Race for Montgomery tightens

As anglers hunt for postseason, tough conditions loom in Iowa

PARIS LANDING, Tenn. — After overcast conditions on Day Two of the SpongeTech Tennessee Triumph on Kentucky Lake, the final two days of fishing finally ushered in stable weather, and in a similar fashion, the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings remained largely the same.

What follows is some of the movers from the SpongeTech Tennessee Triumph and their stories from out on the water:

Alton Jones (TTBAOY standing: third place, 1,477 points)

The man sitting in the shadow of the giants locked in battle for the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, Alton Jones would like nothing more than to grab a little of that limelight for himself by the time the postseason settles out.

"You want to be leading going into the championship tournament, but just making it is important," Jones said. "Winning the TTBAOY is certainly a goal I've had my entire career and I will go into it trying to do the best I can."

The first step for Jones will be qualifying for the postseason. The top 12 anglers in the standings after the season wraps up on Oneida Lake will advance to Montgomery for the championship events in September.

Right now, Jones sits comfortably in third place, with a big enough cushion that he should be able to coast and still qualify. Jones isn't content to just coast, he wants to close some of the distance between himself and the two ahead of him, Kevin VanDam and Skeet Reese.

"If I can finish in the top nine at the next tournament, then I think I'll only have to catch a fish at Oneida to make it," Jones said. "You can't worry about points too much. Ultimately, I have to figure out how to catch them. I think a lot about the points between events, but during events, it's just distracting."

Jones explained that it can be falling into a trap to try fishing for points, one that won't help make up distance at the top of the leaderboard.

"If you fish any other way than fishing to win, you are going to get your clock cleaned," Jones said. "Just look at Skeet and KVD. To be TTBAOY, you have to go catch them at every tournament. Here at Kentucky Lake, I'm going to go out and catch the biggest bag I can. I'm not going to fish shallow. This is a ledge fishing lake and fishing shallow is like bringing a knife to a gun fight."

Making the postseason is only half the battle — he will need to fare well or win to be crowned Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year. Jones has fished on the Alabama River twice when BASS went there for E50s, but has never been on Jordan.

Despite his lack of experience on the two championship lakes, Jones feels comfortable enough with the format to do well.

"I usually feel I'm stronger in two-day events than four-days," Jones said. "With two days, it is less important to manage fish. You can sit there and whack them. The other thing is it's a spotted bass fishery, which will require a lot of versatility."

Randy Howell (TTBAOY standing: ninth place, 1,318 points)

Consistency in 2009 has Howell in great position to be one of the 12 anglers to move on to the championship lakes in September. With two tournaments left in the season, Howell sits in ninth place and has made every 50-cut this year.

In the six Elite Series events in 2009, Howell has finished between 16th and 39th. Should he continue to compete at that level, he can punch his ticket to Montgomery.

"Once they announced the postseason it sounded so fun that it has helped me fish better because I had a higher goal," Howell said. "I've done a Day On The Lake show on Jordan and fished there once. I've made the Classic on the Alabama River through the Open Championship. I don't live far from there, so in July I'm going to be there a lot."

The Springville, Ala., pro has a plan for the championship event, but getting there means surviving the next tournament on the Mississippi River, which promises to be a true test of the skills of every pro in the field. Then the season wraps up at Oneida, a place where Howell has done well.

"I have never been to Fort Madison, but typically I like junk fishing, so hopefully I can do that there," Howell said. "I've been one day away from winning at Oneida every year, so I'm looking forward to redeeming myself there this year."

Byron Velvick (TTBAOY standing: 15th place, 1,258 points)

After barely making the top-50 cut at the season opener on Lake Amistad, Velvick turned in two finishes in the 60s that had him sitting in 65th place in the TTBAOY standings. The turn-around started at Smith Mountain and continues through Guntersville and then Kentucky Lake, as three straight tournaments inside the top 12 has put him in contention to make the postseason after the miserable start to the season.

"After screwing up at Wheeler and Dardanelle on the second day after having great first days, I would have never thought about the TTBAOY," Velvick said. "Now I should be up there pretty high. You start making these top 12s and you can start thinking about making the postseason top 12."

At Kentucky Lake, Velvick had chances at a better finish but brought in less than a limit on the final day and lost fish the day before that could have helped.

"I'm pretty disappointed because I should have had 23 pounds (on Day Three)," Velvick said. "I lost a 5- or 6-pounder on a 10-inch worm even after I owned him."

Despite the setback, Velvick still finished 10th, boosting him within a stone's throw of making the postseason tournaments. Standing before him are three other anglers and two tournaments, but Velvick feels confident.

"Oneida put me in the Classic last year and I like tournaments like Fort Madison, where I have no preconceived notions, so I'm pretty excited about it," Velvick said.

Should he qualify for the championship in September, Velvick plans to spend time learning the water.

"I will know the lakes well by September," Velvick said. "I might even spend the whole summer down there if I make it. I'll become an Alabama transplant."

Russ Lane (TTBAOY standing: 19th place, 1,245 points)

Should Lane qualify for the championship events, watch out for a hard charge from the Prattville, Ala., pro who has grown up fishing Lake Jordan and is very familiar with both locations.

Making the postseason will be Lane's biggest challenge and Kentucky Lake was the first step. Taking third at Kentucky Lake was a huge boost for Lane, shooting him up from 36th to 19th in the TTBAOY standings.

"These top 12 bonus points are everything," Lane said. "Trying to shoot for being TTBAOY doesn't really seem possible. If I can squeak into the final 12, that would be cool."

The next two events seem to set up well for Lane, especially Oneida, where he has fared well in the past.

"The neat thing about the Mississippi River is that it is kind of unknown," Lane said. "The field will be spread out and this is one tournament where anyone can win. Oneida is a place where I have had success in the past and I am looking forward to it. I could even be overconfident about Oneida."

Making the postseason will require a strong finish, but his arrival in Montgomery would spell doom for the other contenders in the chase for the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.

"Jordon is 5 minutes from my front steps," Lane said. "I grew up fishing there. I've actually fished a few weekend tournaments this year on Jordon, so I keep up with what's happening. Those two lakes will really be tough with the lake low and clear, plus warm water because it will be September."

Fred Roumbanis (TTBAOY standing: 20th place, 1,244 points)

Roumbanis managed to survive the offshore bite at Kentucky Lake by finishing 12th, his best finish by a mile on the Tennessee River fishery. Normally known as a shallow-water angler, Roumbanis committed to fishing deep, knowing the bigger sacks would be caught on the off-shore ledges.

"My goal here was to come in and get a top 12 finish," Roumbanis said. "I busted my butt in practice and burned most of my mental juice to find a couple schools of fish. Even then, my practice wasn't that great because I didn't stick around to see what I had."

Going deep proved to be the key change Roumbanis needed to get over the hump, as past tournaments on the lake he focused more on shallow fish.

"I've always tried to fish shallow here," Roumbanis said. "Last year, I caught 100 fish a day on a frog and didn't even cash a check. I just committed to fishing offshore this week. If I can squeak into the top-12 at this lake, anything is possible."

That anything Roumbanis referred to would be making the top-12 cut to fish in the postseason. Right now, he is on the outside looking in, but the big finish at Kentucky Lake moved him up 10 places into 20th, only 47 points away from 12th.

"Making the postseason would be huge because the format gives everyone a shot to win TTBAOY," Roumbanis said. "It would be cool to get that shot. Getting through this tournament was huge. I've never come close to cashing a check here in a Bassmaster event."

From Kentucky Lake, Roumbanis still needs to have decent finishes in Iowa and New York if he can think about heading to Montgomery in September.

"The Mississippi River has always been good to me," Roumbanis said. "I have a win there and was on the winning fish when the Open went there, but couldn't do it. I grew up fishing on the California Delta and shallow water fishing is what I do best."