MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Just when it looked like Skeet Reese had a stranglehold on his second Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, Kevin VanDam — yet again — proved why he is considered the best angler on the planet.
VanDam, a four-time AOY, did his part by lapping the field at the Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph on the Alabama River with 14 pounds, 3 ounces, which established a solid lead. But Reese didn't falter quite as much as projected — he weighed a solid five-fish limit of 10-5 — and earned a tie for third place in the competition.
But the real story is the AOY standings. Reese holds a 6-point advantage over VanDam. Reese, though, is in danger of slipping with a grouping of anglers right behind him while VanDam has a stout lead over his nearest competitor. Any way you cut it, Friday should bring significant drama.
The final-day weigh-in will start at 7 p.m. ET on Friday from the Montgomery Riverwalk Ampitheater. At the conclusion of the weigh-in at 8:30 p.m. ET, fans will be treated to a free, live concert by the Zac Brown Band.
"Man, I'm relived," said Reese, who underestimated his weight and thought he would be in a worse position. "I still have the lead and that is a really important thing with this format. I knew Kevin was going to catch them. When doesn't he? I expected that I would lose my lead after the day I had today, so you have to look at this as a bonus."
Reese is looking to become only the second angler in BASS history to score a Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title and a Bassmaster Classic trophy in the same season. That feat was accomplished in 1995 by Mark Davis, a Mount Ida, Ark., Bassmaster Elite Series angler.
Reese started Thursday on fire, boating a quick limit in a spot that he found during practice. But things seemed to unravel on him — he lost a few fish — and he made a decision to stay away from his best spot later in the day, which he ultimately regretted. Still, he was able to best the majority of the field and is confident that his area will produce.
Reese was the only angler to venture North and though he didn't remain as committed to that area as he would have liked, it worked out in the end. Later in the day, Reese did some prefishing when he moved back toward the launch area but won't change his strategy to head North Friday.
Perhaps most interesting is the AOY battle building between Reese and VanDam. Reese won the AOY in 2007 by outdueling KVD, who won in 2008. The duo is back at it agan in 2009.
"I've got to go with my instincts tomorrow," said Reese, who has four BASS wins and more than $2 million in BASS career earnings. "I know there is going to be pressure. I said coming into this competition that it would come down to the final day, so I'm not surprised. And Kevin being there was expected."
With changing conditions — the river came up and pockets of rain blasted areas throughout the day — VanDam knew he had to adjust Thursday. The 15-time BASS winner threw baits that he didn't even test during the two-day practice period.
As always, he made the right moves.
"I actually thought I could do a little bit better," said VanDam, who has earned more than $3 million in his BASS career. "I'm looking forward to Friday. I want to win very bad and I feel confident on the River. I know where they live."
With Reese and VanDam having productive tournaments, they have essentially eliminated the rest of the field from a chance at the AOY. Mike Iaconelli of Runnemede, N.J., who is tied with Reese in this tournament, is third in the AOY standings with 265.
A distant fourth is Alton Jones of Waco, Texas, with 242 points. In fifth is Gerald Swindle of Warrior, Ala., with 238 points.
Heading into the tournament, Swindle and Iaconelli occupied the bottom two spots in the standings but have pieced together a solid Postseason, enough to lift them up over much of the field.
After a disappointing Lake Jordan event where he finished last, Kelly Jordon rebounded nicely on the River and he was second in the event standings with 10 pounds, 15 ounces.
The field qualified for the Postseason through their regular-season performances on the Bassmaster Elite Series. The top 12 anglers in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings after the regular season had their points recalculated and took those scores into the Postseason. Each leg of the Postseason will be scored on a 50-point sliding scale.