By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Brent Chapman's 13-point lead in the Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) race heading into the final Elite Series event at Oneida next month means the Kansan can nail down the points title with a finish of 13th or better. That's something he's achieved four times this season.
He's never logged such a high placement in four visits to the New York venue named after the Native American tribe that once occupied the region, though – not even close. His best was a 38th in 2007.
The lake might be the same fishery it was the last time the Elites went there 3 years ago, but the 40-year-old is not the same fisherman. He's about to wrap up his best pro campaign and he'll go north with the confidence that he can do what's necessary to lock up the title on his own.
"I've definitely started thinking about Oneida and strategizing for it," he said. "The few times I've been there I've had kind of mixed results, and I think to do better I need to have a more focused strategy. In the past I think I've tried to do too much.
"That can be a problem, because that's a place where you can catch fish a lot of different ways."
Aspires to Higher Level
Chapman has finished 27th or better in six of seven Elite events this year, and that ledger includes a win at Toledo Bend (his first on the circuit) and three other Top-5s. Even if he doesn't win the AOY, 2012 will still go down as a watershed season.
His season got its impetus way back in early February – a full month before the Elite schedule got under way in Florida. His victory at the Lewisville Central Open (which required a half-day fish-off to break a tie for 1st place) secured him an early berth in the 2013 Classic and allowed him to fish more intuitively through the Elite schedule than his conservative nature had previously allowed.
One more single-digit finish (or even one in the ball park) will give him the title that pro anglers covet the most. He badly wants to snatch it because he doesn't know when – or even if – he'll be in such a prime position again.
"Winning the Angler of the Year is life-changing and career-changing, and unless your name is Kevin VanDam, you don't get that many chances at it," he said. "I hope to have more in the future, but an opportunity like this, I'd hate to mess it up.
"It really secures your place in the sport. It puts you in a whole different level of anglers – in a smaller, more elite group."
No Fear of Pressure
Chapman said the pressure of carrying the AOY lead into the final event could end up being more of a help than a hindrance. He's logged peak performances under its influence before – one example is the 2000 Red River Central Open, where he needed a Top 5 to make the Classic and ended up winning the event.
"I'll put pressure on myself to go out and do what I need to do in order to achieve a strong finish," he said. "When you look at past tournaments up there, it's usually taken 16 pounds a day to win and 15 or 14 1/2 to make the Top 12, so that gives me an idea of what I'm going to need.
"My intentions will be to catch 15 pounds a day, with the idea that if I do that, nobody can catch me."
After he fulfills his obligations at the ICAST show this week in Orlando, Fla., he'll head to Oneida for 3 or 4 days of pre-practice. He normally doesn't make preliminary excursions to venues he's been to on multiple occasions, but there's more at stake for this event and he wants to lay as much groundwork as possible.
"It's not a very big lake (21 miles long and 5 miles wide), but you're fishing for two species and there's usually multiple patterns going on, and because of that I think there's been times in the past when I've spread myself too thin. I want to have a solid gameplan when I go back for the 3 days of official practice, and I think fishing for a few days beforehand will help me do that.
"If I can go and finish in the Top 12, it won't matter what anybody else does. If I can do what I need to do, then I don't have to worry about anybody else."