AOY Playoff: It's down to five

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- At BASS' postseason finale on the Alabama River, the smart money on who will win Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year honors seems divided between local favorite Russ Lane of nearby Prattville and angling legend Kevin VanDam.

 But it's Skeet Reese who's currently in the proverbial catbird seat. He's five points ahead of Lane and seven atop KVD. The problem for Reese is that his once insurmountable lead now seems quite surmountable, and the grasp he once he held on fishing's most prestigious prize has gone from a death grip to slippery fingertips. He may be the leader in the clubhouse, but few expect him to take home the trophy.

 Here are our top five:


Angler               Points


Skeet Reese       232


Russ Lane           227


Kevin VanDam    225


Aaron Martens    222


Edwin Evers        220


The rest of the Toyota 12 are seven or more points back of Evers and would need a certified miracle to claim AOY honors. Not only would one of those seven need to win the event, he'd need disasters from the top five.

 That leaves us with five anglers who have a chance at the title. Three (Reese, VanDam and Martens) have climbed this mountain before -- VanDam on five previous occasions. Lane and Evers would be marking new territory.

 The scene could hardly be more dramatic. Instead of a riverside amphitheater, this weigh-in should take place at the nearby Shakespeare Festival. The bard has nothing on this.


Skeetastic or Reese Unravels?


As good as Skeet Reese was during the regular season -- setting Elite points records, winning two events and finishing second in two others -- he's been just about as dismal in the postseason, both in 2009 and 2010. His only glimmer of excellence came in the 2009 on Lake Jordan, where he was second. After that, he was sixth on the Alabama River, losing a tight AOY race to VanDam.

 This year it's been even worse. He was 10th at Jordan and now controls his own destiny only if he wins on the river. If he finishes second behind Lane, they'll end the season in a points tie for AOY, and the first tiebreaker is total pounds of bass caught ... in the postseason. Lane would win that race handily.

 Reese's next closest competitor is Kevin VanDam. Not only is VanDam the ultimate tournament tactician, but he's already beaten Reese on these waters, in exactly this format less than a year ago.

 Then there's Reese's emotional focus. After such a great regular season, there has to be some sense that he "deserves" to win, whether or not he's competitive in the postseason. Of course, that and five bucks will get you a mocha decaf latte at Starbucks. If there were ever a time to get his head in gear, this would be it.

 Because if there were ever two anglers Reese could have picked not to be nipping at his heels before the finale, it would be Lane and VanDam.


The Fast Lane


After the first day of the first postseason event, Russ Lane said he'd be "embarrassed" to take the AOY title away from Skeet Reese. On some level, Lane felt he deserved it after such a strong year.

 Of course, Lane said he'd be embarrassed when he was sitting in last place and thought he had no chance to pass Reese. All that changed after Lane won the Jordan event and Reese finished a dismal 10th. It's now a brand new ball game and Lane is playing in his back yard.

 For Lane, who has never challenged for an AOY title before, it may come down to his mental game. Is he tough enough to stand up to this kind of pressure? Will he crack under the weight of the spectator boats and media questions?

 In 2007 when he was fishing the Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake, Lane was a heavy pretournament favorite, but things didn't work out and he barely finished in the top half of the field. He was much better on the same waters in 2010.

 What's incontrovertible is that Lane knows these waters better than anyone else in the championship does. Even if he loses a couple of good bass or is rattled early, he should be able to rebound and hit one of the dozens of spots on the river that only he knows. It's a nice advantage.


The Kaped Krusader


No one does drama quite like KVD, whether he's pulling victory from the jaws of defeat at the 2009 postseason or shocking the world with his third Bassmaster Classic championship. He's simply that good.

 He's also very clever. At last year's postseason finale, he was letting other competitors share his spots in hopes they could pass Skeet Reese and boost KVD to his fifth AOY title. He's already doing the same thing this year. At Jordan, Terry Butcher was sharing water with VanDam and cushioning his catch on his way to finishing just ahead of Reese ... all according to VanDam's plans.

 There will be more of that on the river.

 And the river plays right to VanDam's strengths, too. Not only did he win here last year, but the offshore cranking pattern that so many predict will win here is one of the strongest techniques in KVD's arsenal. He's in it to win it, and knows how.

 He also knows how to get into Skeet Reese's mind and take him off his game. Will similar methods work against Russ Lane? Time will tell.


The Martens Have Landed


There's simply no better pure angling talent on the Bassmaster Elite Series than Aaron Martens. Unfortunately, strategic errors have hurt his chances this and other years. At Jordan, culling mistakes cost Martens the tournament. Otherwise, he would be hot on the heels of Reese rather than Lane.

 For Martens to have a real shot at the title, he's most likely going to need to win and get a little help from his friends. The three anglers ahead of him will need to stumble.


E-squared = AOY?


The forecast for Edwin Evers is very similar to that for Martens -- win and get some luck in the form of bad finishes from those ahead of him. Evers has the skills to win this title, but may not be quite in the right spot to pull it off this year.



The Rest of the Field


They're simply too far back with too many other anglers ahead of them to have a chance with one tournament to go. They can each certainly move up and earn more AOY money, but as far as taking the top prize is concerned, they're out of it.





VanDam finds a way and three-peats.