Bubble boys

skeet.jpg

Gettys Brannon
Skeet Reese shows off a St. Lawrence River smallmouth earlier in the 2017 season.

MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. — There's a $100,000 first-place prize on the line during this week's Advance Auto Parts Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair.

But for several anglers near the middle of the pack in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, the tournament means so much more than a paycheck.

If they don't make the Top 50 in the AOY standings, they won't qualify for next month's Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Minnesota's Mille Lacs Lake. Without making that event, they'll have absolutely no chance of qualifying for the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods on through the Elite Series.

So, some major names have some major work to.

"I'm the bubble boy," said Skeet Reese, the California pro who is in 51st place with 473 AOY points, just three points behind David Mullins (476). "It's absolutely a big part of my objective this week.

"I'm not just trying to get into 50th place. I want a good, solid finish to put myself into Classic contention. Going into the AOY tournament sitting in 49th or 50th place, it'll be pretty hard to get into the Classic."

Depending on some complicated math, the Top 37 to 40 anglers from the final Elite Series AOY standings will make the Classic.

Reese hasn't missed a Classic since 2012. He's made 13 of the last 14, including the 2009 event on the Red River in Louisiana, where he raised the trophy.

Another more-than-prominent name currently sitting outside the bubble for the AOY Championship cut is New Jersey pro Michael Iaconelli.

But as he always does, he seemed confident Wednesday while he pointed out there are still several chances left to qualify for the Classic.

"I've been in this situation before where I'm going into the last event outside the Classic bubble," Iaconelli said. "So, I need to catch them here.

"The goal here for me is a Top 20, because I believe that would allow me to go into the AOY tournament and make up some ground."

Iaconelli also pointed out that if he can't qualify for the Classic through the AOY event, he still has a major Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open to fish — and a win in that Open would mean an automatic berth to the Classic.

There's also the Bassmaster Classic Bracket this year on Minnesota's Pokegama Lake — a tournament that will feature the last eight anglers from the Elite Series who failed to earn a Classic berth. The winner of that head-to-head, bracket-style event will also gain an automatic Classic berth.

"That's nice, too," said Iaconelli, who currently ranks 55th in the AOY standings. "The goal is to at least get to the AOY (tournament). If I don't, all of my focus will change to the last (Northern) Open of the year on Douglas Lake."

Iaconelli currently owns the longest Classic streak with 16 straight appearances in the Super Bowl of professional bass fishing. There hasn't been a Classic without Iaconelli since 2001 — and during that stretch, he gave the fishing world that famous clip of him screaming "Never give up" during his Classic win on the Louisiana Delta in 2003.

Justin Lucas has a much shorter streak in jeopardy — he's made appearances in the Classic in 2015, 2016 and 2017, his first three years on the Elite Series. But as a proud young angler, he's certainly not giving up hope of keeping that streak alive.

"I haven't really done the math," said Lucas, who finds himself in 64th place after a tough start in the first four regular-season tournaments. "But I just kind of figure that I need a Top 10 to make it into the AOY tournament."

That won't change the way Lucas fishes Lake St. Clair.

"It's just one of those things," said Lucas, who averaged a sixth-place finish in the AOY race his first three seasons. "You've just got to have a good tournament."

Other prominent names sitting just outside the AOY bubble include: 56, Brandon Card; 57, Gary Klein, 59, Jonathon VanDam, 60, Bernie Schultz; 63, John Murray.

For the complete AOY standings, click here.