Still on top

Skeet Reese is a force to be reckoned with at the Southern Challenge on Lake Guntersville.

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Just about the time when Skeet Reese was sharpening his skills on California fisheries as a youngster, the Talking Heads penned the memorable phrase, "same as it ever was."

The iconic band's lyric has become the theme song for Reese's 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series season. As he has essentially all year, Reese was looking down at the rest of the competition Friday after extending his lead at the Synergy Southern Challenge. The five-time BASS winner is threatening to score his fifth consecutive top-5 finish — unprecedented territory — and second Elite win of the season through five events.

In building his lead — his 53 pounds, 4 ounces, was enough for a 1-plus pound advantage over Davy Hite of Ninety Six, S.C. — the 2007 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year has been working exceedingly hard this week. In fact, Reese said that Thursday was the most taxing day on the water he has ever had in his professional career.

Reese is rotating between multiple schools of bass — most of which he located in practice — and has back-up areas in case those dwindle. The only hiccup Friday was later in the day when the wind picked up and his bite died.

"Once you trigger that first fish in these schools, things turn on real quickly," said Reese, who fished his first BASS event in 1997. "And you can catch them pretty much every cast. But when those schools turn off, you can't buy a bite."

It's been well covered that Kevin VanDam (19th here) dominates Tennessee River impoundments but Reese's TVA affinity has been less publicized.

Case in point: Reese scored a second on Guntersville last year, followed by a fourth on Kentucky Lake. Last week on Pickwick, Reese held the lead heading into the final day, eventually settling for fifth. With a top finish here and Kentucky Lake looming large on the Elite schedule in June, Reese is looking primed to take his second AOY trophy.

And while the excitement of last year's AOY race was great for the fans — VanDam surged ahead of Reese on the final day of the Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason — Reese is doing his best to make the Postseason irrelevant.

Heading into this week, the 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion had a sizable lead in the AOY standings and with most of his closest competition struggling, Reese is looking to leave nothing to chance this year. Saturday, Reese said he will make the decision of which school to start on right before launch. As a result of the lead and first boat position, he will have his pick of the litter.

"Even if things get tough, I believe I have figured out to make them bite and turn those schools on," said Reese, 40.

Hite moved into second on account of the second-best limit of the day, a 27-pound total. The two-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year said he is moving with the fish and has several baits that he is confident can entice the right-sized bass.

One spot in particular yielded the majority of Hite's weight. He caught 60 fish off the area tricking a bass on every cast. While the wind hurt Reese, it was blowing directly into Hite's honey hole, which resulted in a magical late run.

"It's great to be in contention again," said Hite, who has had a disappointing 2010 Elite Series campaign thus far. "I left my fish biting and that is really tough to do, but I figured I might be begging for 4-pounders over the weekend."

Just 1 ounce behind Hite was three-time AOY Mark Davis of Mt. Ida, Ark., with 51-6. Davis, a post-spawn specialist, is eyeing his first Elite Series victory.

In fourth was 2009 Rookie of the Year Billy McCaghren of Mayflower, Ark., with 49-13. McCaghren shot up 27 places with his 28-1 Friday, the biggest limit of the day. Rounding out the top five was Russ Lane of Prattville, Ala., with 47-10.

While weights were down from Thursday, Guntersville didn't disappoint. It churned out 88 limits and 29 20-plus pound performances on Friday.

Only the top 47 anglers qualified for Saturday. Chris Lane, who recently relocated to Guntersville, squeaked into 47th with 23 pounds, 4 ounces, Friday. Other notables in the cutline were Gerald Swindle of Warrior, Ala. (16th), 2007 Bassmaster Classic champion Boyd Duckett (23rd) and Timmy Horton of Muscle Shoals, Ala. (27th).

Defending champion Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., limped in below the cutline in 57th.

Guntersville has been the site of 20 top-level BASS events, including the 1976 Bassmaster Classic, won by Elite Series pro Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo. Clunn finished 67th this week.

In 2009, the top four overall weights for the four-day tournament crashed the scales at more than 100 pounds. Reese, Hite and Davis are all on track to join the century club this week.