Elite Series

CELEBRATION, Fla. — In September, Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., made history by becoming the first professional angler to register for the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series, an 11-event competition that will award nearly $7.5 million in cash and merchandise.

Reese, 36, didn't know he was going to be the first. He was just thinking sensibly. "I knew the deadline was coming and wanted to get my deposits in," he said. "My intent is to fish BASS, without a doubt. That's where I created my livelihood and saw my career blossom."

The six-time CITGO Bassmaster Classic qualifier has earned nearly $600,000 on the BASS circuit since he entered in 1997. Today, his branding includes major endemic sponsors Lucky Craft Lures, Champion Boats, Mercury Marine, Terminator Lures and Berkley.

Now, four months before he fishes the CITGO Bassmaster Classic on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla. and five months before beginning the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series, Reese is deep in preparation. He's meeting with sponsors to secure a wrap on his boat and truck, researching lakes he will fish and — like friends Marty Stone and Gerald Swindle — seizing media opportunities to promote himself and his brand among what will be a smaller group of the world's most premier anglers.

"We take advantage of every bit of media so we can expose ourselves to other potential sponsors," Reese said. "Sometimes we're criticized for being on TV too much but we're doing our jobs and too many anglers don't see the business standpoint of fishing."

Indeed, Reese is more than an angler. He's a family man and business entrepreneur and consciously juggles those roles with his fishing. It's not uncommon for Reese to conduct a media interview with a newspaper like the WALL STREET JOURNAL and then break away to compliment his 2-year-old daughter on her Halloween costume ("LeaMarie is a snow angel," he says proudly.) He takes his wife Kim and daughter on the road about two weeks each season, just enough time before they get tired of traveling. He's also regular on the ESPN2 show "Bass Tech." One would imagine that Reese doesn't support an expanded Elite Series schedule, but ironically, he does.

"I'm a big fan of the expanded Elite Series schedule," Reese said. "We thrive on competition and that's what drives us. Fishing three months of out the year doesn't quite cut it."

Reese says he "understands and respects" the major changes BASS has implemented for the 2006 season, but isn't surprised that others don't agree. Though change can be frightening, Reese is turning it into his most valuable tool in his tackle box. "I believe the things you struggle with the most are the things that make you grow the most."