Have you ever heard a weather forecast that called for a 50 percent chance of rain? I'll bet you haven't. It's against the policy of most meteorologists and forecasting agencies to say there's a 50 percent chance of anything because it looks like they have no idea what's going to happen. Instead, they'll say it's 40 percent or 60 percent, but never 50 percent.
Fifty percent is a coin flip, and no one wants to drag an umbrella around all day based on the toss of a coin. We want better odds, even if they only sound like they're better.
Half of the 2013 Elite Series schedule is made up of venues that have been fished before in Elite competition. (Yes, that's 50 percent, too, but that's not where I'm going.) The Elites were at Falcon Lake in 2008, on Bull Shoals in 2012, at West Point in 2011 and on the Mississippi River out of La Crosse, Wis., last season.
In 2011 I did a study on Elite tournament winners and where they finish before and after their wins . I wanted to find out if there's such a thing as momentum in big-time tournament fishing. And while I can never completely discount the possibility of such a thing, I learned that the average winner finished 41st before his tournament win and followed it up with a 41st-place finish in the tournament after his win. So, for the average winner, there's no momentum at all.
But what about the guys who won at a particular venue and are coming back to that venue? Is there such a thing as momentum or a lake advantage for anglers who have won there? After all, when you're putting your Fantasy Fishing team together for Falcon Lake you'd be foolish not to consider Paul Elias, right? The man caught 132 pounds, 8 ounces last time they were there. No one in his right mind would ignore that.
But what are the odds that a winner will repeat the next time out on the same body of water? Did that angler master the fishery or merely the conditions?
The database for my research is pretty limited. The Elites have been to just 19 fisheries more than once. That's not a lot to work with, but we'll mine it for what it's worth.
The first thing I noticed is that no Elite winner has backed it up with another win at the same venue in the very next stop. The closest to do it was Kevin VanDam on Kentucky Lake. He won there in 2008, finished second in 2009 and won again in 2010. His other finish there was a third place in 2006. I'd call that mastery over the fishery, not just the conditions, though the conditions were much the same each time.
Other winners who have been dominant on a single fishery include Kelly Jordon and Skeet Reese on the Potomac River (they each have a first and second in the two events there), Kotaro Kiriyama and Edwin Evers on Lake Erie (a win and a second for Kiriyama and a win and a third place finish for Evers in two tries) and Alton Jones on the St. Johns River (third and first in two appearances).
Except for those winners, however, there's not much evidence to support the idea that if you win at a venue once, you're a good bet to do it again.
I was a little surprised at the lack of consistent excellence for a couple of reasons. First, the Elite pros are very versatile anglers (especially the best of them), but most excel at one or two techniques that might lend themselves to certain waters, thereby giving them an edge on one fishery or another. Second, the stops at these venues typically come at the same time of year, year after year (e.g., all four stops at Kentucky Lake came in June), so once an angler gets dialed in to a fishery, I'd expect him to be able to maintain a certain performance level.
Instead, I found that the winners are frequently all over the place in their finishes on these waters.
In 2007, Tim Horton won the Elite tournament on Lake Champlain by a wide margin. It was one of the most dominating performances in B.A.S.S. history, and Horton famously came in early the final day and ate a pizza at the dock! What's surprising is where he finished a year before — he was 95th! And those two tournaments were exactly a year apart on the same body of water.
At Clear Lake in the spring of 2007, Byron Velvick finished 98th; three years later he won there. On Pickwick in the spring of 2010, Davy Hite was 79th; a year later he was the winner. On Clarks Hill in 2006, Hite won; a year later he was 84th. At the same venue, Jason Williamson was 82nd in 2008; two years later he won. At Wheeler Lake in 2009, Jeremy Starks was 91st; two years later he won. Several of those tournaments were at the same time of year from one season to the next.
Occasionally, there are obvious reasons for the disparities in performance. For example, Ben Matsubu won the 2007 tournament on the Kissimmee Chain but finished 103rd — almost dead last — in 2008. The big difference may be that the 2007 event was in September, but the 2008 stop was in March. It's a radically different fishery at those two times of year.
Of the 31 Elite winners who had a chance to defend their titles on the same fishery, eight finished in the top 12, seven more in the top 30 (48.4 percent overall), and five more in the top 50 (64.5 percent).
So what are the odds that Paul Elias, Brandon Palaniuk, Steve Kennedy or Todd Faircloth finish in the top 30 this year when the Elites visit Falcon, Bull Shoals, West Point and the Mississippi River, respectively?
History says they're each at 48.4 percent.
That just sounds better than 50/50.