TTBAOY: Jones holds serve

LA GRANGE, Ga. – After dropping over 23 pounds on the scales on Day Two, Kevin VanDam looked poised to make another late-season run to win the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, but the only thing on his mind was winning the Pride of Georgia.

“I wanted to win,” VanDam said. “If I was totally focused on Angler of the Year, I would have gone and caught a couple of small keepers to move up a few places. When you make it to the final day, the worst you can finish is 12th.”

VanDam didn’t fall that far, but he didn’t have to. The man he was chasing in the season-long race, Alton Jones, was also fishing on Sunday. With 12 pounds, 12 ounces, Jones jumped into sixth place while VanDam fell five places to seventh when his topwater bite failed to materialize on Day Four.

Jones had two big days in the tournament, both of which he attributed to a key on-the-water decision in practice. Looking at satellite maps, he found three backwater areas that looked to be well-suited to his style of fishing. The first two turned out to be shallow and impossible to access, but the third looked promising.

“It took me a lot of time to find that spot,” Jones said. “I decided to take the risk and run back there. I knew I could get over the sand bar, but I wasn’t sure how deep it was and there was a chance I wouldn’t be able to get out. I made it and found that magic tree where I got 14 bites (Sunday).”

Those are the kind of risks that make or break a Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year run. The reward for Jones was putting more distance between himself and the rest of his competitors with only three events left to fish. Terry Scroggins now sits 107 points back, while VanDam trails Jones by 118.

Edwin Evers also reaped the rewards of a great finish in Georgia. The 2010 TTBAOY runner-up finished second on West Point and moved into fifth place in the year-long race, continuing to fish well since his return from an elbow injury.

“I’m making good decisions and fishing like I’m capable of,” Evers said. “The first day of the tournament, I picked up my flipping stick, which I didn’t event retie from Pickwick, flipped into a tree and caught a 4-pounder. That really clued me into what I did all week.”

From all the whining in practice for the West Point event, the fishing turned out better than imagined and the stumble many predicted at the top of the standings never materialized. The real shake-up, VanDam predicts, will come in June on the Arkansas River.

“The real wildcard event is going to be on the Arkansas River,” VanDam said. “On the river, you have locks and it’s flooded out there right now. But it’s going to come down to the final event this year and when we go to Wheeler, I expect everyone to catch them.”

Like VanDam, Jones anticipates good fishing on Wheeler, finishing 14ththere the last time the Elite Series visited. His focus now is on the next event on Murray, where Jones has fished many a tournament, including winning a Megabucks there in 2000.

In the end, the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race may come down to a single tournament, a single day or even a single fish. Jones can look back on many good finishes in 2011, but his performance on West Point Lake was an important one.

“It doesn’t mean a whole lot until it’s over, but every point I get now is one less I need to get later,” Jones said. “Every fish is important, every ounce. There was one key fish I caught on Day Two at 2:30, a 6-1 I caught flipping. A fish like that is a gift from the Lord.”

The complete standings can be found here.

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