PARIS, Tenn. — The state of Tennessee might best be characterized as the Rodney Dangerfield of the fishing world this week. The ongoing tournament is called the SpongeTech Tennessee Triumph, but the lake itself is named after the bordering state of Kentucky.
Further proof can be seen in the fact that as the standings shook out today, no local advantage was evident. The top three anglers entering Saturday's finale are from Florida, California and Michigan, respectively. The big fish was caught by a resident of New Jersey.
A quick scan of the scorecard doesn't turn up a Kentucky resident until Kevin Wirth, who finished in 22nd. The next one after that is Mark Menendez, who came in 44th. Not only does Tennessee not have a representative in the top 12 or the top 50, there's not a single angler who calls the Volunteer State home in the entire Elite Series field.
No respect, I tell ya.
But while Tennessee seems to be severely under-represented, the state of Alabama has put its best foot forward once again. Three Alabamians are still alive in the 12 cut — Russ Lane in 4th, Gerald Swindle in 10th and Steve Kennedy in 12th. Five more, including Aaron Martens, Randy Howell, Timmy Horton, Greg Vinson and Kota Kiriyama, finished in the money.
While Swindle is proud of his home state's dominance, he disputed the lineage of several of the anglers who call Alabama home.
"Aaron and Kota, they're not really from Alabama," he said of the two competitors who originally hail from California and Japan, respectively. "They don't even have jacked-up trucks or eat barbecue chicken, so they're not really rednecks."
Asked what qualified someone as a true redneck, Swindle painted a vivid mental picture. "It's someone who wears flip flops, a sleeveless shirt and swim trunks to the Piggly Wiggly."
Is it learned behavior or is it innate?
"It's gotta be bred in you," the G-Man proclaimed definitively.
Howell disputed Swindle's characterization.
"I'm a redneck, just not an Alabama redneck," he said. "I'm a Tarheel redneck. And I think they say that when you've been there 10 years you become a native."
These claims of home state pride are particularly relevant this season because BASS has come full circle. The brainchild of Ray Scott over 40 years ago, and based for many years in the city of Montgomery, Ala., BASS has created a post-season that will give 12 anglers an opportunity to fish for big bucks three times in Alabama.
At the conclusion of the eight-event regular season, the top 12 will have the opportunity to duke it out on two Alabama waters for the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. In February, those 12 and a few dozen others will fish the Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake.
Swindle believes that the rest of the field should look out if Prattville's Russ Lane manages to vault into the top 12 at season's end.
"The other guys will be tough, but not like Russ," he said. "Those are his home waters and he'll be the biggest threat."
Should Swindle make the cut, he won't concede anything to Lane, but he admits that it's not the two-event post-season but rather the opportunity to fish another Lay Lake Classic that is foremost on his mind. The last time the big dance was held there, in 2007, he was disqualified for a safety infraction.
"I would like a do-over," Swindle said. "Especially because I was catching them when I was disqualified. I kind of feel like the guy who missed the free throw in the last minute of the game."
Howell, on the other hand, is more excited about the two post-season tournaments than the Classic. He claimed that the lure of the novel format has helped him to maintain his motivation all season long.
"It has helped me to fish better," he said. "It has given me a higher goal than just the top 36. Last year I was eighth in the points. This year I've been really consistent and gotten a check in every tournament. Consistency doesn't usually pay in this sport — you need those really high finishes to get the big points — but this year it will."
Unlike Howell, Martens doesn't claim to be fully acclimated to the Alabama environment off the water. He doesn't drink sweet tea or eat fried foods, and he's proud that his children speak with an accent closer to his than to Swindle's. At the same time, he understands that the move across the country has greatly benefitted his career. Not only has it shortened his drives, but it has given him access to a wide variety of waters.
Just like Swindle, Martens would like another shot at a Lay Lake Classic.
"I messed up the last time we were there real bad," he said. "I thought I'd catch 20 pounds of spots and I didn't."
While Martens may not demonstrate redneck ingenuity in the traditional sense (duct tape for things that move that aren't supposed to; WD40 for things that are supposed to move but don't), he does bring a bit of California craftiness to his new home, and it came with him to Tennessee this week as well.
He caught a number of key fish during the tournament on a jighead called a Scrounger that he manufactures. Kansas pro Brent Chapman, whose family often camps near the families of Martens and Kennedy, also employed the Scrounger this week to make it to Day Three, and while he didn't make the Day Four cut, another good finish in the books improves his already strong chances to make it into the final 12.
"Ultimately, I want to make the Classic," Chapman said. "But right now I have a great opportunity to make it and the guy in 12th can very possibly win Angler of the Year."
While he knows that the field will be stout, he also has a strong track record on one of the two post-season waters. The last time BASS went to the Montgomery River, for the 2003 Alabama Showdown, he finished second to Oklahoma's Kenyon Hill.
He may not be in Kansas anymore, but the view from Tennessee, looking down over Alabama, is just fine.