Alan Clemons reminded me the other day that Takahiro Omori’s Classic win took place nearly 15 years ago, a lifetime in fishing terms. That was the first Classic I covered as a member of the media, a thousand or so articles and two thousand plus blog posts ago, yet it seems like yesterday.
Another Bassmaster Classic is fast approaching and as I looked back at the event’s recent history I was surprised to learn that the last western winner was Skeet Reese in 2009. As westerners have increasingly established themselves at the top of the Elite heap throughout the regular season and in accumulating AOY titles, there’s been a dearth of big trophy traffic going leftward across the country.
By Pete Robbins
Depending on your cultural frame of reference, it either sounds like something out of “High Fidelity” or a recent Chris Rock rom-com, but who do you think the top three anglers are on the Elite Series?
In 2011, you probably would’ve said Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese and Mike Iaconelli. They were dominant, expected to contend in every tournament and for every title. Consequently, they garnered the most attention, the most media and the most praise.
Now, five years later, I think you can make a colorable case that it’s Edwin Evers, Aaron Martens and Greg Hackney. Post-2011, VanDam has won one Elite Series tournament (this year’s Toledo Bend). Skeet had won two Elite events in that time frame. Ike has won one, plus an Open. None of them have won a Classic or an AOY.
Meanwhile, Aaron has won two AOYs and three Elite Series tournaments. Hackney has won two Elite events, an AOY, and is currently on track to add another AOY. Evers has won four Elite events and a Classic. While the accomplishments of these three in that time period seem greater than those of the other three, numbers alone don’t tell the story. It’s also the perception – at least on my part – that they are at the top of their game and the others, while still incredible anglers, aren’t firing with every cylinder they have. Of course any of them could fire up at any time and reassert their dominance, but Aaron, Hack and Edwin are certainly no shrinking violets.
Normally if you see a regime change of this sort, there’s some sort of compelling theme driving it. Either there’s a generational shift or a technological change or just the plain old aging process that pushes one group out and lets another one in. Here, though, the two sets of pros are generationally indistinguishable. VanDam is almost 49, Skeet turns 47 next week (Happy Birthday, Skeet) and Ike turned 44 last week. Meanwhile, Aaron is nearly 34, Hackney is nearly 43 and Edwin is nearly 42. While on its face the average age difference of four years might suggest a tipping point, I think that it is a distinction without a difference. In fact, I don’t think that it’s so much that KVD, Skeet and Ike have faltered in any way – rather the explanation for the shift is merely that the other three are fishing at an unbelievably high level.