MUSKEGON, Mich. — If you were to pick a perfect lineup of the final four anglers in the Bassmater Elite Series Toyota All-Star Week and Evan Williams Bourbon Championship, you couldn't have done much better than the reality of the following:
- Hank Cherry (30-5) – the 2013 Elite Series Rookie of the Year, who had the fish hooked that would have won the Bassmaster Classic way back in February on Grand Lake. That fish heartbreakingly came unhooked.
- Kevin VanDam (26-6) – the all-time B.A.S.S. angler of everything – from his seven Angler of the Year titles to his four Bassmaster Classic titles – fishing this week close to his Kalamazoo, Mich., home.
- Edwin Evers (26-6) – the Oklahoma angler who had the 2013 AOY title all but wrapped up before faltering in the final event at Michigan's Lake St. Clair.
- Cliff Pace (26-5) – the 2013 Bassmaster Classic champion, who put a cap on his dream season by making Sunday's finale on White Lake while edging fifth-place Chris Zaldain by 2 ounces, even though Pace was one fish short of a limit Saturday at Muskegon Lake.
Suspenseful doesn't do justice to the 14-angler weigh-in, which saw angler after angler seemingly having a shot at making the final four, until the next man and the next man and the next man topped him – by ounces.
If you had any thought that All-Star Week was like the NFL's Pro Bowl — just a bonus to make some money and have some fun — you didn't see the usually poker-faced Evers pumping his arm when his second-day weight of 13-3 officially hit the scales.
"Whew!" Evers said. "I was sweating that. I really want to go compete [Sunday]. I really, really do."
Evers has always made the finals of All-Star Week, no matter what the format. But a victory Sunday would give him a lift after the heartbreak of losing the AOY title this year. He kept that goal alive Saturday, but it wasn't easy or clear-cut for anybody on Muskegon over the last two days.
- Only 2 pounds, 5 ounces separate second place (26-6) from 10th place, Bobby Lane's 24-1, in the Day Two standings.
- Cliff Pace caught three fish in the first 15 minutes Saturday, including the big bass of the day – a 4-9 smallmouth. But then he went six hours before catching another fish and never filled a five-bass limit. He was efficient. "I had five bites yesterday and caught five fish," said Pace of his Day One, when he had big bass and big bag (14-4). "I had four bites today and caught four fish."
- VanDam, who had the pressure of a multitude of longtime friends here rooting for him – both on the water and at the weigh-ins – didn't catch a single bass after about noon Saturday. As someone who observed him on the water from noon until check-in time, KVD was working as hard as anyone trying to clinch a Bassmaster Classic title in the final hours. VanDam doesn't need any more titles to cement his place in professional bass fishing history, but you wouldn't have known that Saturday afternoon. He worked as hard as a rookie trying to make a rent check.
All this sets up a fascinating final on a new lake with the final four anglers starting even. White Lake has the potential to produce some bigger bags than were seen at Muskegon over the last two days.
"I think it will take 17 pounds or better," VanDam said. "Somebody is going to figure it out."
As on Muskegon Lake, VanDam knows White Lake better than anyone else fishing Sunday.
"A 20-pound bag is possible," he said. "It's going to take a good day there to win it."
So what was not so cool about Saturday's semifinal? In a word, BASSTrakk. If the anglers aren't going to take it seriously, how can any of the rest of us?
Skeet Reese played the ultimate practical joke on everyone by punching in the BASSTrakk numbers that showed him in contention with a 17-pound bag Saturday, rising from the depths of the standings Friday.
"Gotcha," said Reese, when he came to the stage with two bass weighing 5-3, the lowest total of the day, leaving him with 13-8 in next-to-last place.
"My wife is going to kill me," Reese laughed.
Did he just joke around with everyone?
"Absolutely," Reese said.
Reese is a good guy who enjoys a good laugh as much as anyone. Oftentimes this sport can take itself too seriously. But if BASSTrakk is going to be taken seriously – and it's a really, really popular link on Bassmaster.com – the anglers are going to have to take it seriously.
Apparently Hank Cherry is the latest convert to that fact. He was in on a little bet for a dinner tab with two other anglers and their spouses after Day One. The man who entered weights on BASSTrakk the furthest from reality had to pick up the tab. Gerald Swindle hit his BASSTrakk weight exactly Friday. He estimated 11-5, and he caught 11-5.
Swindle noted at Saturday's takeoff that he was the only man in the field to do so. Good for him. Swindle likes a good joke as well or better than Reese. But if anyone is going to continue to pay any serious attention to BASSTrakk – the intriguing live scoreboard for Elite Series events – all the anglers must take it seriously.
Consider Cherry a convert. He lost the bet and had to pickup the dinner tab Friday night.
"I promise you I'm going to try and get closer from now on," Cherry said.