Four stories dominated the news in the world of bass fishing this year. One is still pending, two involved the usual suspects and the last looms over the industry like a dark cloud.
Let's count them down in order of impact:
Skeet Takes the Classic!
Long considered one of the very best in the business, Skeet Reese broke through to win a Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title in 2007. Earlier that same year, he came within a few ounces of winning the Bassmaster Classic. With his sights set on the biggest tournament in professional fishing, few doubted it would take him very long to win it.
They were right.
Reese bested a field of 51 on Louisiana's Red River in February to take home the trophy and the first-place prize of $500,000. The victory put him in some very exclusive company. Only Reese, Mark Davis and Michael Iaconelli (who finished second in this year's Classic) have won an Angler of the Year and a Classic, earned more than $1 million in BASS prize money and caught more than 100 pounds in a single tournament.
One for the Thumb
Though he trailed Skeet Reese in Angler of the Year points going into the inaugural postseason, Kevin VanDam caught them when he needed them most to earn his fifth AOY title. Only Roland Martin has more, with nine.
VanDam's win also makes him just the third angler in BASS history to win the award in back-to-back seasons. Roland Martin (1971-73, 1978-79 and 1984-85) and Guido Hibdon (1990-91) are the others. A "three-peat" would pair KVD with Martin as the only men to win three in a row.
Despite solidifying VanDam's claim to the throne as the greatest professional bass angler of all-time, his win was not without some controversy. In every previous incarnation of the AOY award, the winner was crowned at the conclusion of the regular tournament season. Going into BASS' inaugural postseason, VanDam trailed Skeet Reese by a few points, leading some critics to conclude that Reese deserved the award.
In VanDam's defense, however, the anglers knew of the new system even before the season started. The Kalamazoo Kid stormed his way to an impressive victory on the Alabama River in the postseason finale to edge Reese on the final day of the season, ending Reese's hopes of taking the sport's two most sought-after titles in the same year and securing VanDam's foothold atop the bass fishing mountain.
It's the Economy, Stupid
Things are tough all over, and that's certainly true in the fishing industry. High unemployment figures, low real estate values and plummeting discretionary spending have helped to cripple the entertainment and outdoors industries. Boat and motor sales are at historic lows, though sales of lures and other terminal tackle are still good for many companies.
The pinch is being felt at all levels of the sport — from casual anglers who can no longer afford to fish as often as they'd like, to top pros who can't find sponsors to support their careers and pay their tournament entry fees.
Skeeter/Yamaha is one manufacturer that sees a light at the end of the tunnel. In January, they'll debut a new boat/motor combo that retails for more than $70,000. If the package is a success, can prosperity be far behind?
A World Record a World Away
After 77 years, sportfishing's most sought-after record may finally be ready to fall. George Perry's 22-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass from South Georgia in 1932 has held the top spot in the record books for almost four score years. Now, from halfway around the world in Japan, a challenger appears.
On July 2, Manabu Kurita pulled a 22-pound, 4.97-ounce largemouth from Lake Biwa. If the International Game Fish Association certifies the fish, it will tie Perry's catch as the all-tackle world record.
Tie? That's right, tie. According to IGFA rules, a record weighing less than 25 pounds must be exceeded by two ounces to take over the top spot. Since Kurita's catch is less than a full ounce more than Perry's, they'll likely share top status.
Nevertheless, bigger is bigger, even if it is by less than an ounce. If IGFA approves the catch, the bass fishing public is likely to embrace Kurita's bass as the new record... at least until California tops it.