Ken Duke’s B.A.S.S. Picks
This is painful. Ranking the very best bass anglers in the world (and that’s what the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers are) is not just difficult and far more subjective than I’d like, it’s actually gut wrenching. I’m lucky to not have any hair; I’d have pulled it all out in the process.
With apologies to all the Elite Series anglers I admire and have followed throughout their careers, if you don’t find your name here or don’t find it as high on the list as you believe you deserve, know that you can move up that ladder. You control your own destiny. As Al Davis, the late owner of the Oakland Raiders used to say, “Just win, baby.”
Here are my rankings, and a little rationale.
1. Kevin VanDam — I started to simply type “Duh!” and leave it at that, but there might be a few people who would argue with this pick. Let me start by saying that I don’t hope to change your mind here. You are too far gone for my words, my numbers or my arguments. KVD is simply the best there ever has been, and he’s still in his prime. He’s won a third of the Bassmaster Classics since 2001 and a total of seven Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year awards. Any system that does not currently rank him first among all competitive bass anglers is flawed. For the past four seasons VanDam has completely dominated the toughest tournament circuit in the world. Cher and Madonna are known by their first names; KVD only needs initials.
2. Edwin Evers — He’s been the runner-up to VanDam in the last two AOY races, nearly won the All-Star Week competition last summer and had a solid Classic. Evers is hungry for an AOY and Classic title. The Classic eluded him again this year, but he’s a solid 4th in the AOY standings after three events in the Elite Series.
3. Brent Chapman — He started the year with a Central Open win. Then I jinxed him in the Classic by picking him to win, so it’s probably not fair to count his 18th-place finish against him. Right now he’s leading the AOY race by a fair margin and had a solid finish at the Central Open on Table Rock. Only a mediocre season in 2011 keeps him out of the number two spot.
4. Chris Lane — He’s coming off the best season of his career and won the first two B.A.S.S. events he fished in 2012, the second being the Bassmaster Classic. Lane seems to have turned a corner in his career over the past 12 months. Is he a top 10 Elite Series angler? I think he is right now.
5. Todd Faircloth — In 2011, Faircloth had a bad year (for him) and still finished 21st in the AOY rankings. I think he’s going to “rebound” from a good season to a great one. He’s currently ninth in the AOY race and almost ran Alton Jones down on the last day at the St. Johns River in the season opener. Faircloth has a tremendous inner drive and executes on the water as well as anyone in the business. I expect him to make a run at AOY this year.
6. Skeet Reese — Someone or something must have poked this lion’s cage because Reese is back and obviously on a mission. After a disappointing 2011, he led the AOY race after the two Florida tournaments (he’s currently sixth) and should be at or near the top at the end of the season. If it weren’t for the numbers he posted in 2011, he’d be ranked higher than this.
7. Gerald Swindle — The G-Man is off to a strong start in 2012; he’s 12th in the AOY race and headed to waters where he should be even stronger. The best “junk” fisherman in the sport is remarkably adept at making something from nothing, scraping together a limit when everything seems to be falling apart and turning in solid performances when it would be easy to throw in the towel. When I think about anglers who truly never give up, I think of Swindle.
8. Ott DeFoe — He was fourth in AOY last year, won the All-Star Week competition and finished fifth in his first Classic. He’s 16th in the current AOY race and the schedule is just starting to move to waters where he’s expected to excel. Sometimes an angler hits his stride and learns that his reach can exceed his dreams. That’s DeFoe.
9. Alton Jones — When he’s dialed in, the fish don’t stand a chance. Jones got the Elite Series monkey off his back at the St. Johns River and will take more chances now that a Classic berth has been secured. A 69th-place finish at Okeechobee almost certainly took him out of the AOY race for 2012 (he’s currently 19th), but he’s still a threat to win any tournament he enters.
10. Randy Howell — Consistency doesn’t necessarily win a lot of tournaments, but it’s what marks Howell as a great angler. He’s been in the top 25 of the AOY race eight of the last 15 years and always seems to be a lock as a Classic qualifier. If he can break through with an Elite win in 2012, he’ll get a lot more of the attention he already deserves.
11. Terry Scroggins — He had a bad Classic (39th place), but Big Show is a force to be reckoned with anywhere there are bass — and especially in his home state of Florida. With the Sunshine State tournaments now in the rear view mirror (and after a dismal finish at Bull Shoals), Scroggins is 23rd in the AOY race. No one has a better attitude or approach to the business of tournament fishing.
12. Keith Combs — There were two breakout rookies in 2011, but one (Ott DeFoe) got the lion’s share of the press. Watch out for the other. His name is Keith Combs and he was 15th in AOY last year and fifth so far this year. He’s versatile, smart and ready to take it to the next level.
13. David Walker — To call him a rookie in 2011 was pretty ridiculous. Walker had fished the Bassmaster Tour and competed in six Classics before 2012, so he was a seasoned vet. His slow start last year has been turned around. After winning the final event of the 2011 season, he’s been hot and is currently third in the AOY race. What’s more, as I write this the Elites are headed to Douglas Lake, where Walker will be a big favorite.
14. Steve Kennedy — Kennedy is one of the smartest guys on tour and someone’s who’s developed a reputation for not practicing very much or very hard. The truth is that he simply puts things together faster than most and knows when practice has become more form than substance. Besides, who wants to win practice?
15. Michael Iaconelli — When it comes to his Elite Series performances, Ike’s been quiet for the past few years — no Elite wins, no runs at another Classic title since 2009 — but he’s also been solid and consistent. His worst finish since 2009 was 66th-place, and he’s got the fourth highest bassing average (average number of bass brought to the scales each competition day) in Elite Series history. Between tournaments and his television commitments, he’s probably the busiest guy on tour, and that’s biound to take a little something off an angler’s competitive edge.
16. Bobby Lane — Before 2012, Chris Lane was Bobby’s younger brother. Now that Chris has a Classic win under his belt, Bobby’s taken a supporting role when it comes to media attention. Don’t worry about his fishing, though. Bobby can catch ’em with the very best. And if he could have avoided disaster at the St. Johns River (where he finished 60th), Bobby would be high in the AOY standings. Right now he’s 13th and fishing really well.
17. Greg Vinson — B.A.S.S. announcer Dave Mercer calls him “The Rooster” because of his red hair and jersey, but I think that’s a misnomer for a guy who’s quiet, unassuming, intelligent, polite and doesn’t crow about himself. Vinson has spent the last two years proving he belongs at the highest level. His second-place finish at the Classic showed that he can compete on the biggest stage. Watch for “V” to solidify his position as one of the sport’s best this year.
18. Dean Rojas — Kermit’s buddy is usually one of the fastest starters on tour and a shallow-water specialist who can also catch ’em deep when he has to. He’s 49th in AOY after three events, which is a very slow start for him, but the rest of the schedule looks really good for Rojas.
19. Aaron Martens — I call him “The Natural” because he’s the best natural angler I’ve ever seen. No matter where or when you schedule a tournament, Martens is going to catch them. In fact, I’ve long believed that the only angler who can beat Martens is Martens. Fortunately for “The Natural” that happens less and less as he gains experience and finds the reins on his talent. He’s off to a slow start in 2012 (currently an unfathomable 79th in the AOY race), and that’s why he ranks this low. Expect him to move up — a lot — as the season progresses.
20. Brandon Card — He’s sort of the wild card on this list because he’s a rookie and very young, but he’s already impressing fans of the sport. In three Elite events, Card has ranked 21st, 41st and 18th on waters he’s seldom — if ever — seen before. Now that the Elites are headed to Douglas Lake, where Card has spent lots of time, we’ll see what he’s made of and whether he deserves this ranking.