MONTGOMERY, AL - Living up to his storied reputation, Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., closed strong on the Alabama River at the Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason, scoring victory at the Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph, which earned him enough points in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings to overtake California's Skeet Reese.
The AOY trophy is VanDam's fifth and second consecutive. With each accomplishment, VanDam advances his reputation as the best angler on the planet. The $200,000 top prize brings his career BASS earnings to more than $3.5 million.
"I'm overwhelmed," said VanDam. "You can do a lot of things in this sport but to the anglers, the Angler of the Year is the real deal. Every time I win one of these, it makes me want to win even more. It's just really special."
ESPN2 will carry all of the on-the-water action from Toyota Trucks Championship Week on The Bassmasters, which will air for three hours on Sunday, Sept. 27, from 4 to 7 p.m. ET.
At the start of Toyota Trucks Championship week, things didn't look so promising for VanDam. VanDam struggled out of the gate at the two-day Lake Jordan event, while Reese performed well. As a result, Reese overtook VanDam in the AOY standings heading into the final leg on the Alabama River.
But VanDam developed a solid pattern in practice and smoked the field with 30 pounds, 6 ounces. Still, Reese had a shot, needing a finish of fourth or better, but the 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion feel short in sixth.
"I'm utterly shocked right now," said VanDam, who has three Bassmaster Classic victories. "After the first tournament, everything seemed to go wrong and I didn't think I had much of a shot. But I knew I had to battle through it. This format is definitely intense and things seemed to work out for me."
VanDam had a spectacular regular season, winning a Bassmaster Elite Series event on Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake in April and stringing together solid finishes throughout the year to head into the postseason in the top spot in the AOY standings.
On Friday, a trio of Strike King baits yielded his 16-pound, 3-ounce limit.
Reese won the AOY in 2007 while VanDam took top honors in 2008. Some would consider 2009 the ultimate match, but with both anglers at the top of their games, it's easy to assume both will battle it out again in 2010.
While Reese said he was "disappointed," he added that defeat this week was easier to swallow because he started the season by winning the 2009 Bassmaster Classic. Reese also had a steady season after earning the Classic trophy, which is not an easy accomplishment considering all the demands that come with the title.
"I had a great season but I wanted to have a spectacular season," said Reese, who will defend his 2009 Classic crown at the 2010 edition in Birmingham, Ala., and Lay Lake next February. "I'm sure I will be riding the emotional roller coaster over the next few days, but right now I feel OK."
Reese's strategy on the river was different than that of anyone else in the field. He ran north and put all his marbles into one spot. Reese said the area had quality fish but he missed a few opportunities, which ultimately cost him.
"Yesterday, I missed a few bites and today I had an opportunity for 14 pounds," said Reese. "But I just couldn't get the big ones in the boat. I will definitely have flashbacks of a 4-pounder I missed early this morning."
Reese was looking to become only the second angler in BASS history to score a Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title and a Bassmaster Classic trophy in the same season. That feat was accomplished in 1995 by Mark Davis, a Mount Ida, Ark., Bassmaster Elite Series angler.
Finishing in third place in the AOY race was Tommy Biffle of Wagoner, Okla. In fourth, moving up from 11th to start the postseason, was Mike Iaconelli of Runnemede, N.J. Randy Howell of Springville, Ala., took fifth. The full standings can be found below.
The field qualified for the Postseason through their regular-season performances on the Bassmaster Elite Series. The top 12 anglers in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings after the regular season had their points recalculated and took those scores into the Postseason. Each leg of the Postseason will be scored on a 50-point sliding scale.