By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Could it be that Kelley Jaye is destined to move up seven places in the Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year race at this week's championship event and finish 34th on the final points list? If history holds, the only other option is 44th, and that won't take him where he wants to go.

Jaye, an Alabama resident who's in his fifth year on the circuit, has had a "4" as the second number of his final points placement after each of the four previous campaigns. He was 94th as a rookie, and has since ended up 74th and 64th (twice).

He'd gladly break with tradition and accept the 38th slot after this week's AOY Championship at Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota. That would get him into his first Classic next March at South Carolina's Lake Hartwell.

"I'm excited – I want more than anything to qualify for (the Classic)," he said last week. "I'm happy that I've at least got a real legitimate shot.

"I feel pretty good about it. Everybody I've talked to says (the smallmouths) like jerkbaits up there, and that's what I like to throw. Hank Cherry and I compare notes a lot and he says we're going to catch them. I hope he's right."

Better Time Management

The 45-year-old Jaye said his best season to date has been the result of more efficient preparation.

"I've learned to practice a lot better," he said. "When I started out it was such a big learning curve with most of the lakes I'd never been on. This year, in two of the best tournaments I've had, I didn't even fish on the third practice day. I've been able to get dialed in a lot quicker.

"Some of the lakes I've been on two or three times now and I'm getting better every time we go. This year, if I knew going in that I was going to be throwing a jerkbait, I'd figure out what structure they were on and try to get everything dialed in by the second (practice) day. Then it was a matter of just going around and marking places where they should be."

He's had just one bomb this year (a 93rd at Dardanelle), and that was offset by two final-day appearances (he posted a career-best 5th at Lake Champlain in July and was 10th at the Bassmaster Texas Fest in May). His other six finishes all fall somewhere in the 40s through the 60s.

He believes he's done a pretty fair job of managing the fish he's found.

"I don't want educated fish and I don't like beating up on them at all. Even if you go back on the last practice day and check on fish you've found, it can hurt your confidence if they're not biting or it seems like they're not there anymore.

"I'd rather have a clean conscience to start the tournament. I want to feel good about what I've got on opening morning."

Much Wiser Now

Jaye, who operates the electric motor sales and service business that he owns when he's home between tournaments, was completely befuddled by northern smallmouth fisheries when he first turned pro. More recently, however, he's wised up to the ways of the bronzeback and has turned in some solid money finishes.

"I'm real comfortable with smallmouth now," he said. "It used to be that I'd do what I thought I needed to do, which was go out deep and drag stuff around, but in the last couple years I've fished for them the way I like to fish. I've fished my strengths and I haven't worried about what everybody else was doing."

Figuring he'll need something close to a top 20 this week to punch a ticket for Hartwell, he's focused solely on larger-than-average fish.

"I'm looking for the 4- to 5-pounders," he said. "If I'm catching 3-pounders (in practice), I won't even mark them – those kind of fish won't do me any good.

"The thing about smallmouths is they just pull so hard and they never give up. I've figured out a way to keep them buttoned up better and I think I've got an opportunity to do real well if I can just make it happen."

As an angler who's not afforded the luxury of devoting all of his time and resources to fishing, he'd consider it a huge accomplishment to qualify for the Classic.

"I do it what I consider the right way," he said. "I don't get help and I don't spend a week or two fishing a lake before it goes off-limits – I only fish it for three days before the tournament starts and when I leave a tournament I come home and go back to work. My business is my livelihood and I have to put as much into it as I do into fishing.

"I'm not going to sell my house and spend a month on a body of water and I can't travel from tournament to tournament and Open to Open. If I can make the Classic doing it my way, I think that says a lot."