PARIS, Tenn. Since Skeet Reese embarked on his mission to claim the Bassmaster Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year title that he relinquished to Kevin VanDam last year, all eyes have been on the California Pro.
Posting five consecutive top 5 finishes, including two wins in the first five events of the regular season, it appeared that Skeet was on a roll of epic proportions. After missing the last two cuts, that roll is skidding to a halt.
Meanwhile, the man that we all have grown accustomed to seeing dominate the series wasn't really in a position to contend. By most angler's standards, top 25 in the points race is respectable, by KVD standards, it's a place he clearly hasn't been comfortable with.
Week after week, Skeet continued to dominate the series, while we all looked to see where KVD was in the points, and week after week Zona would ask me on Hooked Up! if it were really possible for anybody to catch Skeet. While it looked like a not-so-likely scenario, it was always mathematically possible.
As we sit here in the midst of our seventh of eight regular season events, it appears that we now have a race on our hands. Skeet seems to have opened the door a little wider than he would have liked, and those in contention for the postseason are taking advantage of the opportunity, narrowing the gap on his once seemingly insurmountable lead. They can finally see the bull's eye on Reese's back without using binoculars.
Nobody has capitalized on the opportunity to close the gap on Skeet like the No. 2 contender Edwin Evers. He finished 19th on Clarks Hill to Skeet's 59th and here in Tennessee he sits in the fourth (after Day Two) while Skeet sits on the sidelines in 48th, waiting for the points to settle at week's end.
In short, in the last two tournaments Edwin has narrowed a 258-point gap to around 110 points if he stays in the top 5 here.
Derek Remitz, the transplant from the Midwest who rocked the fishing world his rookie season by winning his first Elite Series event ever in 2007 on Lake Amistad, has proven that he's not only dangerous with a jig, he's down right versatile. He has been in the money every event this season, including two top 12 cuts.
Week after week, Remitz has quietly caught the kind of weight you need to be in contention which is why he enters this tournament third in points behind Reese and Evers. Currently in 26th on Kentucky Lake, if he finishes well here, he can pretty much consider his postseason ticket punched with one event to go.
While it's no surprise that Gary Klein is in the hunt for his second invite to the postseason and his third AOY title, some may be surprised that Cliff Pace is the only other angler currently in the top 12 (besides Reese and Klein) looking for his second consecutive invite to the postseason.
First appearing on everybody's radar after finishing second to Alton Jones at the 2008 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell, Cliff has calmly and quietly proven himself to be one of the most consistent sticks on tour. If success breeds confidence, it was that second-place finish at the Classic that got Cliff's mojo working. If this keeps up, it's safe to say that he is on "Pace" to win an AOY title sometime in his career.
Of the guys on the outside looking in, Oklahoma pro Terry Butcher looks like a strong contender for the postseason. Entering this event 14th in the points race, it looks like he's on pace to get back in the top 12 this week. With the last regular-season event taking place on a body of water that he has had some success on early in his career, he may be one to watch for the "W" on the Arkansas River next week, especially considering that most of the field has no experience there.
Aaron Martens comes into this event just 19 points outside the postseason cut in 15th place. The guy that most postseason contenders were grateful wasn't at the 2009 Trophy Chase in Alabama because of his supreme knowledge of how to tame those Coosa River Spotted Bass, Martens knows he has the opportunity to move in this week.
Considering that last year Skeet caught a good portion of his keepers on Lake Jordan using Martens' signature Scrounger, he is itching for the opportunity to get in the mix. Consistency has been a challenge for Martens this season. If he does climb into the top 12 this week, he's going to have to work hard to stay there next week.
Someone we all need to pay more attention to would be Japan's Morizo Shimizu. In 2005, the Bass fishing world met Morizo and "Big Mamma" on Lake Guntersville where he finished second to Zell Roland. In 2006, he proved his prowess on the Elite Series as he cranked his way to victory here on Kentucky Lake.
An absolute rock star at home in Japan, Morizo has earned every title and accolade on the Japanese Bass fishing circuit and came to the U.S. for one reason … to qualify for and win the Bassmaster Classic, which in his very limited English he says would make him a "True World Champion."
It's worth noting that Morizo's success on the water is all of his own doing. Not to say that there aren't other anglers on tour doing it without any help or information, but due to the language barrier Morizo can't really even gather much information or even hold a conversation with the other anglers in the field.
I guess you could claim he could talk with the other Japanese anglers like Takahiro and Kota, but the truth is … I've never even seen them speak to each other. Currently well inside the cut to qualify for his first Bassmaster Classic, and clearly very comfortable on Kentucky Lake, Morizo is now a threat to contend for the postseason.
The field is by no means set for Toyota Trucks Championship Week which is evident by the massive point swings we have seen. After Clarks Hill, Greg Vinson dropped from 10th to 30th in points and this week Mark Davis, Jeff Kriet and Dean Rojas are flirting with a similar fate. Vinson, the Alabama Pro from Wetumpka is determined to make it to the post season, which is going to take place in his backyard. Financial hardships, like so many others in the country are facing, almost forced him to withdraw from the series prior to the start of the season, but his work ethic is paying big dividends. Currently in 22nd on KY Lake, he's got a real shot to rebound his way back in.
Speaking of rebounds, nobody is charging harder at this stage in the season then "King Kong" himself, Kevin VanDam. After winning his fifth TTBAOY Title and third Classic Title, the most dominant angler in the history of the sport was missing cut after cut in his 2010 campaign. Building off of the momentum of his first 12 cut of the season on Clarks Hill, KVD knows that this event gives him his best chance at surging into the postseason. His history on this lake is nothing less than stellar.
It includes a second-, first- and third-place finish in the last three visits alone. Today, after claiming Kentucky Lake to be his favorite structure lake in the country, KVD set the pace for a wire-to-wire win here. With a little help from the 5 bonus points he grabs for each day he leads, he has just put himself in contention for his 6th Angler of the Year title. If it were to end today, he would (unofficially) be inside the top 10 in TTBAOY points.
While Skeet's accomplishments this season are unprecedented in the sport, under the current point system it appears that it's just not possible for any angler to run away with the title before it's all said and done.
As the regular season winds down we are all watching to see who will join Reese in the top 12 at Toyota Trucks Championship Week to contend for the TTBAOY title. If Skeet is able to complete the mission that he began at the start of the season, there is not another angler in the field who won't say he deserves it, but I can promise you there will be 11 other world class anglers in Alabama the last week in July that are hell bent on making him earn it.