GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Skeet Reese exuded calm Sunday morning heading into the final day of the Synergy Southern Challenge.
Perhaps it's easy to be carefree when you are sitting on a pile of momentum — Reese had already notched one Elite victory this year and four consecutive top-5 finishes — but the Auburn, Calif., angler figured he had no shot of winning this tournament.
Reese's best areas had diminished on Lake Guntersville and Davy Hite moved into the catbird seat Saturday with his second 27-plus pound limit and appeared poised to capture his seventh elusive BASS victory.
But Reese, who took home $100,000 with the victory, performed when it counted most — as he has all year — scoring his second Elite victory in five events and his fifth consecutive top 5, an unprecedented achievement in Elite competition.
If not for losing by a whisker on the California Delta — Reese lost by 1 ounce to Virginia's John Crews — the 2007 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year would have three Elite victories in five events.
As is, Reese has opened up a 258-point margin in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. To illustrate the gap, Reese could finish in dead-last in two weeks on Clarks Hill Lake and his closest competitor, Edwin Evers, could win and Reese would still hold a 50-plus point lead. In Elite Series competition, Reese's domination is entering uncharted territory but the carefree attitude still prevails.
Fishing fans can catch all of the on-the-water action from the Southern Challenge on The Bassmasters, which airs Sunday, May 16, at 10:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2 (re-airs Sunday, May 30, 11 a.m. ET).
"I can't believe I won this thing," Reese said of his sixth BASS victory. "I really didn't think I had a chance. I was totally relaxed this morning without a worry in the world. I had no pressure and wasn't even thinking about a victory. I would have been happy with 18 pounds."
Instead, Reese caught 25 pounds, 15 ounces, blowing the tournament wide open with his four-day total of 100 pounds, 13 ounces, which accounted for the fourth time the 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion has crossed the 100-pound threshold in Elite competition.
Inadvertently, Hite contributed to Reese's success. A skilled jig angler, Hite had built most of his total this week on the lure, and Reese was astutely aware. Knowing Hite's success, Reese tied on one lone homemade mop jig, colored brown, and decided to work it around a bridge. He boated two 5-plus pounders, which upgraded his weight and effectively closed the competition.
Still, as most in the field, Reese primarily worked a crankbait — a Lucky Craft 3.5 DD — on main lake ledges for the majority of the four days. Key to the victory was Reese's rods — the Wright & McGill brand that hold his namesake — which were designed strictly for long-distance casting with a crank.
"I almost feel like I'm going to get shot by one of these guys (Reese's other competitors) if I keep this up," said Reese, 40. "I always try to do something that hasn't been done before so I'm going to keep putting the pressure on."
While Reese stole the headlines from Hite, the two-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year was pleased with the fact that he put himself in contention. It has been a long dry spell for Hite — he had missed out on a top-10 finish dating back to last year — and though he faltered Sunday, the 1999 Bassmaster Classic champion did so to the hottest angler on the planet.
"A 5-pound margin (heading into the final day) just isn't enough on Lake Guntersville," Hite said. "Unfortunately, it wasn't in the cards for me to catch them today, but at least I finished in second."
Right behind Hite was Crews of Salem, Va., with 92-11. Though Reese bested Crews by more than 1 ounce, he was able to exact some measure of redemption this week for the close call on the California Delta.
Morizo Shimizu of Osaka, Japan, who finished second here in 2005, brought in Sunday's biggest limit at 27-1 and moved up from eighth to fourth. Rounding out the top 5 was homestate pro Russ Lane of Prattville with 91-15.
Paul Elias of Laurel, Miss., moved up to sixth with a 26-2 limit, which included the tournament's biggest bass — an 8-2 brute.
Five-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam posted his best finish in Elite competition thus far this year with a ninth. VanDam moved up to 22nd in the Angler of the Year standings and will look to make a charge to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason, which only includes the top 12 anglers from the regular-season AOY standings.
Next up on the Elite Series schedule is the Pride of Georgia on Clarks Hill Lake May 20-23. Reese has a phenomenal track there, notching finishes of ninth and sixth.
Defending champion Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., limped in below the cutline in 57th. Guntersville has been the site of 20 top-level BASS events, including the 1976 Bassmaster Classic, won by Elite Series pro Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo. Clunn finished 67th this week.
In 2009, the top four overall weights for the four-day tournament crashed the scales at more than 100 pounds. Reese was the only angler to accomplish the feat this week.