Evers starts strong, stays strong

When Edwin Evers won on the Alabama River, it no doubt gave him a boost – to his confidence, to his bank account and to his chances of winning the Toyota Angler of the Year race. In my mind, though, the most impressive part of his victory was that his catch consisted of spotted bass, those oddball reform-school brothers of the more common largemouths and smallmouths.

With that win, he’s now won an Elite Series tournament on each of the three major species. He won with brown fish on Erie in 2007 and with big green fish at the St. Johns River in 2011.

To the best of my knowledge, that’s a feat no one else has accomplished. That’s partially the result of math. Including Edwin, only six current Elite Series pros have won three or more regular-season Elite Series events since the trail was formed in 2006: Evers, Skeet Reese, Kevin VanDam, Todd Faircloth, Mike McClelland and Tommy Biffle. They’re all frequently in the hunt, but none of them has done what Evers accomplished. For those pros for whom Top 12 finishes are once a year or once in a career achievements, equaling his achievement is pure fantasy. They’d be happy to win with any species.

How hard is it to win on the Elite Series? Mike Iaconelli, a superstar with a Classic win and an AOY title to his credit, has only one regular season Elite Series victory. Stars like Terry Scroggins, Randy Howell and Gerald Swindle have never won one. Steel-trap lock first ballot Hall of Famers Gary Klein and Rick Clunn haven’t won in B.A.S.S. competition since 2003 and 2002, respectively.

Even among the limited crew of multiple-time winners, it’s hard to predict when someone will claim a victory. Aaron Martens, the guru of finesse, has won on the Cal Delta and Guntersville, not venues where you’d ever expect his wheelhouse skills to dominate. Steve Kennedy won at Clear Lake, setting records in doing so, with his swimbaits fresh out of the package. Dean Rojas has won twice, once in New York, once in Louisiana, never out west.

In other words, betting your mortgage on a single angler to win an Elite Series tournament is a fool’s errand.

You might think that it always makes sense to bet on the home water hero. Early this season that appeared to be the case. Todd Faircloth, who lived closer to the Sabine than 90-plus percent of the field, claimed victory there. Dennis Tietje, who lives even closer, might have challenged him if not for some first-day mechanical issues. Then long-time Falcon guide Keith Combs earned the wind-burned trophy on the big border lake. Jason Christie won at Bull Shoals, essentially making it three in a row. He’s not a local in the strictest sense of the word, not even from the same state, but clearly he’s a tremendous force on the Ozarks-region lakes. Then Skeet went and messed things up, claiming the West Point (Georgia/Alabama) trophy for the state of California. Evers did the same, earning the next Alabama title and taking it home to Oklahoma.

It’s not that Evers doesn’t like home cooking; it’s just that he seems to feast equally well or better elsewhere, having won eight B.A.S.S. tournaments in seven different states. Alabama was the first one where he doubled up, which should scare the rest of the Elite Series field to death. Now EE is going back for seconds up north.

So who has the advantage at the next event in La Crosse, Wis., with a limited body of tournament results to use to predict? There’s not an Elite Series pro from Wisconsin so home field advantage is wiped out. Same with the St. Lawrence. I suppose you could say that Mike Iaconelli or BJ Haseotes are the two northeastern pros in the field, but they both live over 400 miles away. By the time the Elites roll into Detroit Rock City for the St. Clair regular-season finale, there will be a few home staters in the field – two guys named VanDam, plus Nate Wellman and Chad Pipkens – but the bottom line is that if you want to bet on tournament outcomes, you’re better off taking the proven winner than the home state hero. Sure, Faircloth, Combs and Christie won in familiar or semi-familiar territory; but first and foremost they’d shown that they could win previously, either on the Elites or on other circuits.

Edwin’s win – in addition to allowing him to claim bragging rights over just about every species of bass other than meanmouths, Suwanees and Guadalupes – showed that not only can he win, but he can do it when there’s immense pressure. Leading the AOY race at midyear, he didn’t fold like a taco or backslide into the Northern swing. He brought it. As a result, he’s having the most striking first five tournaments in an Elite Series season since Skeet started off 2010 with five Top 5 finishes, including two wins and two runner-up finishes. Over the final three tournaments that year, Skeet had one finish just inside the money, one just outside the money, and a remarkable third second-place result.

At the end of the 2010 season, Skeet lost the AOY title to KVD through a postseason scoring system that’s no longer in effect today. The lesson learned: No matter what you do or how well you do it on the Elite Series, it’s not about your last tournament but rather your next tournament. There’s always someone ready to steal your thunder. Right now, for Evers, that means Skeet and KVD, who are right on his tail. Should the unthinkable happen and they stumble, it’s not like the skill level drops off behind them. The very capable Ish, Alton Jones and AMart populate the next three slots.

A lot can happen over three tournaments under the Elite Series scoring system. There may be someone deep in the shadows who rises into the Classic and someone at the top of the chart who plummets.

For Evers, the Classic is already a certainty. Additionally, he’s already shown that he can win – anywhere. The next step is claiming a title. Easier said than done, but there’s no reason to believe that he won’t do it in dominating style.

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