COLUMBIA, S.C. — Nine anglers have already qualified for the 2012 Bassmaster Classic. Five of them qualified through the Elite Series by virtue of a win. Kevin VanDam — the reigning Classic champ — is also in. The remaining three earned their spot by winning a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open.
For the Elite field, at least 28 anglers will receive a Classic berth by virtue of their finish in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. For most of the field, however, a win — Elite or Open — is their only real shot.
Boyd Duckett hasn’t missed a Classic since his first qualification in 2007, which he happened to win. As of now, Duckett is 63rd in AOY points. Though he’s a long shot to get in, he’s undeterred.
“The Florida tournaments got me way behind to start the season,” he said. “I thought I had it together last week at West Point, but things just came undone.”
Duckett knows he needs to do his best to put pressure on the field and maybe take risks he wouldn’t otherwise.
“If I have any kind of a chance to win one, I’m going to really turn it up,” he said. But, he recognizes the need to put fish in the boat rather than gamble on an all-or-nothing event. “I haven’t been fishing for little ones, but you’ve got to make the first cut before you can make the second one. Before you can swing for the fences you have to have something to swing.”
If he doesn’t grab a win and automatic entry, Duckett will look north to gain a Classic berth. “I was planning on fishing the Northern Opens, anyway,” he said.
Tommy Biffle has qualified for 17 Classics. However, it’s not looking like 2012 will be his 18th. He currently sits in 92nd in the AOY standings and is definitely on the outside looking in. For the remainder of the season, he’s changed his tune — and fishing style.
“I’m fishing to win,” he said. “I’d like to get a check, but that’s kind of irrelevant. I’m fishing my strengths, and hopefully somewhere along the road it’ll happen."
He says that sometimes fishing for a check and fishing for a win are totally different. Like Duckett, Biffle is looking to take a gamble or two in hopes he can sneak in. He cites errors on his part as the reason for his lack of success this year.
“I’ve had ‘em on in every tournament, but things just happened,” he said. “I’ve lost ‘em, they get off, or I shoot myself in the foot and come in late. Something’s happened every time. I’m just beside myself. I’ve thought about fishing those Opens, but I might just cut my losses now.”
Mike McClelland is also on the outside looking in. He’s made eight Classics, including the past six. He says that so far none of the Elite events — possibly including this week's Carolina Clash — have played in his favor.
“The fish haven’t come off the bank yet,” the deep water specialist said. “Every year we run into a tournament or two where they're on the bank, and I have to adjust to survive, but this year we haven't had a tournament yet where I could fish my strengths. They’ve either been spawning or on the bank.”
He’s tried to make the season fit his style and has caught some fish, but they’ve not been the “right” ones. Still, McClelland has a positive attitude and a plan.
“We’ve got a few events left, and I plan on winning one,” he said. “Plus, there’s the possibility of fishing the Opens. When you put yourself in this position, you have to fish to win. There's a difference between that and fishing to be competitive in an event. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll go north (to the Opens), I guess.”
McClelland’s fishing isn’t the only thing that’s changed; he’s adopted a new attitude for the rest of the season.
“My new quote is, ‘It is what it is,’” he said. “I’m just going with the flow.”