First? Or last?

WETUMPKA, Ala. — Somehow in the middle of Day One of the Ramada All-Star Semi-Final, the event tripped up bass fishing's three biggest stars and set them up for a showdown to survive.

This event is more unique than any other we are accustomed to see on the Bassmaster menu.

It sports 12 of the top anglers of the year, eight of those decided by Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points and four more voted in by fans. That alone sets this event apart. But other things about this event take uniqueness to a whole new height.

These 12 men, all of them champions, are actually fishing for two places — first place and last.

First place is the top eight  places after the first two days of fishing on Lake Jordan. Last place is the last four places in the standings. Those four get a quick trip home.

Going into tomorrow, no one is really caring much about who is first, fourth, or sixth. The all-important place is the eighth spot. That’s the cutline between first and last.

If you take a quick gander at the standings, it’s easy to see a battle of epic proportions shaping up for that position.

Sitting in seventh place is Kevin VanDam, the guy who has parlayed this lake and the Alabama River into back-to-back AOY titles. He has 9 pounds, 4 ounces, some 3 pounds and change out of the lead (normally not a shabby position, but this is the All-Stars).

Then comes Michael Iaconelli, one of the fan favorites, who was here in the postseason two years ago. He’s in eighth position with 8 pounds even.

And tied with him is Skeet Reese, who has spent the last two years watching the Angler of the Year title slip from his grasp and into KVD’s. Ironically, if he had caught 8 pounds on Day Two of last year’s event he would have won that title.

No such glory is in store for any of these anglers the next two weeks. But you can bet the last dollar that every fiber in these competitors’ guts will be poured into tomorrow’s competition.

The story lines blur, twist, bend and splash like a school of Coosa River spotted bass in a feeding frenzy.

Reese is here for redemption. The sweetest for him would be in two ways: Knocking KVD out of this game tomorrow would be the first; second would be to make that final eight and in some way go head-to-head with KVD in the bracket format next week and best him.

Paramount for him is to make it into the field of eight. And the margins are really slim. It took Reese all day to mount his 8-pound sack. KVD had his limit in the first 30 minutes and never really got on track to building it much bigger. Iaconelli caught his almost as quick. Each of them boated the first limits of the field.

KVD doesn’t need redemption. He’s simply here to capture yet another win and be the first winner of an event that promises to last a lifetime. He lives for notches on his belt and every one of the other 11 anglers have felt the sting of KVD’s ability to put together last-minute victories, and KVD is all about making them sting some more.

He’s here to win. You could virtually say the same thing about Iaconelli. He’s the hardest working man on tour, and he’s been too close all season to give up now.

KVD fished his way into this. Reese and Ike were voted in because of a variety of factors that make them the fan’s choice as hoped-for All-Star champion. The brilliance of that will be evident on Day Two, when those three stars go to battle, strangely enough not necessarily for first place, but to make sure they aren’t in last place.

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