WADDINGTON, N.Y. — Skeet Reese has been in Edwin Evers' shoes before: Leading the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race as it winds down to the finish. He knows what Evers is feeling on the eve of the next to last tournament of the season, the Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown at the St. Lawrence River, which begins here Thursday.
"It's just stress," said Reese, the 2007 AOY champion. "Everything about it is heightened right now. He knows he's got to catch 'em. If he has a bad tournament, it just opens the door. Forty points can go away real quickly.
"It's new territory for him. If he says he's not feeling it, he's full of s***."
Evers' AOY margin is 44 points over Reese and 50 points over Kevin VanDam and Aaron Martens with two events remaining. This is the big one. Evers can shut the door on his closest competitors or, as Reese mentioned, leave it wide open going into the final tournament on Lake St. Clair in two weeks.
Evers is trying to keep things simple – one day at a time, one number in mind. That number is 20.
"Twenty pounds (Thursday) and I'll be in good shape," Evers said.
Twenty is a big number in any tournament that has a five-bass daily limit. It seems especially big on a smallmouth bass-dominated fishery like the St. Lawrence River, which forms the U.S. border with Canada here in upstate New York.
But 20 is the number every Elite Series angler has in mind going into this event.
Reese pointed to the Kingston Canadian Open, held in mid-July on the St. Lawrence River. It took 20 pounds a day in the three-day event to be in contention. The winning total was 69.3 pounds and the entire top 12 had over 60 pounds.
"It's one of Canada's biggest tournaments of the year," Reese said. "You had to have 22 pounds a day to do good. That's a good barometer for this tournament."
Alton Jones is the other Elite Series angler with a chance to catch Evers in the AOY race. He's in fifth place, 59 points behind Evers. After three days of practice here, 20 is the number on his mind too. Jones said he's been catching enough big smallmouth bass that 20 pounds a day seems quite realistic.
"I think it's going to take real close to 20 pounds a day to make the top 12 here," Jones said. "I've caught several that you'd call 3 ½ pounds. But they are so much fatter than anything you're used to seeing, it's hard to judge. They are probably closer to four pounds.
"I can assure you, if I'm seeing that many three- to four-pound fish, everybody else is too. For me, catching a (five bass) limit hasn't been an issue. Your first five are going to be 15 pounds. I'd be surprised if 15 pounds a day gets a check here. I'm thinking more like 17 or 18 to make the top 50."
Jones agrees with Reese on another subject, too: Edwin Evers has some pressure on him that no other angler will feel this week.
"The guy in first is always under more pressure because of expectations," Jones said. "I've been there before – leading going into the final events. There is some pressure that goes with that."
So Jones and the rest of the contenders chasing Evers are free-swinging this week. Evers is attempting to do the same, but leading the AOY race as it nears a conclusion simply won't allow that.
Evers has been living with this feeling for almost two months. That's how long it has been since the last Elite Series event – at LaCrosse, Wis., June 20-23. If nothing else, Evers has to be happy about this chance to push the race closer to a conclusion.
"Edwin is on top of the mountain," Jones said. "Everyone else is way down the summit. It's a much bigger hill to climb for the rest of us."