Photo: ESPN Outdoors/Seigo Saito
Tommy Biffle's never won an Angler of the Year (AOY) title or a major championship, though he's come incredibly close several times.
(Editor's note: This is part 2 of a 2-part story about the Top 12 who'll fish the upcoming Toyota Trucks Championship Week. To read part 1, click here.)
5th (tie): Tommy Biffle Wagoner, Oklahoma
Resume The father of pitching is recognized as one of the greatest shallow-water anglers of all-time. Has never won a major title and holds the dubious
distinction of five runner-up finishes in major championships (two Classic 2nds and three Cup 2nds). An accomplished river rat who instinctively masters the up-and-down water levels. A fiery competitor not afraid to speak his mind.
Career stats A 24-year pro with 55 Top 10s and four wins. Has appeared in 15 Classics and seven Cups, and is ranked 8th in the world. Finished 3rd at the Alabama River in 2004. Opted to stay east with the FLW Tour in 2003 and thus didn't fish the 2003 Alabama River Bassmaster Tour.
Insight Biffle's perhaps the most dangerous angler outside the Top 3, simply because he's so deadly in the shallows, and that should play at both Jordan and the Alabama River. He's crafty, focused and deadly.
Photo: ESPN Outdoors/Seigo Saito
Mark Menendez capped a career season with a spot in the post-season.
5th (tie): Mark Menendez Paducah, Kentucky
Resume An 18-year pro who's best known as a deep-structure specialist (a benefit of his Kentucky Lake roots), but he's a top shallow-water stick too, as he proved this year when he won Dardanelle out of an aluminum boat. Battled some health issues several years ago meningitis sidelined him, and had a go-round with skin cancer but his health and personal life are back on track and he's in the midst of a career season.
Career stats Menendez has been up and down through the years. He's fished nine Classics and claims 15 Top 10s with three wins. Finished 25th at the Alabama River in 2004 and 3rd in 2003. Also finished 5th at the 2005 Alabama River Open Championship in December. He started the season ranked 96th in the world, but has climbed all the way up to 17th.
Insight His high finishes at the split-venue 2003 event and the Open Championship are impressive, although the river was flooded for that 2003 spring event. Still, Menendez is capable of a lot and when he's on, he's really on. He fished Jordan in 2003 under a hole-course format, and given his deep-structure penchant, he could be the one who figures out how to catch the bigger spotted bass there.
9th: Gary Klein Weatherford, Texas
Resume One of the true veterans, Klein's perhaps the most dedicated pro in the sport. He eats, breathes and lives bass fishing. In fact, he won't even fish for any other species. Came up through the West and northern California, then relocated to Texas. Continues to embrace new techniques and is in the midst of one of his best seasons in a while.
Career stats The 25-year pro claims an astounding 81 Top 10s and 10 wins, plus 26 Classic appearances, two BASS AOY titles and well over $2 million in career winnings. That said, a Classic title has eluded him, he won his last AOY title 16 years ago and his last tour-level win was in 2003. Currently ranked 23rd in the world. Finished 29th at the Alabama River in 2004 and 16th in 2003. Finished 27th at the 2005 Alabama River Open Championship. Also fished one Classic there (1981) and finished 27th.
Insight Klein's equally adept at shallow or deep fishing, and has more experience at the river than most in the field. Has a knack the last couple years for getting close, but failing to pierce the Top 12. That won't work if he wants to clinch his third AOY title from his current position. Needs to fish wide-open and go for it.
Gary Klein (left) and Cliff pace (right) might seem polar opposites one a grizzled veteran, the other a newcomer but they're remarkably similar in their fishing strengths.
10th: Cliff Pace Petal, Mississippi
Resume The greenie of the field with just 4 years of tour experience. Kick-started his career with a win at the 2003 Rayburn Bassmaster Central Open, stepped it up a notch when he won the following year at the Atchafalaya Central Open, and came of age with a runner-up finish at the 2008 Hartwell Classic. Readily embraces new techniques, especially those from Japan and his bait sponsor Jackall.
Career stats In a short window has amassed 11 Top 10s, two wins and about a half-million in winnings. Fished two Classics and seems to have hit his stride as a tour angler. Currently ranked 41st in the world.
Insight Certainly a sleeper, Pace represents the new guard at this year's Championship Week. Equally skilled both deep and shallow and a definite wildcard.
11th: Mike Iaconelli Runnemede, New Jersey
Resume Easily the most dynamic, and polarizing, pro in the sport today. Ike, as he's known, fishes with a passion few possess and his trademark style is gutsy, minute-by-minute decision-making. Hunting his second AOY title and currently at the absolute top of his game missed winning the Classic and Cup this year by a combined 11 ounces.
Career stats In a decade-long pro career has compiled 50 Top 10s (average of five per year), six wins, a Classic title and an AOY. He tore up everything he touched for the past year and a half and is simply on fire. Finished 41st at the Alabama River in 2004. Currently ranked 8th in the world.
Insight Ike's motto is "Never give up!" and he'll need to do that at Championship Week. But if there's anyone who could win both legs, it's certainly Ike, who never fails to amaze and surprise. Two runner-up finishes at championships this year shows just how dangerous he is, and he'd like nothing more than another AOY for the wall.
Mike Iaconelli (left) is known for fishing with emotion. Gerald Swindle (right) has had no choice but to face his emotions the past year and a half.
12th: Gerald Swindle Hayden, Alabama
Resume This 14-year pro lives north of Birmingham and is best known as a junk-fisherman. Won the AOY title in 2004, but his performance dropped off after that, perhaps due to an overload of media and sponsor work. One of the most humorous pros in the sport, has a witty Swindlism for any situation. Made a remarkable late-season run under immense distraction in his personal life to make Championship Week.
Career stats An impressive 22 Top 10s, but just one tour-level win across his career the 1998 FLW Tour Walmart Open at Beaver Lake. Appeared in nine Classics and four Cups. Finished 11th at the Alabama River in 2004 and 20th in 2003. Currently ranked 35th in the world.
Insight His herculean late-season effort delivered consecutive finishes of 9th, 11th and 9th, which drove him up the standings and into the post-season. And it was all under duress. He lost his brother Tony last year to an early cancer death, and immediately prior to Oneida a few weeks ago, learned his mother had gone into the hospital for emergency heart surgery. Swindle's clearly fishing for something more right now, and emotion and purpose can count for a lot in this sport.
End of part 2 (of 2)