WETUMPKA, Ala. — Dodging a serious bullet, Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., extended his lead — albeit by .5 points — in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings despite stubbing his toe Saturday and placing sixth in the Ramada Trophy Chase.
Thankfully for Reese, his closest competition faltered much worse than him. But Russ Lane, perhaps the most dangerous angler in the field, rocketed up the AOY ledger from last to second after just one day of fishing on Lake Jordan, positioning himself for a dramatic comeback if he continues his run on the Alabama River, the final leg of Postseason competition.
And don't count out Kevin VanDam, who was third in the Jordan competition. VanDam has won the past two Angler of the Year titles and thrives in the pressure-packed Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason format.
Still, Reese was giddy after learning his lead grew. All in all, despite a mediocre showing, he still holds the catbird's seat by a significant margin.
"I'm pretty dang happy right now," said Reese of Auburn, Calif. "I feel good about heading into Sunday in the position I am in. I knew it was going to be an interesting week and I just need to roll with the punches."
In 2009, Reese famously ceded his advantage to VanDam in the second leg of the Postseason and while that has haunted him — and will continue to — Reese knows this is a four-day derby and has vowed to not get too wrapped up in each day's momentum swings.
But it looked very bleak for Reese early. By 1 p.m. — more than seven hours into his competition day — he had only landed three keepers. The six-time BASS winner had located a spot in practice that kicked out some keepers later in the day and knew he had the trump card in his back pocket. He was able to get right by hitting the spot, rounding out his limit and culling up to his 12-pound, 4-ounce limit.
Reese said his five bass came on five different baits and he junk-fished the majority of his day. After a stellar tournament on Jordan last year, the 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion figured he would try his luck on some of the same areas but ended up catching nothing from any of those spots.
"I've got some work to do," said Reese, the 2007 Angler of the Year. "I'm looking to extend my lead each day of competition and hopefully I can do that again tomorrow (Sunday). I was looking for 15 pounds today and it didn't materialize but I know there is plenty of fish in here that are capable of producing a solid bag like that."
While Lane wasn't able to leapfrog Reese in the AOY standings — it was only possible from his vantage point if Reese finishes last — the Prattville, Ala., angler satisfied many pundit's predictions by taking the first-day lead on Jordan, a fishery that is essentially in his backyard.
Flanked by an armada of as many as 40 vocal spectator boats, Lane was able to capitalize later in the day, much like Reese. He landed 15 keepers after 11 a.m. If Lane maintains his Jordan lead — Louisiana's Greg Hackney was only 7 ounces behind — he would earn a fully-rigged boat package valued at $60,000.
"Everything is out of my control," said Lane, 37. "I feel like I don't have much of a chance to move up so I'm fishing like I have nothing to lose. It's like all the pressure is off of me and I can just go out and have fun."
Fishing care-free and easy apparently suits Lane and considering he maintains his homefield advantage next week on the Alabama River, the four-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier is posing the biggest threat to Reese at the moment.
But VanDam said he let up on his fish a bit, figuring that 15 pounds would be good enough for the lead. The five-time Angler of the Year said he was going to swing for the fences Sunday and 19 pounds was a possibility.
"I have to move up, third place just isn't going to cut it," said the Kalamazoo, Mich., veteran. "Skeet controls his own destiny but I can put the pressure on if I go out there and whack 'em."
Edwin Evers, who was second in the AOY rankings heading into this week, was eighth in the Jordan event, which caused him to tumble to fourth in the AOY rankings. Hackney, on the strength of his second-place showing at Jordan, moved up to fifth.
Each of the 12 anglers caught a limit. Places four through nine are separated by less than 4 pounds, providing opportunities for anglers back in the pack to gain some ground.
The Postseason format — introduced in 2009 — features two two-day events. Angler's scoring from the regular season was simplified and then each tournament is scored on a 50-point sliding scale found below. The final leg, the Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph, will play out on the Alabama River on July 30 and 31.