearly the hunted.