Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., shares the spotlight with Boyd Duckett of Demopolis, Ala., in this look at two champs aiming for the same prestigious prize in the 2010 Bassmaster Classic:
Focus on Skeet: As the winner of the 2009 Bassmaster Classic, Reese enters the 40th edition of the Classic, set for Feb. 19-21 on Lay Lake out of Birmingham, Ala., as the defending champion.
Spot back on Boyd: As the pro from Alabama who won the Classic three years ago, Duckett is the defending champ on Lay Lake, having won the 2007 Classic in his home state.
Again on Skeet: Reese is a candidate to repeat in 2010 for a rare consecutive victory. The Bassmaster Elite Series pro is at the top of his game. He narrowly missed 2009 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year honors, finishing second in AOY points. And Lay Lake ups the ante for Reese: He was the runner-up to Duckett in 2007, just 6 ounces back.
On Boyd: He made history as the only Classic winner to capture the title in his home state. The small-town Elite Series rookie who instantly hit the big time intrigued fans; three years later, anglers — especially Alabama anglers — don't miss a chance to shake Duckett's hand.
"I've had several thousand people in the last six to eight months say, 'You know, the Classic's coming back to Alabama, man, you've got to step up for us,' " Duckett said. "I feel like I'm fishing for a whole team of thousands of anglers in Alabama. Coming into it in 2007, I was fishing for me and a close group."
First is always going to be first. In line behind Duckett are seven other qualifiers from Alabama, each of whom would like to be the second pro to win a home-based Classic. Like Duckett and Reese, all are Bassmaster Elite Series pros with multiple Classic appearances under their belts: Matt Herren of Trussville (second Classic), Randy Howell of Springville (ninth Classic), Steve Kennedy of Auburn (fourth Classic), Kotaro Kiriyama of Moody (sixth Classic), Russ Lane of Prattville (third Classic), Aaron Martens of Leeds (11th Classic), and Gerald Swindle of Warrior (11th Classic).
Of the seven, Kennedy had the best Lay Lake performance in 2007: He finished eighth. Howell was 13th, Lane was 24th, Martens 25th and Swindle 45th (his Day 2 weight was disallowed due to a rules violation). Herren and Kiriyama did not qualify that year.
Martens' Classic record stands out, with three second-place finishes: 2002, 2004 and 2005. The 2002 bridesmaid showing was on Lay Lake.
He trained for the 2010 Classic last fall in a way that's unusual for him: He fished.
"I kept fishing after the end of the season," Martens said. "I was fishing four days a week for two months. I decided I was spending too much time at the beginning of a season warming up, getting back my confidence on the water. The more you fish, the easier it comes. Your instincts are better."
Lay Lake is about 50 minutes from his home. He said before the Dec. 14 cutoff date, after which Classic water has been off limits to all competitors, he spent about 15 full days on the lake.
"It was dynamite fishing, but I know things will be different in February," he said.
Reese skipped the scouting.
"I'll just use the four days prior to the Classic," he said. "That's how I've been doing it for quite a while. That, to me, is the most current conditions that you're going to get. I don't like going into tournaments with too many preconceived notions, and thoughts and ideas."
Duckett said he spent several days on Lay, as did Herren and Howell. All three said the weather will dictate the bite. After the unseasonable cold of January, a warming trend will be needed to bring the water back up to the usual February temperatures and bass into prespawn patterns, Duckett noted.
The field of 51 Classic anglers will meet in Birmingham in time for four official practice days, Feb. 12-14 and Feb. 17. Competition is Friday, Feb. 19, through Sunday, Feb. 21. Duckett is thinking ahead to what that Sunday might be like for the 2010 winner.
"Winning a Classic anywhere is huge," he said. "It's what we all as anglers — in my lifetime, anyway — grew up and dreamed about. But to have the opportunity to win it in your home state, in front of your friends and family... is bigger. How fun would it be to win another one at home, to be able to be dominant in your home state?"
For a complete list of 2010 Classic qualifiers, click here.