This time last season the Bassmaster Elite Series had completed a swing through California. Using the home-state advantage in his favor, Skeet Reese had taken an early lead in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.
Reese kindled the fire with second- and fifth-place finishes at the California Delta and Clear Lake before setting the tournament trail on fire in April. He won the next event at Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake and settled into fifth place at Pickwick Lake, site of this week's Alabama Charge.
For now, the Angler of the Year's brief storyline has shifted from home-field advantages to playing angling strengths. The 2011 tour kicked off in Florida, where sight fishermen took the spotlight at the Harris Chain opener and St. John's River.
Bed fishing gurus Alton Jones and Terry Scroggins currently hold down first and second places in a tight points race after both anglers scored heavyweight top 10 finishes.
Plastics and patience indeed were the baits and strategies for coaxing spawning bass to the scales in Florida. Sight fishing's short season, for now, has come to a close. Texan Jones reported the shift in his fishing approach for Pickwick in his most recent Bassmaster.com column.
"As far as tackle preparation goes, I had to de-Floridize (is that a word?) my boat. That means that a lot of soft plastics had to come out."
Jones went on to write that square-billed crankbaits, spinnerbaits and moving baits of all kinds now fill the boat.
This week's competition will mark a transition to more traditional, maybe even textbook tactics. Practice reports from the Tennessee River point toward a strong prespawn bite sure to open up the field of play. Hard baits will join plastics as the rigs of choice, targeting a newly energized largemouth population and a storied trophy smallmouth fishery. From flipping wood and grass to jerking over spawning flats, the tournament will bring variety back into the mix.
The future potential of playing angling strengths over the home-field advantage now comes with another ironic twist. Kevin VanDam, the defending Angler of the Year, is currently in third place going into the Alabama Charge.
VanDam left Florida at the top of a cadre of anglers sharing sight fishing's "love-hate" relationship. He shuns the niche technique in favor of variety. And he's already geared up to defend his title with six events remaining before the crowning of the 2011 Toyota Tundra Bassmasster Angler of the Year.