GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — While Skeet Reese has dominated the first half of the 2010 Elite Series season, making the top-12 cut in each event, he's not the only angler in a quest for the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.
Arizona's Dean Rojas has made two straight 12-cuts and finished no worse than 32nd all year, putting him in fourth place right now with four events left before the postseason.
"For me, winning Angler of the Year is everything," Rojas said. "I've been pleased with my year so far, but there have been a couple tournaments where I've made some bad choices."
The season started with one of those bad choices, at the California Delta in Stockton, Calif. Rojas didn't stick with his prime area on Day Two and he weighed less than 10 pounds.
"I should have stayed with that spot," Rojas said. "At the end of the day, I barely stayed in the top 50 and then went out and caught a big bag on the third day. I could have had another top-12 finish pretty easily, but it just didn't work out."
After the 32nd-place showing at Clear Lake, Rojas went to Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia and finished in third. He entered the Alabama Charge in third place in the TTBAOY standings and needed another good showing to try and close ground on Reese.
Unfortunately for Rojas, Day One was just plain awful and he found himself mired in 83rd place with a small limit of 10 pounds, 2 ounces.
"They dropped the water that night and I knew halfway through the day that I was struggling," Rojas said. "I was on suicide watch coming into Day Two. I thought my chance at the AOY was gone. I knew it would take a monster bag to turn my tournament around and a monster bag isn't easy out here."
Just when he thought things couldn't get any worse and with the TTBAOY depending on a turnaround, Rojas suffered boat trouble to start Day Two and at 9:30 a.m., only had four little fish in the well.
"At about 9:30 the second day, I thought this was going to be a train wreck," Rojas said. "I could see the wall looming right in front of me and I was headed straight for it."
Fortunately, Rojas was able to procure a loaner boat for the rest of the day, a move that was critical to his tournament turnaround.
"I never would have fished that spot if I didn't get the loaner boat," Rojas said. "I was heading back to the area I was going to go to and saw a spot on the way and decided to try that. I got in there and immediately started catching fish and soon I was culling. Then I caught a 5-pounder and another 3-pounder and soon I had the 18-pound bag I weighed in that day."
His 18-pound, 14-ounce bag rocketed him into 30th place, but he was still a far cry from the top of the leaderboard. Even so, Rojas had the ultimate confidence in his frog's ability to get big bites and went into Day Three riding that confidence.
The weather was nasty on that part of the lake with rain and howling wind," Rojas said of the weather-shortened final day. "I wanted those conditions because they are ideal for throwing a frog. I knew that was the only way I could get a big bite."
Unfortunately, the fish didn't cooperate on Day Four and he only managed to bring in a little over 9 pounds, falling to the 12th-place position. Even with a tough final day, Rojas was happy with the way the tournament ended.
"If you look at the big picture, I'm happy — I made a good adjustment and salvaged the event," Rojas said. "I'm kind of glad it's over because it's been a roller coaster ride. I don't know if I would have caught 22 pounds and beat Kevin, so this shortened day is kind of a good thing. I'll be able to get my things together, get ready and head to Guntersville."
Heading across the state, Rojas is excited to get the second half of the season underway, but is careful not to look too far ahead.
"I'm going to take these tournaments one at a time and keep it simple," Rojas said. "If you start looking ahead, your mind starts wandering and you have to stay focused all the time."
The mind game frequently takes an angler out of contention and veterans like Reese, Kevin VanDam and Mike Iaconelli know the importance of staying strong mentally. Rojas is looking to become a part of that elite group by winning the TTBAOY award.
"Winning the AOY would be a lifetime goal for me," Rojas said. "It's something I've worked hard and dreamed about since I was 13. We still have half the season to go and I like where I'm at."
Rojas heads into the second half of the season in fourth place in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, still a sizeable 186 points behind Reese, but with confidence that there is still plenty of time to close the gap before the postseason begins.