Elite Series 2013: What are the odds?

Tomorrow the fishing world will converge upon Las Vegas for ICAST. Perhaps the next Senko will be unveiled. Or the next Chatterbait. Or the next Basstrix. Almost certainly we will see the next Helicopter Lure.

For the powers-that-be in Sin City, it’s not about the fishing. It’s all about raking in the bucks and creating the too-often-cited “what happens in Vegas” experience. In short, while the city will host the show and has a viable tournament venue in Lake Mead, people of our ilk are small potatoes to the bookmakers and power brokers.

That’s good for them, because if they had to set odds on the things that happen on the Elite Series, they’d be in deep doo-doo. While there are certain occurrences that you can set your watch to (KVD will always be in the top ten at the end of the year; Skeet will rarely be far behind; Aaron Martens will either win or come in second at least once), the eight-event tour provides more surprises than certainties. We’ve got two derbies left to go and little if anything has been settled.

I don’t think anyone who follows the sport is surprised that Edwin Evers, one of the two most accomplished anglers (along with Todd Faircloth) never to win a major title, is in the hunt for the Toyota Angler of the Year crown. What may be surprising to many is that he keeps extending the lead. Apparently he hasn’t read the standard gameplan. Typically, an angler or two will vault out to an early lead and then watch KVD and his been-there-done-that cronies chip away it, a few points at a time, before swooping in and claiming the crown at the end. This year, Evers extended his lead by winning on the Alabama River. Then he backed it up with a top twelve in La Crosse, one of three Sunday appearances he’s earned in six events, along with a near miss. The plot lines typically require the newcomer to threaten, and the fold like a taco, but EE hasn’t done it yet.

Speaking of KVD, if anyone’s shocked that he’s in the hunt for the title, they’ve been playing their HydroWave on the wrong station and the wrong frequency. The last time he wasn’t in the hunt, you still had a TV antenna atop your house and prepared most of your correspondence with a manual typewriter. What might shock you, though, is that he hasn’t notched a top 12 in regular-season competition this year – he’s never been better than 15th, but he’s stayed high in the race by never finishing worse than 32nd.

In terms of other races, Jason Christie may not have won the Grand Lake Classic as many predicted, but he’s been a dominant force, following up his two 2012 Open wins with three tour-level wins in 2013, including an Elite Series event on Bull Shoals. The twist, though, is that he’s not leading the Rookie of the Year race – the pole position is held by seemingly-out-of-nowhere phenom Hank Cherry. In fact, Christie isn’t even second, but rather sits in third by the rather large margin of 59 points behind Cliff Pirch.

Pirch is one of the few newcomers who stands in good position to qualify for his first Classic. He’s in 28th right now. Chris Zaldain (11th) is the only Classic virgin ahead of him. After those two, you need to go all the way down to Jared Miller (46th), the Alabama River Wrecking Ball, to find someone who with a good northern swing can book a February trip to Guntersville.

I believe that the last two events will also make Elite Series history for another reason: They’re likely to be won primarily with smallmouths, as was the Mississippi River tournament (won by green fish flipper extraordinaire Tommy Biffle). Combined with an Edwin Evers spotted bass win at the Alabama River, that means at least half of the regular season Elite Series tournaments this year would be won with fish other than largemouths. Add in Toyota All-Star Week in Michigan and the balance tips decidedly non-green. I don’t believe that’s ever happened before. I still wish there were more tournaments, on more types of water, spread out over a wider range of seasons – but if we have to keep the schedule short and relatively sweet, this is diversity I can support wholeheartedly.

Despite a short schedule, we’ve had events that are memorable for reasons that can be described in just a few words. Do you remember how the TV show “Friends” used to title each of their 200-plus episodes “The One with….” (e.g., “The One with the Ick Factor,” “The One with the Giant Poking Device,” “the One with Phoebe’s Uterus,” “The One with Ross’s Inappropriate Song”)? Well, that’s what we have this season on the Elites. See if you can figure out the issue, controversy or event from my brief descriptions:

·       Sabine River: “The One with the Altercation”

·       Falcon Lake: “The One with the Wind” (also, “The One where Seemingly Everybody Rooted for Clunn”)

·       Bull Shoals: “The One with the Comeback,” (also, “The One where the Surface Unexpectably Started to Boil”

·       West Point: “The One where Skeet Won Again”

·       Alabama River: “The One where they Went Where They Weren’t Supposed to Go”

·       Upper Mississippi River: “The One with the DQ”

OK, the West Point descriptor may be a bit bland, but in five of six tournaments, we’ve had a key story line that makes it memorable. I expect nothing less in the last two regular season events, or in the post-season. That’s good sports. If you ask a longtime baseball fan about the 1978 season, they’ll remember Bucky Dent’s home run. Ask a football fan about the ’85 Bears, and yes, it’s about the smothering defense, but it’s also Sweetness, the Punky QB and the Fridge. Talk to a hoops junkie about the Heat from 2010 going forward, and the on-court action is memorable, but so was the spectacle of “The Decision.” If it was just about the numbers and the between-the-lines action of the games themselves we probably wouldn’t care as much. As one of my editors at B.A.S.S. always says when I ask him how many words he wants: “I don’t care about word counts. Tell me a story.”

The difference between fishing and baseball/football/basketball, though, is that betting on our sport is a fool’s errand. Not that sports betting ever favors anyone but the house in the long run, but a few quants and sabermetricians and stats geeks dealing with good information can often produce reliable predictive results. Not so in our world. Sure, we’ve all guessed a winner or two on occasion, but oftentimes your presumed victor will finish in the 90s and someone will come out of nowhere to claim a top 12 or even a win. Try to get the top ten right sometime, any time. It’s harder than winning the lottery.

That’s not just this season, it’s every season. You can bet on it.

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