Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese and Edwin Evers battling for Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year? Seems like old times! With the Elite Series headed to Montgomery, Ala., B.A.S.S.’s ancestral home, it seems fitting to re-ignite a hot rivalry from the Elite Series’ recent history. Keep some past finishes on your mind when choosing your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team this week.
In terms of momentum, motivation and merit, few anglers might appear more of a Fantasy Fishing lock than does eternal bridesmaid Edwin Evers this week: Not only is he leading the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, his history on the Alabama River includes four runner-up finishes.
It should be noted, however, that none of those finishes came against a full field, and only one came in the postspawn. Two were in 12-man postseason events (July and September) to determine AOY; one was in a 12-man seeded match-play format in July. The fourth came in a late-May Bassmaster Elite 50 tournament, a pre-Elite Series event featuring a field of 50 anglers. Elite Series fields feature 100 anglers.
Still, Evers excels on most rivers south of the Mason-Dixon Line, no matter how big the field and no matter what the time of year. His resume includes Top 10s on the Red (fifth and eighth in Classics held in February) and Ouachita rivers (fifth and fourth in November and December); and Top 25s on the Arkansas (18th and 25th in June and August), Ohio/Cumberland/Tennessee (13th in June) rivers. And that’s not even counting tidal river systems, like St. Johns and Sabine, on which he’s also fared well.
Most weeks, such impressive stats would make Evers a lock. This isn’t most weeks, however. Evers’ Day Three stumble last week on West Point and Reese’s win there has set up a showdown that will likely overshadow Evers’ redemption shot: “Skeet v. KVD Part 3: This Time It’s Personal.”
Upon winning at West Point last week, Reese said winning Angler of the Year motivates him more than winning the Bassmaster Classic (he’s done both). And it was on the Alabama River that VanDam twice denied Reese an AOY title in 2009 and 2010, besting him in the second of two 12-man derbies in a short-lived postseason format.
Coming off a win last week on West Point and sitting in third place in AOY points behind Evers and VanDam, Reese has momentum and much motivation to make a Top 12 this week. Think it’s unlikely he could follow a win with a Top 12? Recall then 2010, when he fell to VanDam after an epic regular season that included six Top 5 finishes and two victories.
All that will hold back Reese this week is the Alabama River itself. For whatever reason, it’s been where he’s met his Waterloo. When he needed to finish fourth of 12 anglers here to win AOY in 2009, he finished sixth. And when he needed to finish second of 12 here to win the 2010 title, he again finished sixth.
In 2011, Reese shared in a four-way tie for fifth in the match-play postseason event here. In June 2004, he placed 18th against a full field in a Bassmaster Tour event here. On Southern rivers, generally, Reese fares well, year-round, including 10th- and 11th-place finishes on the Arkansas River in June and August; an 11th place on the Red River in a February Classic; and a fifth-place finish in June on the Ohio/Cumberland/Tennessee rivers system.
But what of the 300-pound gorilla in the room? Can we Fantasy Fishing players really pick Reese or Evers when VanDam has positioned himself to challenge for an eighth AOY title?
Entering this tournament second in AOY points, a Top 12 here would give VanDam the kind of lead that could very well set up another AOY title, considering he’s the best closer in the game. In addition to his postseason wins here, VanDam finished 12th and 18th on this river in early June and late May tournaments.
Want to avoid the crowds that pick from this Big 3, hedging that the hype will result in subpar finishes for all? If you’re not in the top 90 percent of Fantasy players, you might consider betting against the favorites, hoping for a big payoff on a long-odds dark horse. Good luck with that.
Only one Bucket A angler has as much experience on the Alabama River as the Big 3 mentioned above, Bassmaster veteran Gary Klein. He has competed in six high-level tournaments here, including the 12-man 2009 and 2010 postseason events, in which he placed seventh and 12th. His other finishes are Top 30s.
Klein’s certainly not lacking in momentum, motivation and merit. He enters this tournament 11th in the Angler of the Year race and no doubt focused on winning his third title (he won AOY in 1989 and 1993).
Gerald Swindle and Aaron Martens also have successful histories on the Alabama River and Southern rivers generally.
See picks for buckets B, C, D and E on the next page.