Week 2 – Skeet Reese
The first Bassmaster event of 2006 will be a big one. In contrast to previous years, the "granddaddy of them all," the Bassmaster Classic, will be the first event of the new year. There's no chance to start slowly and build up momentum. Quite the opposite – the narrow window of opportunity to earn angling immortality may come and go in the blink of an eye.
For those anglers who qualified for both the 2005 and 2006 Classics through past performance, February's event at Florida's Lake Toho provides a second bite at the apple. For those who failed to capitalize on this "two-fer," it'll provide a haunting reminder of opportunities gone by.
At only 36 years old, California pro Skeet Reese has already competed in six Classics. At the 2005 tournament in Pittsburgh, he tied his personal best with an 8th-place finish, but in the Classic it's usually only the winner who is remembered.
Although he lives thousands of miles away, the Team Lucky Craft pro has enjoyed quite a bit of success in Florida, including 18th- and 7th-place finishes in tour events at Toho in 2005 and 2001, respectively. He also won at the Harris Chain in 2003. Still, even for an angler who has consistently been ranked in the Top 10 in the world, a Classic victory could cement his place in the pantheon of tournament greats.
No More Relaxation
For Reese, the recent weeks "have been pretty laid back." He's been able to spend leisurely time at home with his wife and young daughter. "I haven't even hardly bass-fished at all since the (2005) Classic," he said.
But one recent morning he woke up and "realized it was crunch time now," he said. "This is the last little bit of time I have to be with my family and get all of my business taken care of. It kind of stressed me out to realize that this lifestyle will be over soon. In a few more weeks I'll be back on the road."
One sacrifice that he'll have to make to ensure that he still gets to see his family occasionally is to sharply curtail his participation in the popular ESPN Bass Tech program. "They've already filmed a few (without me)," he said. "This year my schedule just didn't line up to do more than one or maybe two of them. I love the show and I want to be part of 100 percent of the episodes, but I have to make my family a priority."
Reese has only recently begun to think about Toho. "Actually, my wife chewed me out about that this morning. She said 'You don't get excited about a Classic anymore.'
"Actually, it's that the newness (of the experience) has gone away. I don't get caught up in the glitz and glamour. It's just a regular tournament for me. You can't treat it any different. I just have to catch five fish a day, and if they weigh more than everyone else's, I win. If not, I pack up and go to the next tournament."
Reflecting upon last summer's Classic in Pittsburgh, he noted that "this will be extremely different. I don't know what to expect. In Florida at that time of year, the fish are so fickle. Florida fish do not do well with cold fronts, they shut down dramatically. If we have stable weather, with water in the 60s or even up into the 70s, it'll be a wide-open bite. Everyone will have a limit and there will be some big sacks.
"But from a competitive standpoint, it's not as fun (as the Pittsburgh Classic). On the last day of that tournament, there were 10 guys who had a legitimate shot at winning. I don't foresee that happening here. On the last day there's a good possibility that someone will have a huge lead and really only two or three guys will be in it. Hopefully I'll be one of them.
"Tenth place could be 12 pounds out. Trying to rally back from that could put you in a tough spot. I'm looking forward to having a chance."
Not Just by Sight
When fans think of tournaments on Toho, it's hard not to think back to Dean Rojas' record-setting catch in the 2001 tour event – he creeled an amazing 45 pounds the first day en route to a 100-pound plus total – and he caught them sightfishing.
Is sightfishing for bedding bass the only way to win this year's Classic?
"If you go in expecting to win sightfishing, you're pretty naive," Reese said. "I don't foresee that. If you end up looking at them, you end up looking at them, but you have to go in open-minded.
"There are plenty of ways to win at Toho. It really depends on which group of fish you've located, which lake you're fishing and what stage they're in. Yes, it could be won sightfishing, but it could also be won on a topwater, flipping mats, on a spinnerbait, a lipless crankbait or even casting a Texas-rigged worm.
"Maybe they'll be in beds," he added, "but if Mother Nature throws some of this weather at us like the heavy rains we're having here now in California, it could hold things up and totally change what stage the fish are in."