So, here we are, with two professional anglers set to match skills at the final tournament of the season with the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award on the line.
Going into this week's Sunshine Showdown on Lake Toho in Florida, California's Skeet Reese and three-time winner Kevin VanDam of Michigan will try to take home the hardware. Reese is seeking his first title and leads VanDam by 107 points.
We've been here before. We've seen the joy and exultations, the relief and the tears from the guy who hoists the trophy. We've seen the gracious congratulations from "that" guy — the one who finished second — the one who hung on a thread and got a glimpse of what could have been.
Since 1970, BASS has awarded the title 37 times. Of those, nine were won by Roland Martin — a record that may never be eclipsed. Three anglers: Kevin VanDam, Bill Dance and Mark Davis, have three each. Jimmy Houston, Larry Nixon, Guido Hibdon, Gary Klein and Davy Hite own two titles each.
It's been said repeatedly by those who hold the title and those who chase it that the honor is the highest in the sport to achieve; the toughest, too, because it requires consistency throughout the season.
One slipup, one missed fish, one bad tournament — and everything can disappear.
Here are five significant chases and their outcomes:
2004: Swindle v. Hackney
It all came down to the final tournament, as with this year, when Gerald Swindle of Alabama and Greg Hackney of Louisiana laid it all on the line at Santee Cooper in South Carolina.
Hackney had the Rookie of the Year title locked up and was gunning for the Angler of the Year crown as well. Neither had ever won the top individual award, but a season of consistency was coming to a close.
In six tournaments that season, Hackney had three Top 10 finishes and Swindle had two. The season opener proved to be the difference, with Swindle finishing 59th and Hackney finishing 116th.
Little did they know, after that event on the Harris Chain in Florida, the difference could be so dramatic.
Hackney made the final day cut at Santee Cooper and needed to finish 8th or better to win the Angler of the Year title. Swindle failed to make the cut and spent the day trying to relax. But knowing the fate was in someone else's hands was nerve-wracking.
At the final weigh-in, Swindle watched as Hackney put 13 pounds, 2 ounces on the scale. That was good enough for 8th place, adding to the drama with one angler left to weigh his catch. Mike McClelland had enough weight to bump Hackney to 9th place.Swindle won it by three points, one of the closest margins ever.
2000: Horton sails
Conventional wisdom holds that rookies aren't supposed to win the Angler of the Year title in a season which, by most thoughts, is fraught with adjusting to the rigors of the pro circuit, travel and life away from home.
Timmy Horton of Alabama blew away that thinking with his dominating performance on the tour in his first season. The longtime Tennessee River guide put in his time on the lower circuits but obviously was riding a wave of confidence in his inaugural season.
With two tournaments remaining in the season, Horton put the clamps on the title on the Potomac River in a sultry summer event. August can be brutal on the Potomac, yet he relied on offshore structure — one of his favorite ways to fish, harkening to his guide experience on the Tennessee — and clinched the title.No rookie has won the Angler of the Year title before or since, adding to the prestige of Horton's accomplishment.
1985: Davis claims two
Throughout the history of the Bassmaster circuit, no angler had ever claimed both the Angler of the Year and Bassmaster Classic titles in the same season.Mark Davis did both in 1985, a stunning achievement which has yet to be matched.The longtime guide from Arkansas exhibited cool confidence throughout the season, carrying the Angler of the Year title into the Classic on High Rock Lake in North Carolina.
There, despite the tugs of sponsors and fans at the three-day event in Greensboro, Davis remained calm and fished well. He targeted deep brushpiles with a crankbait all three days, plucking enough bass from the tangled limbs to win the Classic and cap the season with dual titles.
That served as a benchmark of sorts, as Davis would go on to win two more Angler of the Year titles in the next six years. His last, in 2001, came after a tough season and off-season in which he had surgery on his right shoulder and left elbow to repair years of damage, harboring doubts about whether he could continue his career.
Davis rebounded with a vengeance, returning to the Bassmaster and FLW tours — with success on both.
1979: Martin, Klein battle
Horton became the first to win the title in his rookie season, but he wasn't the first to flirt with the feat.
In 1979, a wiry pro from California by way of Texas named Gary Klein almost claimed the honor in his first season. Klein was among the first of the West Coast pros to move east, trying to make a mark on the growing sport, and he did so with aplomb.In March of the second tournament of the season, Klein won on Lake Powell with 58 pounds. It was a clear sign the youngster would be around for a while, as he maintained consistency throughout the year and hovered at the top of the points standings with an eye on the title.
In the end, though, Roland Martin of Florida captured the honor in a close finish. It was his sixth Angler of the Year title in nine seasons, a remarkable run.Klein didn't disappear, either. It took 10 more seasons, but he finally won the award in 1989 and claimed his second in 1993.
1982: Nixon claims another
Two heavyweights slugged it out through the season, with one falling late on his home lake in what many thought might be a cinch.Larry Nixon of Texas, one of the sport's most recognizable pros, won his second Angler of the Year title with a strong season. He won the second tournament of the year on Lake Bistineau in Lousiana setting the tone.
But Hank Parker also was in the mix, bringing his folksy North Carolina charm and confidence from winning the 1979 Classic title. Although that win came three years prior, Parker was one of the guys to always watch for in a tournament — and was in the hunt for his first Angler of the Year award.
The skids came off Parker's ride in May, though, when Billy Noah won the Bassmaster Invitational tournament on Lake Wylie. Parker was thought to have had that event pretty much in hand, since it was in his home state and he was doing so well.
But he finished 84th and with one tournament remaining, couldn't make up ground in the points standings. Nixon didn't falter, claiming the Bass Champs title to end the season with punctuation on the effort and won his first of two Angler of the Year titles.Parker didn't flinch, though. He rebounded, winning the Angler of the Year title in 1983, his first and only one, and adding the Classic title in 1989.