2009 Elite Series - Southern Challenge Lake Guntersville - Guntersville, AL, May 7 - 10, 2009

Halfway Through The Marathon

If you didn't like the way the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race was shaping up before the Southern Challenge on Lake Guntersville, take another look at the standings after that slugfest.

Kevin VanDam

If you didn't like the way the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race was shaping up before the Southern Challenge on Lake Guntersville, take another look at the standings after that slugfest.

 Things have tightened up.

 It's true that the top three anglers in the race — Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese and Alton Jones — haven't moved from their previous spots, but they're a lot closer together now. In fact, Reese is just five points behind KVD, a negligible gap that could be closed with a single cast. Jones is not much farther behind, and two others (Aaron Martens and Gary Klein) are within 100 points of the lead.

 And there's still quite a way to go. Three tournaments stand between the pros and the first postseason in BASS history. Only the top 12 anglers will qualify for the two postseason events, so the next three tournaments are critical to the men who have their eyes on the prize and the big money that comes with it.

 So who were the big movers and shakers at Guntersville? Who made the most of that opportunity, and who squandered it, effectively killing their chances of an AOY title?

 For starters, Aaron Martens has been hot! After a disappointing 54th at the second tournament of the year, Martens was 18th, fifth and first at Wheeler, Smith Mountain and Guntersville, respectively. It propelled him from 39th in the AOY standings all the way up to 4th. As a former AOY, Martens certainly knows what it takes to win the title, and he's strong almost everywhere the trail visits. Look out for the man from California. He just might be the best natural angler in the Elite Series.

 In fifth place is the "old man" in the race, Gary Klein. Roland Martin was the oldest angler ever to take AOY honors when he won his ninth title at the age of 45 in 1985. Klein is 51, but likely in better shape than most of the 40-year-olds on the trail. He takes care of himself and has tremendous focus. He also has as much experience on the tournament waters that lie ahead as anyone in the business. As a two-time AOY (1989 and 1993), Klein knows how to manage the race, but what he really wants for his career is a Bassmaster Classic championship.

 Todd Faircloth has also made a run at the leaderboard this year. In the past four tournaments he's improved his AOY position by 16 places and is now comfortably in 6th. No one who follows the sport doubts his skills, and he learned a great deal from last year's AOY race, which he lost to Kevin VanDam after a disastrous finish in the final tournament despite leading the race going into that event. If he's in a position to win again this year, he won't choose that time to have his worst finish.

As for the anglers who let their chances slip away at Guntersville, two names are at the top of that list: Matt Herren and Stephen Browning.

 Herren was in 7th place in the AOY race going into Guntersville. He's an Alabama native and had fished Guntersville many times before, though seldom in the spring. Lots of experts were picking him to do well and possibly even move up in the standings. Instead, he had a dismal tournament, finishing 83rd and falling to 22nd in the AOY standings, effectively ending his bid to win the title as a rookie.

 Browning was an early contender after strong performances in the first three events, but the wheels started to come off at Smith Mountain (where he finished 83rd) and the ship was far from righted at Guntersville (where he was a dismal 90th). In those two tournaments, he fell from second in the AOY race all the way to 33rd. Instead of vying for bass fishing's greatest honor, the Hot Springs, Ark., pro needs to turn things around just to stay in the hunt for a Classic berth.

 A handful of anglers we didn't mention here, including Greg Hackney, Mark Menendez and Michael Iaconelli, are in the hunt for the Angler of the Year title, too. But at more than 100 points behind the leader, they not only have to make up a good deal of ground, they also have to rely on the anglers between them and the lead to slip. For them, it's a long shot, but it could happen.

 After all, the Angler of the Year race is a marathon, not a sprint.