The quest for 21 wins, part 2

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Steve Bowman

A short run to the larger canal and he quickly adds his first keeper before the cameras could catch up to him.

In part 1, I covered what it takes to win 21 B.A.S.S. events (apart from tremendous skills and catching a few breaks). Here I’m going to take a look at the handful of anglers with a legitimate chance at winning 21 tournaments before they call it quits.

Don’t worry, it’s a short list.

Some of the best anglers of the past two decades have posted gaudy numbers, but they don’t make my list of the top six if I’m picking guys with a chance to win 21 tournaments.

Skeet Reese has eight career wins, and Michael Iaconelli has seven. They’ve each won a Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title and a GEICO Bassmaster Classic. The problem is that Reese is 46 and Ike is 43, so they’re coming to the end of their prime, their careers are more than halfway over and they’re nowhere near the 20 mark. For me, that means they’re not candidates.

Todd Faircloth is easily one of the best bass anglers of the past decade, but with “just” five wins at 40 years of age, he has a long, steep hill to climb to get to 21. Aaron Martens is in a similar position. He’s the best on the planet right now, and he has three more wins than Faircloth, but he’s also three years older. I think he has a better chance than Faircloth, but not by a lot. A-Mart’s win total would be considerably higher if he weren’t a contemporary of Kevin VanDam.

To put Martens’ predicament in perspective using another sport for reference, think of it this way: Shoeless Joe Jackson has the third highest batting average in Major League Baseball history, but he never won a batting title because he was always up against Ty Cobb.

That brings me to my Top 6:

6. Chris Lane (40 years old) – 7 wins

Face it. The 2012 Bassmaster Classic champ knows how to win. Not only has he earned seven championships in his career, but they’ve all come in the last 10 years (and after his 30th birthday). It’s a real longshot that Lane could get there, but his chances are better than all but a few.

5. Ott DeFoe (30) – 2 wins

Another longshot, but DeFoe is still young and could hit a hot streak where he wins a bunch of tournaments in just a few years. (Remember that KVD and Roland Martin – atop the career wins list – each won three tournaments in a row at one point in their careers.) If DeFoe can get red hot like that, he could make himself a threat.

4. Brandon Palaniuk (28) – 2 wins

Palaniuk is not afraid to take big chances if it will give him a better chance to win. In that way, he’s a lot like another of B.A.S.S.’s all-time winners – Denny Brauer (17 wins in his B.A.S.S. career). Brauer measured his seasons by how many tournaments he won and by how often he put himself in a position to win on the final day. Palaniuk has the same approach. It’s not really conducive to notching a bunch of Classic berths or picking up AOY points, but it’s probably the right tactic if trophies are the goal.

3. Casey Ashley (31) – 4 wins

The defending Classic champ has shown that he knows how to win and still has time on his side. He needs a little flurry of three wins in two years or something like that for fans to see his potential for setting the mark. Although no one on the list (except the number one candidate, below) has a truly good chance to set the record, Ashley has put himself in the discussion and has a very good chance to become one of a handful of anglers with double-digit wins.

2. Edwin Evers (41) – 10 wins

In 2015, Evers became just the sixth angler in B.A.S.S. history to reach 10 wins, and at 41 he’s still in his prime. At the same age, Martin had 14 wins and KVD had 16, so Evers still has a long way to go and he’s behind the pace. We’ll have a pretty good idea of whether or not he can get there in about four years. During that time, he’ll need at least five wins if he’s going to make it to 21. Can he do it? Absolutely! Evers puts himself in a position to win more than anybody out there, he “knows how to win,” he understands what wins mean to a career and he has the competitive fire to get it done.

Still, the only angler with good odds of reaching 21 is my number one candidate below.

1. Kevin VanDam (48) – 20 wins

Who’s the angler most likely to get to 21? It’s a trick question … sort of. The answer is Kevin VanDam. He’s already notched 20, and he’s not done. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t set the bar even higher before he puts his tournament jersey in mothballs. How high can the number go? It’s tough to say, but 24 or even 25 isn’t out of the question. Because he holds the record and is still fishing at a high level, the real number to shoot for has yet to be established. He might even post number 21 at the upcoming Bassmaster Classic. He’s won at Grand Lake before, and it would be a big mistake to think he can’t do it again.

The bigger question about VanDam may be this: With so many entries already in the record books and his position as BOAT (Best of All-Time) already firmly established, what will drive KVD to hang around another 10 or 15 years?

Don’t expect him to stay in the game so long that “Kalamazoo Kid” becomes an ironic nickname. If he’s not competitive at the highest levels, he’ll probably walk away. But before that happens, he’ll win again … and maybe again and again.