'Guys, I'm Not a Slouch'

BRISTOL, Conn. — Once Skeet Reese captured his first BASS Angler of the Year title, it was inevitable he would be put through what ESPN employees lovingly call "the car wash." That meant a morning stop to gab on "Mike & Mike," a live chat on ESPN.com, an interview on ESPNEWS Network, and, shortly after noon, an on-camera interview with ESPNOutdoors.com.

While an edited video of that interview is available on ESPNOutdoors.com, we include here a full transcript of the conversation, in which Reese touches on puberty, Hummer rims, crying in public and his retirement plans.

ESPNOutdoors.com: I read the story about catching your limit, and you knew that you had won Angler of the Year. Take us through that math. When did you let yourself believe that you had actually pulled it off?

 Skeet Reese: I realized I had won the tournament on my fourth fish. I knew that if I had 4 to 5 pounds, mathematically I'd finish 40th place or higher. No matter if Kevin [VanDam] led the third day and won, I still had Angler of the Year. So I figured 4 to 5 pounds, I did my job.

 I pulled up on my first spot first thing in the morning. I caught two small keepers, and I was like, 'OK, I've got two in the boat, I'm halfway there.' I left there, made an adjustment. At 8:30 I pulled up on a spot; 8:31, the second cast I made, I hooked my third fish. I got that in the boat and I knew I was really, really close. Put the fish in the livewell, stood up and made my next cast. I caught my fourth fish, I put that in the boat, and I knew that that was it. It was lights out.

 I don't even know how to explain it. This rush of emotion just flooded out of me. There were spectator boats all around me. I just had tears pouring out of my eyes. I knew I accomplished my career dream. I don't know what else to say, it was the most incredible feeling ever.

 Were you afraid that to that point, your biggest accomplishment would be a second-place finish at the Classic this year?

 I never predict anything in fishing, because you can't. You don't know what kind of event you're going to have. Was I pleased to have a second place at the Classic? Yes and no. It was a little bitter because I knew I had a good opportunity to win. Boyd caught a 6-pounder — my hat's off to him — in the last couple of minutes, even though it's the ugliest fish I've seen caught in the history of bass fishing — how he caught it.

 But there was some satisfaction knowing that I had a good event. Did I know that was going to lead into the season I've had? Absolutely not. I take one tournament at a time. I'm not one to look back at what I've done in the past. I'm the type of person that looks at where I'm at now, what am I doing today and what have I got tomorrow. I think that's allowed me always to focus on the next event and not reminisce on the past.

 I think the first time anyone started the Angler of the Year talk was at Clear Lake, when BASS emcee Keith Alan said, You may lose this event, when you have over 110 pounds, which would have been the record to that point, but how does Angler of the Year sound? That seemed a little premature at the time, but you were doing pretty well to that point.

 I was doing pretty well at that point. I think a lot of people predicted that after Lake Amistad, where I finished in the top 10 there, that we're going to have a West Coast swing. A lot of guys predicted that I would do well and that I would be a factor in the Angler of the Year, for the fact that there was going to be two events on my home bodies of water. I went in there with hopes of having a good tournament, both on the Delta and at Clear Lake. And to come out with a fourth and a second, yeah, I had a pretty good month.

 And Keith, yeah, he did say that if I did have a second-place finish that I had to be disappointed, but it was good toward Angler of the Year points — would I take that for Angler of the Year? And, absolutely, I said I would take second-place finishes all year long if I could have Angler of the Year. And it seemed like I had my share of second-place finishes. [Laughter.]

 You had two tournaments in which you were uncharacteristically off: Guntersville and Grand Lake. Grand Lake is when Kevin VanDam took the lead in the Angler of the Year points. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't your roommate, John Murray, say to you at that point, "Now nobody expects you to win it, so you should go out and win it?"

 There's so much to talk about here. Yeah, Grand Lake, I was down and out. I feel like I blew it at that point in time and I let Kevin take the lead. I was hoping not to have a series of bad events after that. I also got a little frustrated that nobody gave me any respect, from the media standpoint, of being a legitimate player in the Angler of the Year race.

 It's almighty Kevin this, and almighty Kevin that — which, I give my props to Kevin. Kevin's got a great track record. But I've also got to look at my track record over the last five years, and I don't think it was until Potomac River that a lot of fans and the media looked at my track record of what I've done head-to-head against Kevin the last few years. He's got me beat by a little bit, but not a lot.

 So I was thinking, "Everyone's thinking Kevin's got this thing locked up." I'm like, "Guys, I'm not a slouch out here. I've done pretty good." Once we got to Potomac River, and I won, everyone was like, "Let's give him props."

 But before Potomac, we were going north, that's when everybody said this is VanDam's territory, he's going to catch 20 pounds of smallmouth a day, and that was going to be lights out for the California guy.

 Kevin took the lead after Grand Lake. And a lot of people thought going north to Lake Champlain and Lake Erie that we're going to Kevin's stomping grounds. Which I expect him to have good events. But I also felt confident going to Lake Champlain. I look at what I've done there in a couple of events — I've done very well there. It's a fishery that fit my style. So I felt like I could go up there and possibly have a solid finish also.

 And I did. I got a second, I beat Kevin. Then the next week, we go over to Erie, which is a pure smallmouth fishery, and I was able to beat him there, too. I think that shocked a lot of people, and I think that opened a lot of eyes up: We really do have a horse race here. So going to Potomac, for me to win Potomac, some people felt it was checkmate.

 Did you feel that way?

 No, because I knew what kind of lead I had on Kevin going into Grand Lake. I had a 113 point lead over Kevin going into that event. He won, lead a couple of days, I bombed, he pulled ahead of me by 40 or 60 points, a pretty big margin. So I knew what kind of points swing you could have in one event. I felt like if I could just have a decent finish in Florida, it'd be done.

 Was there one day or one decision this year that you wouldn't have made in the past, that was part of your maturation? Any time when you really thought, this was going to be it for you, this was going to be your year?

 It happened several times. It felt like Lake Champlain was definitely the turning point. For me to make the final cut, and to figure a school of fish out there, it was like, things are happening for a reason. No matter how stressed out I got, no matter how down-and-out I was because I couldn't get on them in practice, I managed to stumble onto something.

 Lake Erie — I wasn't on much there, either. I stumble on a big school of fish, pull out a top 15 finish there. Potomac River. I had nothing in practice. I had nothing in practice. I had four bites in desperation, going back to where I caught them last year, with no expectation of fishing there. To catch 20 pounds the first day — I didn't feel like I should have caught 20 pounds. And when I did, I was thinking, "There's something meant to be, here. Something is clicking." I felt like it was my time.

 That was a refrain for you all year: "I'm not on them. I'm not on them in practice."

 [Laughter.] And that's so true. 

Ish Monroe asked me to ask you, were you sandbagging all year, or did you just stumble on fish?

 You can ask my roommate, John Murray. I did not sandbag. I'm not a sandbagger. If I'm not on them, I'm not on them. I might figure out a few fish. And I absolutely, hands down, had some horrible practices this year. The two best practices I had were Clear Lake and Grand Lake. Clear Lake, I pull out a second. Grand Lake, I finish the worst tournament of the season.

 The other tournaments where I did really well were tournaments where I adjusted and I figured out as the tournament progressed. If you look at a lot of my events this year, I started out down, and I kept working up the standings and getting into final cuts day by day, because I kept adapting and figuring them out as the week went. So, no sandbagging, Ish.

 Are you a better angler than you have been in years past? Or was this just the year the points worked out the way they did?

 I feel like I'm a better angler now than I've ever been. Fishing on the BASS Elite Series, it elevates your game, because you're competing against the best of the best. I feel like I've got 24 years of tournament fishing knowledge behind me, to help me make better decisions. I'm older, I'm wiser, and I don't make stupid decisions as much any more. [Laughter.]

 I still make bad decisions, but I feel like the years of experience have finally caught up to — how do I put this? I'm able to process information because I'm older, smarter, wiser. Because I've gotten older and make better judgment calls, I'm able to utilize that with all the skills that I've gained over the years.

 I think athletes reach their peak in their 30s. As a 20-year-old, from an athletic standpoint, they've got everything. They don't have the head game. And tournament fishing really is a head game.

 There's two types of puberty. There's puberty when you get [body] hair when you're a teenager. But there's also a second puberty in life, when you start understanding life and yourself as a person, and you can incorporate that — and that happens when you're in your thirties. Psychologically, you become a mentally strong person in your 30s, and you can combine that with the athletic skill, because you're still able to do all that stuff a 20-year-old can do. But now, psychologically, you're a much stronger person.

 So I feel athletes peak in their 30s. Once you get to 40 and up, you're screwed.

 Are you going to be able to keep it up? You're what, 37?

 Thirty-eight! I've got two more years! Oh, man!

 After having gone through it this year, what do you think it's going to take, as you get older, to maintain that level?

 One thing that I do to help myself physically and mentally is, in the off-season, I train hard. I run, I exercise, and I think that's making a bigger difference now for the athletes on tour. To survive on the BASS tour now, with 11 events? It's not easy. And if you don't take care of yourself physically, I don't know how you can maintain.

 So for me personally, I train heavily in the off-season, which I think will help give me a few more good years. But I look at it, I've probably got about five years left in me where I can truly stay competitive on the tour. After that? I don't know. I don't want to be to be the one sitting out here when I'm 60-years-old, trying to compete against 20-year-old guys, 30-year-old guys who are kicking my butt week in and week out. I want to go travel the world and have fun.

 You talked about a psychological development. What part of that is emotional? Are there things that you would have done this year, and you would have reacted to in the past that would have hurt you? Or were there times this year when your emotions did get the best of you?

 Well, yeah. I think we all deal with internal demons of some sort. I had to fight myself all year long, in learning how to deal with those emotions and make adjustments to those emotions. I've had a lot of bad practices to where the fish weren't where I wanted them to be, or where I thought they'd be. They didn't eat the baits that I thought they'd want to eat, or I wanted them to eat. I was constantly having to push myself further than I had before to make adjustments to find areas where I could catch them.

 From a work ethic, I had to push myself harder this year than I ever have. I always used to be pretty lazy in practice days. I would just get a little something, feed off that, and I'd turn it into a top 10. But those practices where I didn't find anything this season? I would have to make adjustments that I didn't want to make. Meaning a completely different technique or a completely different section of the lake.

 I fought myself this season, but that's one of the things that 20-years-plus has allowed me to do, to look back at my mistakes and be able to have that knowledge to make adjustments on now.

 Tournament fishing is all psych. Skillwise, we're all good out there. It's how you process the information and utilize what you know to the best of your ability. And the best of my ability was the best in the bass world this year.

 What's it like being king of the bass world right now?

 I like being king! I want to be king forever! [Laughter.] It's rewarding, it's relieving, it's satisfying. And I've said it before, winning a tournament, I think, validates a season. For me, personally, winning Angler of the Year validates a career. Because no matter what happens the rest of my career, I can always say, I was the best of the best. Not just one tournament, but all season long against the best fishermen in the country, and that means a lot.

 I understand, too, that you recently bought a Hummer H2 with 30-inch rims.

 Laughter.] Oh, yeah.

 Now that you've got $125,000 for winning Angler of the Year, can you afford a spare tire for this?

 Yeah, that's coming from Ish. Let's see. Ish bought the cheap 30-inch wheels. He could buy a spare fifth wheel for his, because his cost so much less than mine. So, no, I have a new toy in mind.

 What's that?

 I don't want to say it on camera.

 Well, does it fly? Does it swim?

 No. It'll fly on the road. I want a Lamborghini.

 Wow. Save up. Pinch pennies. That's about all I've got, unless you just want to say something.

 I want to thank BASS. I want to thank all my sponsors. It was an incredible year, and I think we're all looking forward to utilizing my title and my relationship with the fans, the sponsors, the organization, to help elevate the sport this year. I'm glad I'm the spokesperson. I hope I get to represent everybody well and the sport well. It's going to be a lot of work. It's going to be a long journey, but it's one I've been looking forward to my whole life.

 One more thing I will ask. If you could now win a Classic or another Angler of the Year title, which would you pick?

 Well, somebody asked me that the other day. My number one goal always was Angler of the Year. Number two goal was a Bassmaster Classic. Well, I've accomplished Angler of the Year, so I think my new number-one goal will be to obtain a Classic title. There's not too many people that have both titles, so I'd like to have both.