2007 Elite Series - Sunshine Showdown Kissimmee Chain of Lakes - Kissimmee, FL, Sep 13 - 16, 2007

Skeet Reese conquers Mount Everest

For once, there's no pressure on the tournament leaders

Skeet Reese

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Three-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam admitted he was on a vendetta to add another AOY title this season after finishing 66 points behind Mike Iaconelli in the 2006 race, which included a tournament in which VanDam was disqualified.

And in June, it looked like there was no stopping VanDam. That's when he won the Sooner Run at Oklahoma's Grand Lake, going from from 113 points behind to 62 points ahead of Skeet Reese in the 2007 AOY standings.

That's a big part of what made Reese's Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year title so sweet Saturday, when it was officially decided on the third day of the Sunshine Showdown, presented by Allstate Boat Insurance. Reese survived a KVD vendetta.

"If you're going to win, you want to beat the best," Reese said. "I definitely beat the best in modern day bass fishing in Kevin VanDam. My hat is off to Kevin for making it interesting and giving me a heckuva battle all year."

It only took a glance at the Bassmaster Elite Series weigh-in stage, when Reese was joined by his wife, Kim, and their two young daughters, to realize just how much the AOY title meant. That's when the tears flowed from both Skeet and Kim. And flowed. And flowed.

"We've been through so much, so many sacrifices as a family," Kim said. "Skeet has changed so much. He's come home off the road, with the time change, fatigued, and he's stepped up in taking care of these girls. Stepped up as a dad. He's been well-rounded in every way this year.

"He deserves this. I'm really, really proud of him."

Kim and Skeet Reese had to wait a month that felt like a year to get to this moment. In the 11-tournament Elite Series point-earning schedule, interspersed with three Majors — where no AOY points are awarded — the tournaments generally come about every two weeks.

It was August 12 when Reese discarded the title of "Mr. Second Place" and won the Capitol Clash on the Potomac River. That's also when his AOY points lead grew from 20 points to 107 points. It was a substantial lead, but not insurmountable, especially by VanDam, who had already put a 175-point swing on Reese at Grand Lake.

The Elite Series finale at Lake Toho seemed like it would never arrive for the Reese family.

"The worst part was the (time) difference in these last two tournaments," Kim said. "The nervousness would come and go.

"But I had a good feeling inside. Normally, that doesn't happen. It was like this year was meant to be."

Reese made that a reality Saturday. Even though he didn't need it to win the AOY title, the 38-year-old Auburn, Calif., pro beat his nemesis one more time. Reese finished 14th in the Sunshine Showdown with 29 pounds, 3 ounces. VanDam was 19th with 26-5.

"I've conquered Mount Everest for me personally," Reese said.

"I had the season of my life. It's unbelievable what I've done this year. It's been a conquest for me personally. It was a challenge I wanted to put myself up to."

Reese and VanDam have been first or second in the AOY point standings since the fifth tournament of the year, on Lake Guntersville in April. As Reese noted, VanDam is unquestionably considered the best bass tournament fisherman in modern history: The Kalamazoo, Mich., native has two Bassmaster Classic titles to go with his three AOY titles.

With VanDam's win at Grand Lake coupled with the Elite Series tour heading to New York's Lake Champlain then Lake Erie — some of VanDam's favorite smallmouth waters — Reese's chances were looking dim.

But when Reese finished second and VanDam 27th at Lake Champlain, Reese jumped back into the points lead and backed it up by finishing two places higher than VanDam at Lake Erie.

"Definitely Champlain was the turning point," Reese said. "The northern swing, Kevin's home turf, was where everybody thought he was going to dominate and kick my ass.

"For me to get two strong finishes and finish ahead of him in those events, that was a good feeling.

"Then to go to the Potomac after that and win, that put the icing on the year. That win validated the year I've had.

"But the Angler of the Year title has validated my career."

It's a career that has been 20 years in the making. Reese took some time Saturday to reflect on what has made him good enough to win the most prestigious title in bass fishing.

"Tournament fishing is all a head game," he said. "That's all it is. There's a lot of guys out there who are equally good at certain techniques. But it's how you process that information in your head that separates the good ones from the greats.

"It's your instincts and the knowledge you've gained over the years. If you get a bite in one place and there's something about that area that interests you, and you think there's more there, you've just got to go with it.

"Everybody calls it your gut instincts, but that's actually the knowledge you've gained over the years."

Reese admitted in most of his 10 years fishing BASS events, his goal was top 10 finishes. But after plenty of those, including a second place by mere ounces in February's Bassmaster Classic, Reese started the 2007 Elite Series with a vendetta of his own.

"I definitely got frustrated with top 10s in the last season," Reese said. "I came out more determined to win this year. I think that pushed me to a new level to work harder."

The result was a memorable Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year title that went down to the next to the last day of the season.

"No matter what I do the rest of my life in tournament fishing," Reese said, "I can always say I was the Angler of the Year on the BASS trail.

"After 44 competition days this year, I got to be the king."

advertisement

advertisement