If you're a fan of tournament fishing, there's been a lot to watch and a lot to like about the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2012. Now, with just one event remaining in the season, I thought I'd share a few of the things that I think are making this year a fascinating one.
Let's start with a couple of statistics that are very revealing and that I hope are gaining some traction among those who cover and follow our sport — bassing average and limit streaks.
Bassing average is the average number of bass brought to the scales by an angler. Since the Elite Series operates with a five bass limit, a perfect BA is 5.0.
Historically, the league-wide BA in the Elite Series is 4.56. Over the course of almost 17,000 angler competition days since 2006, Elite anglers have brought more than 76,000 fish to the scales. Anything less than a limit in this group is obviously subpar, and only three times in Elite history has an angler won a tournament without limiting each and every day of competition.
This year, the BA is up to 4.66, the second highest it's ever been for a season. So the fishing's been a little easier, though the weight of the average bass is down.
Nine anglers have limited each day they've been on the water in 2012: Brent Chapman, Shaw Grigsby, Randy Howell, Aaron Martens, Derek Remitz, Dean Rojas, Scott Rook, Terry Scroggins and Gerald Swindle. Nine is a lot. Most years, no one does it for the entire season, and the most who have ever done it for a year was three in 2008. No angler has ever done it more than once, and none of the nine listed above have ever done it before.
The odds are pretty good that all nine will close out the season with limits at the season finale on Oneida Lake. The fishing there is usually very good, and catch rates are always well above average.
Career bassing average
So who's the very best at catching a limit of bass each competition day? The answer shouldn't surprise you much. It's Aaron Martens, the Natural. His bassing average in Elite competition is 4.8798, just a tad better than Kevin VanDam. Rounding out the top five are Todd Faircloth, Michael Iaconelli and Gerald Swindle.
But that list only considers the anglers who have competed for 50 or more days in the Elite Series. After Oneida, there's almost certainly going to be a new leader in this statistical category.
With 48 competition days under his belt, Ott DeFoe's BA is 4.9583. If he can catch six bass in the first two rounds at Oneida, he'll take over the top spot in career bassing average. It's just one more way DeFoe is showing the fishing world that he's the real deal. He's in the thick of the hunt for Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year and has only missed one check in 15 career Elite events.
I don't know if DeFoe is the next KVD, but I'm certain he's the current Ott DeFoe, and that should get your attention.
Survive and advance
DeFoe is one of just three anglers to have made the first cut at every tournament this year. Kevin VanDam and Bill Lowen are the others.
VanDam has earned a check in 19 straight Elite events — easily the record. He made every first cut last year (the only angler to do so) and I expect him to make the cut at Oneida. He's currently seventh in the AOY race, which is shaping up to be a three-man battle between Chapman, DeFoe and Faircloth, but KVD isn't going to give up on the dream of a fifth straight title without a serious fight.
VanDam is not just the only angler to have made a check in every event for a season more than once, but he's done it three times — 2009, 2011 and 2012. He probably would have done it in 2006, too, except that he was disqualified from a tournament that year. Missing the Santee Cooper event cost him the AOY title; if he had weighed in just one bass, he would have edged out Iaconelli for the award.
Byron Velvick, still feeling the effects of serious neck surgery after the 2010 season, is the only Elite angler to have missed every cut this season, though others have come extremely close.
Only one angler has ever earned a check in every event for a full year and also failed to make a check for an entire year. And would you believe he did it in back-to-back seasons?
In 2010, Derek Remitz was "money," getting paid in every Elite tournament that year. The next season he missed every cut. In 2012, he's been streaky, too, but in shorter stretches. He made a check in the first three events, then finished out of the money three times in a row before getting back on the right side of the ledger at Lake Michigan.
Can we "drop" our lowest score?
That's a question students all over the country ask their teachers as the time for final grades approaches. It always seems that no matter how well you do, there's that one nagging exam that's pulling your grade down.
In the Elite Series, that's the question Terry Scroggins and David Walker should be asking. Take away one bad tournament, and the AOY title would be within easy grasp for either of them.
Scroggins' worst finish is a strong 21st if you just forget about his meltdown at Bull Shoals, where he was 92nd. It's the same position Walker was in at the Mississippi River. Other than that, his worst finish is 30th.
If Chapman and/or Faircloth fall short in their AOY bid this year, they'll know exactly what body of water to blame. Chapman was 68th at Douglas Lake, and Faircloth was 67th at Bull Shoals. Take those out of the AOY equation and it's a very different race.
Where's the momentum?
About a year ago I did some research on the concept of momentum in tournament bass fishing and concluded that there's no such thing. At the professional level, momentum is your last cast, and it doesn't carry over from one body of water to the next.
As if to prove my point, the Elite winners this season have been on a roller coaster.
Alton Jones won the season opener on the St. Johns River, but finished 66th before and 69th immediately after. Ish Monroe won on Okeechobee after finishing 96th on the St. Johns. Brandon Palaniuk won at Bull Shoals after finishing 90th at Okeechobee; after the win, he was 88th at Douglas Lake. Jeremy Starks sandwiched his win on Douglas between 49th-and 80th-place finishes. Chapman was 68th at Douglas before winning at Toledo Bend and Jonathon VanDam was 75th before winning on Lake Michigan.
Only Faircloth posted solid finishes around his win (Mississippi River). The rest of the winners were erratic at best.
A new sheriff in town
It will take a miracle for seven-time AOY (and four-time defending AOY) Kevin VanDam to retain his title. Not only is he trailing by 51 points (a sizeable deficit), but there are six anglers ahead of him and for all of them to stumble is too unlikely to give the best of all time a realistic chance to come back.
KVD is the only angler currently in the top 12 who has won AOY before. That means a new champ in 2012. Will it be Chapman, DeFoe or Faircloth? Of course, it's impossible to say, but it will almost certainly be one of them, and any of the three will make a fine and deserving champion.
Ironically, it's Chapman, the oldest at 40, who's in unchartered territory. His best previous AOY finish was eighth in 2007. Faircloth turns 37 on July 25th (Happy birthday, Todd!) and finished second to KVD in 2008. DeFoe was fourth as a rookie last year and could become the second youngest AOY in B.A.S.S. history at 26 years of age if he can close it out next month.
Some rampant speculation
OK, if you've read this far you deserve some speculation on the AOY race.
What if all top eight anglers in the AOY standings turn in their average Elite finish on Oneida — not their average career finish from all Elite events, but their average performance on that particular body of water. It could happen, right?
That means Chapman finishes 51st, Faircloth is 47th, Scroggins is 41st, Lowen is 52nd, Herren is 75th, KVD and Randy Howell tie for 22nd.
Who's the AOY?
It would be Chapman with 613 points, followed by Faircloth, VanDam, Howell and Scroggins, in that order.
Of course, I'm leaving out DeFoe, who has never fished an Elite tournament on Oneida. If everyone else turns in their average Oneida performance, DeFoe would need to finish 36th to win the title.
You might be interested to know that he's done that in every tournament but one this year and every tournament but two in his Elite career.
Now, what if KVD wins Oneida?
That would put him just one point behind Chapman for the title.