Kevin VanDam's the sport's all-time leading money winner, and his resume boasts five Angler of the Year (AOY) titles.
(Editor's note: This is part 1 of a 2-part story about the Top 12 who'll fish the upcoming Toyota Trucks Championship Week.)
BASS's post-season, dubbed the Toyota Trucks Championship Week, begins in 2 weeks. That's when the Top 12 in the BASS Angler of the Year (AOY) race will launch for the first 2-day practice session prior to the Lake Jordan leg.
The field will practice for 2 days at Jordan, compete for 2 days, then move over to Montgomery, Ala. for another two-and-two at the Alabama River.
By any measure, the Top 12 field is star-packed. Five of the 12 are inside the Top 10 in the BassFan World Rankings, and Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese and Alton Jones are ranked 1st, 3rd and 4th in the world, respectively.
The field includes an impressive list of past AOYs, Bassmaster Classic champions, former two-tour powerhouses and the all-time money leader in the sport.
What follows is a breakdown of the field, with notable accomplishments and a touch of insight as to their strengths. Anglers appear in order of their points standing, beginning with points leader Kevin VanDam.
1st: Kevin VanDam Kalamazoo, Michigan
Resume Has won five AOY titles (four with BASS), two Bassmaster Classics and is the No. 1 ranked angler in the world. He's the most dominating angler of the modern era. An all-around angler who'll throw whatever it takes to win.
Career stats Nineteen years as a pro with 90 Top 10s and 15 wins. Five of those wins were in the three most recent seasons. Made the Top 10 in half the events he fished this year (four of eight). Is the all-time leading money winner in the sport and sits less than $200,000 away from the $4 million mark.
Insight Has finished in the Top 20 at both previous Alabama River events this decade (2004 Elite 50 and 2003 Bassmaster Tour). Is known for deciphering the key bite quickly, which is critical with a 2-day practice format. His thirst for another AOY title hasn't wavered, and is the favorite heading into Championship Week.
Classic champ Skeet Reese is hunting his second AOY title at Championship Week.
2nd: Skeet Reese Auburn, California
Resume A 12-year pro who was one of the first young guns to emerge from the Bassmaster Western Invitationals in the late-90s. Got his butt kicked his first year on tour, but quickly turned things around and became one of the most recognizable, and flamboyant, names in the sport. A win at the 2000 Powell Western Invitational kick-started his career. Known primarily for reaction-bait fishing, but can finesse with the best of them.
Career stats Won the BASS AOY title in 2008, the Bassmaster Classic earlier this year, and boasts of 45 career Top 10s, four wins and more than $2 million in career winnings outside the West. He's appeared in a total of 10 Classics and is one of the few to have won both BASS AOY and the Classic. Finished 34th at the Alabama River in 2004 and 14th in 2003.
Insight He followed up a phenomenal 2007 with a solid 2008 and is on fire again in 2009. He's making all the right moves and fishing with confidence something that'll be crucial with the limited-practice format. It would be easy to peg him as a lake guy, but that's not nearly the case. His two most recent wins were on rivers the Red for the Classic and the Potomac in 2007.
3rd: Alton Jones Waco, Texas
Resume A 19-year pro and perennial challenger, Jones finally grabbed the Classic feather for his cap last year at Lake Hartwell. Known as one of the best sight-fishermen on the tour, but like VanDam and Reese, can do it all. His trademark is to find the pattern within the pattern via bait or presentation adjustments.
Career stats Twelve Classic appearances with one victory, five Forrest Wood Cup appearances, 28 Top 10s and five wins. Currently ranked 4th in the world. Finished 24th at the Alabama River in 2004 and 19th in 2003.
Insight An AOY title has always eluded him, and he made the title an intense focus this year. His intensity level should peak at Championship Week. It's somewhat ironic that the last time he was in contention for the title, he battled for it at the exact same venue the Alabama River and Lake Jordan in 2003.
Two Texans Alton Jones (left) and Kelly Jordon (right) sit at 3rd and 4th in the points, respectively.
4th: Kelly Jordon Mineola, Texas
Resume Jordon hails from the heart of bass country and lives at Lake Fork. Turned pro 13 years ago and has racked up solid numbers since. His strengths are grass and flipping, and he's widely considered to be among the top two or three sight-fishermen in the game today. That said, he has yet to win a major title in the sport.
Career stats An impressive 30 Top 10s and five wins, plus seven appearances in the Classic and two in the Cup. Career earnings sit at about $1.5 million. Finished 36th at the Alabama River in 2004 and 15th in 2003.
Insight Jordon's had some of his best success on rivers, including a 2nd this year at the Mississippi, a 10th at the Red River Classic, a 2nd at the Potomac River in 2007 and a win at the Potomac in 2006. He loves to pitch big baits, especially jigs, and can be a topwater demon. He needs to rock Lake Jordan to move up in the standings, then finish the paperwork at the Alabama River.
5th (tie): Todd Faircloth Jasper, Texas
Resume The third Texan in the Top 5, Faircloth inhabits the Rayburn/Bend area of the state. His pro career has spanned just 11 years, but he came oh so close to winning AOY last year, then caved at Oneida. Now he's got another shot.
Career stats Claims 21 Top 10s and two wins plus over $1 million in career winnings. He's fished seven Classics. Rivers certainly don't stand out in his stats, but he's a capable pro who can adapt. Finished 16th at the Alabama River in 2004 and 52nd in 2003. Ranked 7th in the world.
Insight His career has been more about consistency than gutsy gambles and wins. He's a versatile fisherman, but his biggest weakness is fishing pressured water, which he'll face at Championship Week. He'll have to come out swinging at Jordan and bear down at the Alabama. Especially notable is he told BassFan he feels a lot less pressure regarding the title compared to last year.
Both Todd Faircloth (left) and Randy Howell (right) are noted for their consistency, but they'll need to show a killer instinct to close in on the title.
5th (tie): Randy Howell Springville, Alabama
Resume Not native to Alabama but is Birmingham-based now and the 17-year pro, at least through most of this decade, has maintained an impressive portfolio of sponsors. Strives for consistency and usually delivers, but that also leaves him short on the win column. Typically a very strong river fisherman.
Career stats Twenty-six Top 10s and two wins across his 17-year career, with over $1 million in career winnings and eight Classic appearances. Finished 31st at the Alabama River in 2004 and 49th in 2003. Also fished the 2005 Bassmaster Open Championship there in December and finished 4th.
Insight Howell's a tough one to peg. His worst finish this year was 39th, and he largely landed in the 20-somethings for finishes. Good for the points, but it'll take more of a killer instinct to close in on the title at Championship Week.
> The 7th- through 12th-place anglers will be profiled in part 2.