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.
Bucket A: Skeet vs. KVD vs. E2
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.
Bucket B: Clunn and Davis
With Bassmaster history already a theme heading into this week, my Bucket B watch list this week fits right in — Rick Clunn and Mark Davis.
Popular young gun Ott Defoe will likely enjoy a high ownership percentage this week, owing to his 2011 postseason match-play win here, but I like the cagey veterans in this bucket. While close in AOY standings — Clunn, 29th; Davis, 30th; Defoe, 35th — both Clunn and Davis are fishing much better than they have in the last few years, while Defoe has fallen behind the pace he has set in recent seasons.
Clunn and Davis have much more history here, as well. Clunn finished fourth in the October 1981 Bassmaster Classic here; 18th in the June 2004 Elite 50 event; and 23rd in the October 1982 Bassmaster Classic. Davis, well-known as a postspawn specialist, won the June 2005 Elite 50 here and placed sixth here in a late May 2003 Bassmaster Tour event.
You might also consider Greg Hackney. Widely regarded as a River Rat, Hackney has two Top 10’s here: eighth in the June 2004 Elite 50, and seventh in the July 2010 12-man postseason derby. His history on Southern rivers includes three Top 10s and five Top 20s.
Bucket C: Vinson
Hailing from nearby Wetumpka, Ala., Greg Vinson will be sleeping in his own bed during this tournament. In the last two Elite Series tournaments, he’s made headlines for taking and losing early leads. That suggests he’s fishing well but making a few poor decisions in crunch time. With local knowledge (his own or via the grapevine) and history here, perhaps this is the week he puts it all together to win.
You might consider also Brent Chapman. Although the 2012 Angler of the Year placed only 37th here in the June 2004 Elite 50 event, he was runner-up here in the May 2003 Bassmaster Tour events. His history on other Southern rivers includes 14th- and 18th-place finishes on the Arkansas River in June and August.
This bucket’s dark horse is John Murray. Despite being from the West, which is associated with clear, deep finesse tactics, Murray has a surprisingly good history here and on Southern rivers in general. He placed seventh, 13th and 32nd here in December 2005, May 2003 and June 2004. He’s placed fifth and 29th on the Arkansas River and 19th on the Ohio/Cumberland/Tennessee river system.
Bucket D: Biffle and Lane
With water levels up, Biffle should find plenty of backwater vegetation to pitch and flip. And there’s plenty of room on this river to lock down, get away from the crowd and find fish you don’t have to share.
Hot off a Top 12 last week, Biffle has both momentum and a good record here: second in the September 2009 12-man postseason event; fourth in the July 2010 12-man postseason derby; and third in the early June 2004 Elite 50 tournament here. Elsewhere on Southern rivers, he’s finished first in September, 15th in June and 23rd in August.
Russ Lane hails from Prattville, Ala., located about 25 minutes away from this week’s launch site. He finished 10th here in the 12-man 2010 postseason event.
Bucket E: Short, Herren and Horton
Timmy Horton may hail from Alabama, but this week I like “the other Horton” from Alabama, Jamie. He’s from Centreville, Ala., located only about an hour from Montgomery. That’s likely why the sophomore Horton has more experience on the Alabama River than does Timmy, the longtime Bassmaster pro. In two regional tournaments here in September and one in June, Jamie Horton finished first, seventh and fifth.
No handicapping of a river tournament is complete without mentioning Kevin Short. Although he has never competed in a major-level Alabama River derby, his Southern river history is strong: 16th- and 24th-place finishes in May and June tournaments, and third on the Arkansas River in a June derby.
Trussville, Ala., native Matt Herren has enjoyed some success in tournaments on the Miller’s Ferry pool of the Alabama River. Elsewhere on Southern rivers, he’s been hit or miss — second on the Ouachita River in a March tournament but 92nd on the Arkansas River in a June derby.
Want more information?
I’ve researched Alabama River and Southern river finishes for most of the field, so if you have a question about an angler not mentioned above, leave a message in the comments section below and I will reply.