CELEBRATION, Fla. Skeet Reese has recorded a steady and consistent career worthy of envy at BASS. But the Auburn, Calif., Bassmaster Elite Series pro has yet to secure the award he covets most: the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
After five Bassmaster Elite Series events in 2007, Reese leads the standings with 1,288 points, and the importance of leading the race near the midway point of the season is not lost on the veteran angler.
"Every event that I can finish in the top 10 is a plus for me," said Reese, a one-time BASS winner. "I have had a lot of close calls of late where I didn't seal the deal, and as disappointing as that is, winning the Angler of the Year title would make all that disappointment go away. I have always said it is the ultimate dream for any professional angler to win this title."
Following up the season-opening Bassmaster Classic, in which Reese finished second by a mere six ounces, he scored four consecutive top-10 finishes in Elite events. Included in that run was another second-place finish at California's Clear Lake.
With his strong start, Reese opened up a commanding lead, but he relinquished much of it to 11-time BASS winner Kevin VanDam at the fifth Elite event of the season two weeks ago at Alabama's Lake Guntersville. VanDam, of Kalamazoo, Mich., was the winner of that event, while Reese finished in a tie for 53rd, missing his first cut in an Elite event this season. Reese now leads VanDam by just 25 points.
Unlike Reese, VanDam already has won three Angler of the Year titles and is the BASS all-time money leader, but despite his bevy of accomplishments, his desire for yet another Angler of the Year title is strong.
"I think the rest of the season sets up well for me, but you have to perform to win at this level," said VanDam, who has 1,263 points. "To win Angler of the Year against this level of competition truly validates a career."
The Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year program, which along with the Bassmaster Classic becomes one of the most prestigious titles in the sport, is a lucrative, season-long points race that rewards the most consistent angler with $125,000.
Rounding out the top five are California's Jared Lintner with 1,234 points, California's Ish Monroe with 1,169 points; and red-hot rookie Derek Remitz of Alabama, with 1,129 points.
Mike Iaconelli of Runnemede, N.J., seized his first Angler of the Year title in 2006. He is tied for 39th in the 2007 standings.
Toyota Rookie of the Year
Entrenched in the top five in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, Derek Remitz of Madison, Ala., has opened up a wide margin in the Toyota Rookie of the Year race. The consistent rookie has put himself in prime position to take home the award that provides the top-performing rookie with a $25,000 top prize and is based on the Angler of the Year standings.
"This season has been a dream come true thus far," said the 24-year-old, who leads the race with 1,129 points. "If you told me at the start of the season that I would have already won my first Elite event and been in the top position in the Rookie of the Year standings, I would have thought you were crazy."
Trailing Remitz by more than 100 points in the standings is Bryan Hudgins of Orange Park, Fla., with 989 points. Following Hudgins are Casey Ashley, the youngest competitor in the Elite Series at 23, of Donalds, S.C., with 982 points; Scott Campbell of Springfield, Mo., with 917 points; and Jason Williamson of Aiken, S.C., with 832 points.
Steve Kennedy won the Rookie of the Year award in 2006 and narrowly missed his chance for an Angler of the Year bid, ultimately finishing second to Iaconelli.
Toyota Moving Forward Award
By improving 62 positions in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings from his ranking last year, California's Fred Roumbanis is the leader in the 2007 Toyota Moving Forward award standings.
The award honors the Bassmaster Elite Series angler who posts the greatest improvement from season to season based on the AOY points standings. The winning angler receives $10,000.
Roumbanis, of Auburn, Calif., is seventh in the 2007 AOY standings after a strong run of opening tournaments.
"It's nice to show improvement from year to year," said the 28-year-old, who finished 69th in the 2006 Angler of the Year standings. "The schedule this year is fantastic and I feel like I have been capitalizing on some opportunities to catch some big fish."
Denny Brauer secured the title in 2006, improving 99 positions from his 2005 performance. Roumbanis leads Mississippi's Pete Ponds, who has improved 60 places in the Angler of the Year standings. Rounding out the top five are Connecticut's Ken Brodeur, with an improvement of 57 places; Florida's Chris Lane, with an improvement of 46 places; and Kentucky's Mark Menendez, with an improvement of 44 spots.
Bassmaster Elite Series Power Index
With strong, consistent performances in the first half of the Elite Series season, Kevin VanDam and Skeet Reese have made significant strides in the Power Index, a system that ranks an angler by his average weight caught during his last 12 qualifying tournaments in the last two years. The two anglers hold the top positions in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, but VanDam leads Reese in the Bassmaster Elite Series Power Index standings.
VanDam is averaging 51 pounds, 10 ounces of weight per tournament while Reese is averaging 50 pounds, 7 ounces. Reese and VanDam are the only two anglers averaging more than 50 pounds per tournament.
The Power Index closely mirrors the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings for the top three positions as Jared Lintner, third in the AOY standings, holds down that position in the Power Index as well with 44-15 per tournament. In fourth is Alabama's Steve Kennedy, averaging 43-10 per tournament. Kennedy likely was aided by his four-day catch on California's Clear Lake of 122 pounds, 14 ounces, which edged Reese by more than five pounds and established a BASS record for heaviest tournament weight.
Oklahoma's Tommy Biffle is fifth, averaging 41-13.
"This is another gauge of how successful an angler you are," said VanDam. "It feels great to be at the top and I can only hope I stay there."