Making cuts

A Bassmaster Elite Series tournament is a little like a game in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. The goal is to survive (win) and move on to the next round. The more you survive, the greater the reward.

At the Elite angler level, it's all about making cuts. Everybody fishes the first two days before the field is cut in half for the third round. Only the top 12 anglers advance to the finals.

If you follow professional fishing, you know all that. What you may not know is who among the Elites is the best at making cuts.

Well, you probably know the top guy. But the rest of the list might surprise you ... at least a little.

Here, then, are the top 10 anglers among the Elites at making that first critical cut and earning some prize money. The number represents the percentage of time they make the cut to the top 50. I include only anglers who have fished 20 or more Elite events.

Percent Angler
92.86 Kevin VanDam
84.21 Skeet Reese
80.70 Todd Faircloth
76.09 Cliff Pace
73.68 Greg Hackney
  Aaron Martens
73.21 Alton Jones
71.93 Gerald Swindle
70.18 Edwin Evers
  Steve Kennedy

Few surprises here, right? You knew KVD would be on top ... but 93 percent? Wow! That's strong. Reese would be right there with him but for the rough season he had in 2011. Still, he's at better than 84 percent. The rest are mostly the usual suspects, but I was a little surprised that Pace ranked quite so high.

Some other notables:

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Rank Percent Angler
12. 68.42 Tommy Biffle
  68.42 Jeff Kriet
16. 66.67 Dean Rojas
  66.67 Terry Scroggins
20. 64.91 Gary Klein
23. 63.16 Michael Iaconelli
  63.16 Kelly Jordon
27. 62.86 Mark Davis
33. 59.65 Shaw Grigsby
  59.65 Denny Brauer
48. 54.39 Davy Hite
62. 49.12 Rick Clunn

What about the cut to 12? Who's making that more than anyone else? Here are the top anglers in that category:

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Percent Angler
48.21 Kevin VanDam
38.60 Skeet Reese
33.33 Edwin Evers
29.82 Michael Iaconelli
  Kelly Jordon
28.07 Steve Kennedy
26.79 Alton Jones
26.32 Aaron Martens
  Dean Rojas
24.56 Greg Hackney
  Terry Scroggins

No big surprises here, but it's worth noting that Iaconelli and Jordon were pretty good at making the first cut, but much better at cracking the top 12. After all, the average percentage for making the first cut is 50 percent, but the average for the cut to 12 is just 12 percent.

Pace, on the other hand, makes the top 12 just 13 percent of the time — just a little over the average. He's tremendous at making that first cut, but not as sharp on the second.

VanDam, of course, is just off the charts. Almost half the time he's in the finals. That's amazing! Maybe his nickname should be "The Knife." He's a cut-making machine.

The flip side of these lists shows the anglers who are not making cuts, not finishing in the top half and not getting checks.

It won't surprise you to find that most of these guys don't last 20 events in the Elite Series. They pack their bags, stow their gear and cut their losses long before that. But, among those who have fished 20 or more tournaments, these are the ones who were least likely to make the cut to 50.

Percent Angler
12.50 Rick Ash
17.54 Dave Smith
18.18 Steve Daniel
22.73 Doc Merkin
  Mark Rogers
  Charlie Youngers
26.68 Elton Luce
24.24 Paul Hirosky
24.56 Grant Goldbeck
25.93 Wade Grooms

Four Elite Series anglers never earned a check in their (brief) Elite careers: Randy Allen (11 events), Jimmy Houston (11 events), Conrad Picou (5 events) and Bobby Myers (4 events). It's a small group, and I'm certain they'd prefer to keep their membership under wraps. Sorry guys.

Similarly, lots of Elites never made the top 12, including seven who fished at least 20 events: James Kennedy, Doc Merkin, Keith Phillips, Mark Rogers, Frank Scalish, Darrin Schwenkbeck and Bradley Stringer. None of them fished the Elites in 2011.

Next week, I'll tell you who holds the record for making the most consecutive cuts to 50, the most consecutive cuts to 12 and who's racking up the most AOY points per event. Most of those answers won't surprise you, but one of them just might. He's got the record for making the most consecutive final rounds, and it's not KVD — not even close!

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