HUDDLESTON, Va. — Virtually lapping the field with a pristine Saturday, Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., opened up a 6-plus pound margin at the Evan Williams Bourbon Blue Ridge Brawl, the third Bassmaster Elite Series event of the season.
The red-hot Reese continues to pile up the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points this year and at the conclusion of the tournament Sunday, he should be in the driver's seat for what he deems the most coveted award in professional bass fishing.
After failing to execute Friday — a relative stumble considering he managed 18-12 — Reese fished flawlessly Saturday, amassing 21-13, which upgraded his three-day total to 58 pounds, 3 ounces.
Largely ignoring the dominant sight fishing pattern on Smith Mountain Lake, the 2007 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year has instead mostly flung a swimbait to a collection of areas, including docks, points and rocks.
"Things lined up perfectly for the swimbait today (Saturday) with the windy, overcast conditions," said Reese, who has collected more than $2 million in BASS career earnings. "With this level of competition, you have to take advantage of the moment and when you have a chance for the big bag, go for it. It paid off today."
Saturday, Reese fished all new water and had a quick, early start. He hit 50 or 60 spots and casted the swimbait thousands of times. Although it seems like a one-horse race heading into the final day of competition, serious stumbles aren't unheard of on the Elite Series. But Reese seems so locked in this week, and this year, that a slip-up would be almost unbelievable.
The four-time BASS winner has been on the cusp of dominating the Elite Series since its inception and five-time AOY Kevin VanDam has largely stood in the way of Reese garnering all the headlines. But this year, the 2009 Bassmaster Classic champ has kicked it into another gear, scoring consecutive top-five finishes on the California season-opening swing and following up this week with a trademark performance.
Although the swimbait has accounted for most of his weight, Reese has still mixed in a sparse amount of sight fishing. And Sunday, he will execute either pattern depending on what the conditions give him.
"Everything is based on the weather," said Reese, 40. "If I have to go look for 2-pounders, I will. There is still plenty of fish around, not as many as bed fish, but there is enough here to scrounge out 10 to 12 pounds."
While Reese has steadily improved as the tournament has progressed, Jason Williamson of Wagener, S.C., hasn't been able to duplicate his banner Thursday, where he weighed 22-9, the biggest day of the tournament.
Instead, Williamson has held steady, posting two 14-plus pound days. Good but not enough to keep pace with Reese. Still, Williamson has tasted Elite victory once and he's not about to give up.
"I still have the ability to go out and catch 20 pounds Sunday if things line up right," said Williamson, 29. "If it's calm, I could make a run at this thing."
Williamson, who posted a three-day total of 51-14, has been strictly sight fishing all week – primarily with a Texas-rigged Zoom 6-inch lizard in chartreuse-pepper — in a creek that holds warmer water.
Moving up from fifth to third was Skeet Reese, Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., with 48-2. Matt Reed of Madisonville, Texas, climbed from seventh to fourth with 47-11. Rounding out the top five was Dean Rojas of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., with 47-0.
Other notables moving on to Sunday's competition included Greg Hackney (8th), who will be Reese's closest competition in the AOY standings after this week; Aaron Martens (11th) of Leeds, Ala., and Ish Monroe of Hughson, Calif., (12th), who squeaked into the cut by 1 ounce.
Only the top 12 qualified for the final day of competition on Sunday.
Smith Mountain Lake out of Huddleston, Va., is the 2010 Elite Series' third stop. Pros are competing for a $100,000 first-place prize. They also will be after points to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason in July, when the $200,000 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year contest will play out in Alabama. Points also count towards elusive berths in the 2011 Bassmaster Classic.
All spectator activities are free and open to the public, including the launches and weigh-ins at Parkway Marina. Takeoff is set for 6:40 a.m. ET; weigh-ins will begin at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Coverage of the Brawl will be featured on The Bassmasters on Sunday, May 2 at 9 a.m. ET.