All Star Bracket – Advanced Angler Panel

Bucks Skeeter Yamaha
Strike King
Lews Fishing
Bucks Falcon Mercury
Power Pole

7/25/2011 – Story by Pete Robbins, Steve Reed, Tom Leogrande, Jim Hardy and Dan O’Sullivan – Cover Graphic by Tom Leogrande – photos by Dan O’Sullivan and B.A.S.S. Communications / Seigo Saito and Gary Tramontina

Advanced Angler decided with the unique format of the Toyota Trucks All Star Week Head to Head Finals round to pull together analysis of the field using our Editors, Staff and Guest Writers and a local angler with worlds of experience on the Alabama River to take a closer look at the field.

Our; ahem, “esteemed” panel includes nationally known Outdoor Journalist Pete Robbins, Advanced Angler Staff Writer Steve Reed, Advanced Angler Associate Editor Tom Leogrande, Slapout, Ala. resident and Bassmaster Opens pro Jim Hardy along with Advanced Angler Managing Editor Dan O’Sullivan.

Our panel decided to look at the conditions and the anglers’ past history on the waterway and come up with our picks for who to look for to do well in the head to head competition. Of course, as Robbins so eloquently put it, “Remember, these picks are worth approximately what you paid for them. No wagering, please.”

Before I get into my thoughts on the particular anglers, a couple of overarching questions:

1) Is anyone else tired of the heatfest that is Alabama in July? This is the third straight year that BASS has spent the heart of the summer sweating to the oldies known as Jordan (“Jer-dan”) and the Alabama River. I’ll show faith in the new owners – they were probably locked into contracts that preceded their purchase of BASS – but if they go back next year, some of us might just make a stink about it.
2) Speaking of making a stink about things, what’s up with the bracket format? I seem to remember that people were just about barfing up crankbaits when FLW went that route, but there doesn’t seem to be much dissension over it now. I don’t like a situation where someone can catch the second most weight and get knocked out only because of a bad seed. It’s not like basketball where you are truly head-to-head.
3) What does the absence of KVD mean in the big picture? The post-season has been the third leg in stool known as his world-domination tour over the past several years (the other parts being the AOY title and the Classic title). While I’m sure BASS isn’t happy to see him gone, it is nice to have some new blood with a chance to emerge from this week on top of the world. Three of the anglers, (Ashley, Defoe and Scroggins) have never been to All-Star week. Four of them (Martens, Swindle, Ike and Skeet) have won AOY, but clearly not during KVD’s three-year reign of terror.

With that off my chest, now to the brackets:
Lake Murray Day Three Leader Casey AshleyCasey Ashley (1) vs Skeet Reese (8):

If you’re Skeet Reese, which is worse for your psyche – not making it to All-Star week (as almost happened, but for the grace of the fans’ voting) or getting to round two and not having KVD to vanquish? There must be some feeling of poetic justice that he forced out the angler who has tortured him the past two seasons, but even if he wins the whole shebang there has to be some feeling that it’s hollow if KVD isn’t on hand at the end. Skeet finished 6th at the Alabama River last year. Ashley hasn’t fished it in BASS competition, but he’s fishing with maturity beyond his years right now and he’s not carrying the same collection of baggage.

Gut Pick: Ashley

Ott Defoe (2) vs Mike Iaconelli (7)
What’s not to like about Ott? Ashley barely edged him out this week, but the guy has been a rock all season long. He’s a shallow water stud, and that should pay off in the current-driven fishery of the Alabama River. Still, Ike is en fuego. Sure, he had to be voted into the post-season and survived this week by just about a pound, but he has a huge amount of momentum going. Coming off the Elites, he finished 2nd in the FLW on the Potomac and then 4th at the Northern Open on the James, both RIVER systems. Never count him out because (as you might have heard) he never gives up. He finished 4th in 2009 on the Alabama River.

Gut Pick: Ike

Aaron Martens (3) vs Edwin Evers (6)
This is the only one of the four brackets where both anglers have previously participated in an All-Star week.

I feel silly now for making a big deal about Ike’s momentum just one bracket up. Sure, he’s been fishing exceptionally well, but he’s been aggrieved by the fact that he’s not winning. The same can’t be said for these two. Evers won earlier this year and Martens won earlier this pay period, claiming victory at the US Open before making like a long-haul trucker and hightailing it to Alabama. Martens finished 8th on the Alabama River in 2010. Evers was 2nd there that same year. This is the hardest bracket for me to pick because normally you can say someone’s particular strength gives them an advantage – whether it is experience with spotted bass, shallow water, current, or some other factor – but these two are so versatile that either could win when the other is in his wheelhouse.

Gut Pick: Martens

Terry Scroggins (4) vs. Gerald Swindle (5)
It may sound silly to say this about a former AOY, but this was the year that Swindle learned how to compete. I’m not just talking about the Southern Open victory in Florida, but just his general demeanor and an ability to find himself in the final day’s cut under a wide variety of circumstances. Put him in his home state under that kind of pressure and look for him to shine. He was just off the mark at Jordan, missing the top of the leaderboard by just about a pound per day (really just one good bite), and his 11th place showing at the Alabama River in the 2009 postseason doesn’t inspire much confidence, but it seems that he’s no longer “just happy to be here.” Not knocking Scroggins by any means – he’s developed into more than just a flipper and sight-fisherman.

Gut Pick: Swindle

Martens will also progress to the final round and I like him to win all the marbles in a finesse worm showdown.

Gerald Swindle All Star River PreviewSTEVE REED
The postseason brackets provide an interesting twist on the traditional bass tournament. I personally think they are a little gimmicky, but it’s something new and B.A.S.S. is always looking to improve, or make a huge mistake (see Skeet Reese 2009 & 2010). We’ve already seen perhaps the biggest surprise of the postseason after watching Kevin Van Dam take an early exit we are now left with our Elite Eight.

The first matchup pairs the Semi-final winner Casey Ashley with the last man in, Reese. My first thoughts on this match are with Reese. I can’t help but believe that he is fishing for redemption. This season was almost the exact opposite of Reese’s history making 2010 campaign and a win in this event would ease some of the pain. Speaking of history, Reese was the victim of the postseason Angler of the Year experiment in each of the last two seasons and the Alabama River has been the major reason. I have to go with the history here and pick Ashley to prevail. He makes good decisions and sticks to his guns, plus he’s riding momentum that cannot be ignored.

The second pairing has Ott Defoe matched against Mike Iaconelli. Defoe joined the Elite Series this year after three years fishing the FLW Tour. His experience fishing professional level events gave him an advantage over most other rookies. He has quickly made a name for himself and finished in fifth place in the overall season standings. Iaconelli, one of the most well known professionals in the game, always finds a way to catch them. I think this will be a battle, but I think its Defoe that comes out on top.

The three vs. eight matchup features two of the most underrated professionals in all of fishing; Aaron Martens is fresh off his U.S. Open win and fished well in the Semi-Final. Edwin Evers, as usual, got the job done without much of the fanfare of the Reese’s and Van Dam’s of the world. I see the winner of the event coming out of this bracket, that winner I believe will be Martens.

Aaron Martens All Star River PreviewThe matchup of the four vs. five will have two of the biggest personalities in fishing when Terry Scroggins faces off against the G-Man, Gerald Swindle. These two guys might just be the most entertaining matchup of the group; ask them, and they’ll be the first to tell you. The two are both very consistent anglers and each possess the ability to win just about anywhere across the country, but I see this one going to Swindle easily. Swindle has fished with a purpose all season and his mission isn’t over yet.

Before I dive into my breakdown of the final eight head to head, bracket style finals I’d like to reflect on the first two days of the event. I may be a bigger fan than most, but as the final minute ticked away I couldn’t help but be enthralled by the way it was unfolding. For the first time I can recall all eyes weren’t focused on the top of the leaderboard, instead they were on the eighth and final spot into this week’s finals. Hollywood couldn’t script it any better; once again it came down to Skeet Reese vs. Kevin VanDam.

I am sure when it airs on ESPN2 we’ll see a Tarantino like flash back to the previous two trips to these bodies of water, once each year for the past two years. It’ll show VanDam ripped two AOY titles from Reese’s grasp in final day heroics and lost fish. For Reese another defeat to VanDam would be a terrible way to end an already tough year.

Skeet Reese All Star RiverI can almost hear the ‘Rocky’ music as they display Reese landing a three-pound bass with minutes left on the clock to finally knock out VanDam. Is this a small piece of redemption for Reese? Most likely, but knowing Reese he’s not done yet.

The other sub-plot of the first weekend of the All-Star event was the road warrior Aaron Martens. Martens on the heels of his third U.S. Open crown packed up his truck and boat and traveled more than 30 hours straight, nursing a bad transmission the last leg of the way. Catching sleep in between stops in the back of his vehicle he arrived in time to get six hours of practice on Friday. Martens never wavered, he jumped right into the early lead and held on to make the top eight taking the third seed.

Finally, we have the whole format of the event. Making the field of twelve anglers, BASS invited the top eight point getters for the All Star event and the next four were voted in by the fans. Broken down by region of the country in which they live. Mike Iaconelli was voted in with the most votes from the East, Martens from the South, Jeff Kriet from the Midwest and Reese from the West. Of the four, only Kriet didn’t make the finals.

The final eight is loaded with hot sticks and perennial “winners,” it’s going to be interesting to see how it all unfolds. Due to the fact I will be at the event in Alabama, I won’t try and forecast winners, instead I’ll just comment on each angler.

1. Casey Ashley – Ashley’s been hot. Winning earlier this year and dropping his first Country Music CD, Ashley’s having the best year of his life. More than most sports, recent success and confidence seems to lead to more success, and if this is the case, Ashley has to be a favorite.
2. Ott Defoe – Call him a rookie if you want, but there is nothing “rookie” about him. He racked up 17 top tens on the FLW Tour and a win before making the move this season to the Elite Series. Defoe can catch them as well as anyone; he’s got a shot.
3. Aaron Martens – Hot off his US Open win on Lake Mead. Martens has a one track mind; winning. Remembered more for his second place Classic finishes, Martens has won and can win anywhere. Make no mistake, the road to winning this event goes through Leeds Alabama, literally and figuratively.
4. Terry Scroggins –Big Show, Scroggins is coming off an exceptional year. He’s a shallow water angler and the Alabama River can be right up his alley.
5. Gerald Swindle – Swindle is at home in Alabama and he’s poised for a win. After winning early in the year in Florida, he has been on a roll. Going head to head with his roommate Scroggins in round one has to be the most intriguing match up of the first round.
6. Edwin Evers – We don’t hear much out of Evers in the media, but for the past several seasons nobody has amassed more Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points. Evers is consistently in the money and is due for a victory.
7. Mike Iaconelli – When Iaconelli is hot, everyone knows. If you don’t hear him from the lake, you can definitely read about it everywhere. One thing you don’t read about much is that Iaconelli is one of the hardest workers in the sport. He’s on the water early and off late. Receiving the most votes from the fans has appeared to put an added edge to the already intense determination to win for the New Jersey pro..
8. Skeet Reese – There’s no hiding Reese has had a subpar year for himself in 2011. A win in the All-Star event won’t fix anything, but it’ll definitely help. Squeaking into the Elite 8 past his biggest nemesis could be the kick start Reese needed to get back into gear.

Edwin Evers All Star River PreviewJIM HARDY
The Alabama River will bring on a new set of challenges and some of the same from jordan for the All Star anglers. Last week at Jordan the major amounts of rain played a big role in the outcome. It allowed shallow water anglers like Ott Defoe, Terry Scroggins and Casey Ashley to have good tournaments. The rain seemed to spread out the offshore spotted bass all over the lake, making it difficult to locate one good school of big fish an angler needed to do well.

Look for more of the same on the Alabama River where local weather is calling for more rain this week. This will play again to a shallow water angler. But, the new set of challenges for these anglers will be saving fish. Sometimes this time of year shallow water fish take longer to replenish as fast as offshore fish, so look for an angler to have a good bag one day and an off day the next.

With this format of match fishing it could allow someone who is a better manager of his fish to win in the finals versus someone who catches two big bags and on that third day- when it’s needed most – be out of fish.

In match one it’s probably the hardest to pick because of the knowledge of Skeet Reese on this river and the great ability Ashley has to think on his feet. But, for the experience factor, I’m going to take Reese in this one.

In match two Aaron Martens versus Edwin Evers; my heart says Martens but my gut says Evers. Martens is one of the greatest spotted bass anglers I know but I also know Evers has a lot of knowledge on this river and has done well with that knowledge over the year. So going with the gut on this pick – Evers wins.

Ott Defoe 2011 Rookie of the Year - photo by BASS Gary TramontinaIn the third match Defoe versus Mike Iaconelli, I’m going with Defoe for the simple fact that he has shown he can catch shallow water bass all year on the Elite trail and this week is all about the shallow bass.

Lastly the fourth match Scroggins versus Gerald Swindle. Both men are good shallow water anglers but this is my surprise pick and I’m expecting Scroggins to upset the local boy.

Based of all factors considered this week; rain, knowledge of the river and who is matched up with who, I’m going Evers to win it all.

I believe that there are a couple of factors that will become significant in the end. Outside of the obvious fact that these anglers all have tremendous skill sets, this waterway presents challenges that may prove to be huge obstacles.

First are the conditions of the water. From experience, the water on the Alabama River can be extremely hot, at this time of the year the water temperatures can exceed 100 degrees, and be off colored. These conditions make the fish get shallow and next to something hard.

The second factor is the absolute huge amount of water to cover, so practice and experience is going to make a big difference in planning and executing of that plan. With that in mind: I’m looking at experience on this waterway to outlast obvious talent.

Ashley Vs. Reese
Leaving the “Redemption” theme off the table, I’m going to pick Skeet Reese to get by Casey Ashley in the first match. Ashley is a tremendously gifted angler, and is the cream of the 2007 Elite Series rookie class, but knowing that the Alabama River can throw a monkey wrench into the best laid plans; I think that will factor into the outcome.

Reese is one of the best scramblers on tour, and knowing that he had the bites each of the last two years in the postseason to close out the Angler of the Year titles, he knows how to get the right bites on the River. With eight days on the Alabama River the past two years, Reese has an advantage.

Ott Defoe vs. Mike Iaconelli
Defoe is a tremendous talent, and might certainly be included in the small group of anglers to be labeled the princes to overtake the throne of the sport’s current kings, but I think one of those kings is going to outdo the prince in this case.

Mike Iaconelli All Star River PreviewIaconelli put on a charge in 2009 during the Postseason, and seriously threatened for a crack at the Angler of the Year title. Because he has experience and one of the strongest work ethics on tour, I’m picking Iaconelli to come out of round one.

Aaron Martens vs. Edwin Evers
Martens is the glamorous pick here, but Evers has quickly become one of the sport’s strongest competitors. Martens and Evers were both postseason competitors in 2010, and Evers made a better showing on the River. Martens had his opportunities to fare better, but I believe that Evers’ Oklahoma upbringing proved last year, and will prove again to be the difference this year.
This may be the closest of the four matches, but I think that Evers consistency the past two years, along with his shallow, dirty water background will overcome Martens’ penchant for brilliance.

Terry Scroggins vs. Gerald Swindle
Scroggins has proved to be one of the most versatile anglers on tour, but Swindle has proven that he can win on the biggest stages this year. His win at the first Southern Open in Florida did what many were worried about when he won; he got a taste for it.

Terry Scroggins All Star Week River PreviewAlready the 2004 Angler of the Year, Swindle finished the year higher than any other than 2004, and his run and gun style make him deadly when he’s forced to scramble. Scroggins is unbelievably good, but I think Swindle comes out of this round.

Our panel has seemingly anointed Martens and Evers as the picks du jour this week, but two anglers I think have the best chance to be standing at the end are Reese and Swindle. The main reason I believe this is that the Alabama River requires being able to fish quickly and cover water quickly.

All of these anglers are more than capable of running and gunning, but when it comes down to it, Reese is known to hit hundreds of spots in a day, and Swindle is so adept at scrambling, that he’s bound to stumble onto the right bites.

Of course; I’m probably way off base, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see any one of these guys accepting the trophy on Sunday; you know, come to think of it, logic tells me I should probably flip a coin.

Let us Know what you think – we’d love to hear your opinions