MONTGOMERY, Ala. — As usual, Kevin VanDam did what he had to do and took his familiar position at the top of the leaderboard, but Skeet Reese did just enough too, positioning himself in second in the Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph.
With that, the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race is Ziploc-tight and VanDam and Reese have set the stage for another down-to-the-wire battle, the second consecutive year the two competitors will lock horns in the Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason on the Alabama River.
Aided by two flurries of action, VanDam toted 15 pounds, 7 ounces to the scales while Reese managed 12-4. The implications, in terms of legacy, are endless for this event. Reese, the 2007 AOY, would take a hit if he fails to close for the second consecutive year and VanDam, who is already perhaps the best angler ever, would claim his sixth AOY and third consecutive, putting him in rarefied territory.
And that says nothing of the $200,000 top prize. But it would be a mistake to count out the rest of the field. 2005 AOY Aaron Martens (third) and Edwin Evers (fourth) are still within striking distance while Russ Lane of Prattville, Ala., surprised prognosticators with his struggles Friday but still lurks.
"I really don't know what tomorrow (Saturday) will bring but I'm ready to find out," said VanDam, a three-time Bassmaster Classic champion. "You want to be in the lead and I've done all I can do today. It's going to be interesting."
If the standings were finalized today, Reese would tally 277 points to VanDam's 275. But those results mean nothing, as fishing fans found out last year, with one final day to go. After trailing Reese by a significant margin, VanDam was able to slam the door shut last year on the River with a stellar final day, but the 21-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier said the River is fishing quite differently. VanDam did employ a typical approach, running-and-gunning frantically and visiting a high number of spots.
At the stage of the game, all anglers were playing it close to the vest on specifics of their pattern.
VanDam did say he would change things up Saturday if the conditions called for it. One concern of his -- and Reese -- was the declining water levels on the River and the affect of that on the bass. The 18-time BASS winner is heavily relying on the water generation to determine his strategy and much of his activity seems to be predicated on when the water is pulled.
VanDam managed to pull in two relatively large bites that netted him the three-pound cushion. One of those, a 4-10, was the largest bass of the day.
While VanDam was buoyed by two random active periods, Reese caught fish throughout the day. His morning started hot and he was able to scratch out a quick limit but lacked quality-sized fish. Late in the day though, Reese made a run with a three-pound spotted bass and another good-sized keeper largemouth.
Weighing heavily on Reese's mind is his regular-season run and the possibility of it being essentially erased with a Postseason slip-up. And make no mistake: His regular-season performance was one for the ages with six top-fives and two victories but the Postseason, like it or not, presents the same set of parameters for each angler.
"It is what it is," said Reese, the 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion. "I'm still leading the points and I just have to go wrap it up Saturday. I've processed it and no one can take away what I did in the regular season. I've only got one more step to go."
In third in the Trophy Triumph was Martens with 12-2. Evers had 11-6 and Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., was fifth with 11-1.
Competitors are vying for a $60,000 boat package in the Trophy Triumph. But the real prize is the Angler of the Year, which five anglers have a legitimate shot at heading into the final day of action.
2010 TOYOTA TRUCKS CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK- Adjusted standings heading into final day
Field and Standings
No.: Angler: Points:
1. Skeet Reese, Auburn, Calif. 277
2. Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich. 275
3. Aaron Martens, Leeds, Ala. 262
4. Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla. 256
5. Russ Lane, Prattville, Ala. 252
6. Greg Hackney, Gonzales, La. 245
7. Cliff Pace, Petal, Miss 240
8. Terry Butcher, Talala, Okla. 234
9. Gary Klein, Weatherford, Texas 219
10. John Crews, Salem, Va. 216
11. Derek Remitz, Grant, Ala. 215.5
12. Tommy Biffle, Waggoner, Okla. 209.5
Postseason Points Scale