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2008 Elite Series - Champion’s Choice

Preview

Todd Faircloth and Kevin VanDam are ready to quit talking and start fishing.

“I’m ready to go,” said VanDam, who already owns three Angler of the Year titles, but the last one came in 1999. “I know what I need to do. It’s going to be fun.”

“I just want to fish,” Faircloth said. “And, hopefully, I’ll be able to get it done.”

With a 21-point lead over VanDam in AOY points, Faircloth would be the equivalent of a one-point Super Bowl favorite. This is only the third year for the current AOY points structure, which places a premium on high finishes.

After 10 tournaments, Faircloth has accumulated 2,514 points this season. But he leads VanDam the equivalent of less than six places at the top of a single Elite Series tournament leaderboard.

Tour Review

KVD claims his 4th AOY title!
Todd Faircloth’s consistency played a major role in his AOY position headed into the final tournament. On a day when just a decent limit of fish would have meant the world to Todd, he only managed 6 pounds, 6 ounces. “The fish just left the area,” he said. “I thought I could catch a limit early and then go to my deep stuff, but when I did, the fish were gone.” Faircloth found a strong smallmouth bite in practice and hoped to cash in on the offshore school during the final tournament of the year. “I can’t explain it other than they were just gone. Once I lost my deep area I wasn’t real comfortable. Nothing felt right out there today.”

Faircloth can take little comfort in knowing he lost to arguably the best angler of all time, but that doesn’t ease the pain. “The AOY would have meant a lot to me and my career at this time. I wish the outcome would have different, but I don’t have anything to hang my head about. I like fishing for smallmouth, but I’ve never done well on this lake.

It is difficult to imagine the stress of being involved in a race like this although Faircloth lost the race, he is glad it is over. “I went to bed thinking about it and woke up in the morning with it on my mind. It was physically and mentally draining. That being said, I look forward to being in this position again sometime during my career.”

Kevin VanDam ran on to the bass fishing scene in 1991 and won the Angler of the Year title in ’92, his first full season on tour. He punctuated that accomplishment with AOY wins in ’95 and ’99. His Classic titles came in 2001 on the Louisiana Delta and in 2005 at the Three Rivers in Pittsburg. Along the way, KVD has earned more that $3 million dollars as a professional bass angler. “It really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Kevin answered when ask about his latest accomplishment. “I knew that after yesterday, I had a second chance.”

VanDam was in the same position last year and couldn’t take the title away from Skeet Reese. This time KVD took advantage of the situation. “I went out today knowing I need to make the cut. On Thursday, I lost two fish early and that didn’t sit well. I felt confident that I wouldn’t struggle two days in a row. I got myself ready this morning and stayed focused all day”

After wasting time on the largemouth bite during day one, VanDam only went after the abundant smallies on Friday. “I threw a drop shot, tube, spinnerbait; just about everything to get a bite. I fished fast and then slowed down. Basically, I fished the way I like to.”

Kevin’s fourth AOY title means more to him than the first three. “I can tell you the competition is much stronger today than it was just a few years ago. This is the Elite Series. This is the test of the best. I am real proud that I came out on top this year. I don’t believe in luck, but you do have to be fortunate out there.”

“This is the best of the best,” said VanDam, in ranking this AOY title above the other three on his lengthy list of accomplishments. “The top guys in the sport all-time that have ever competed are competing in this series.”

“This sport is so much different than what the average non-fishing person realizes,” VanDam said. “How physical it is, how much knowledge you have to have, and how mental it is.

“People think of golf as a mental sport. To me, fishing is a lot more mental than golf.”

Friday AM report -- KVD on the water early

Skeet Reese is always one of the first anglers on the water, regardless of which flight he’s in, but today he was joined there early by Kevin VanDam, normally a relative latecomer. With a few minutes left to go before take-off, VanDam had picked up his co-angler and motored away, but his competition, Todd Faircloth, had tied up one dock over.

Day 1 -- AOY race neck and neck -- KVD 10-13

“Every time that Todd has opened the door for me, I haven’t been able to capitalize on it,” VanDam said.

By finishing three places ahead of Faircloth in Thursday’s standings, theoretically, VanDam was able to shave six points off Faircloth’s lead. But the 2008 AOY race may come down to Friday on Oneida Lake.

By being in 59th and 62nd places, respectively, VanDam and Faircloth are on the verge of missing the top-50 cut, which takes place after Friday’s weigh-in.

In essence, Thursday’s rain-soaked day on the lake was a wash in the AOY race.

“That’s a bad thing,” VanDam said. “It’s one less day.”

A single bass caught by either Todd Faircloth or KVD on Friday could very well decide the Angler of the Year race and the $250,000 cash prize that goes to the champion. In this, the 11th tournament of the season, the most prestigious trophy in professional bass fishing could come down to one day and one fish.

“One or two bites makes all the difference in the world,” VanDam said. “I’m going to go out there and swing at them again tomorrow.”

A glance up and down the Day One Champion’s Choice leaderboard quickly reveals how important one good bite can be. If VanDam could have replaced one of his 2-pounders with a 4-pounder, he would have jumped 20 places in the standings to 39th place with 12-13.

Under the same circumstances, Faircloth would have moved up 21 places to 41st place with 12-9.

But Faircloth was simply relieved to have escaped a disaster. Just 2 pounds fewer and he would have dropped 28 places to 90th place.

Faircloth truly would have lost the AOY race Thursday if he hadn’t been able to scratch out a limit in the final two hours. Only 10 anglers in the 106-man field failed to catch a limit.

“This is for all the marbles,” VanDam said. “Today was the worst day I’ve had all week.

“I’m just blown away by how the fish treated me today. They were not nice to me.”

pre-tournament thoughts

“I don’t remember seeing it this close between anybody going into the final event.”

“The fishing this week has been a lot slower than what I’ve seen it in the past here. In my own mind I know how I need to fish to have shot to win, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s kind of different this week because I feel like I need to have a top 10 in order to have a shot at the Angler of the Year, and I always fish to win, but I will take more chances this week than I normally would. You’ve got to have a plan in your mind of what you want to do, and I’m going to accomplish that. That’s just what I’m going to do.

“I feel like if you can catch between 13 and 14 pounds a day you’ll be in good shape. The fishing is a lot tougher than it has been, and you can’t use last year as a gauge because it was only a 50-boat field and we were only here for two days.

“It’s going to be a real interesting week, to say the least.”

2008 Elite Series - Champion’s Choice
Oneida Lake, Syracuse, New York
Aug 7 - Aug 10, 2008

Leaderboard

1
Dean Rojas - 65-2
1. 15-14, 2. 16-9, 3. 18-3, 4. 14-8
2
Kevin Langill - 60-7
1. 15-3, 2. 16-1, 3. 14-10, 4. 14-9
3
Michael Iaconelli - 59-4
1. 12-11, 2. 20-1, 3. 14-4, 4. 12-4
4
Dustin Wilks - 59-0
1. 14-5, 2. 13-7, 3. 15-13, 4. 15-7
5
Dave Wolak - 57-9
1. 13-13, 2. 13-11, 3. 13-14, 4. 16-3
6
Alton Jones - 56-7
1. 14-3, 2. 13-3, 3. 15-13, 4. 13-4
7
Casey Ashley - 56-1
1. 13-11, 2. 15-2, 3. 13-5, 4. 13-15
8
Bill Lowen - 55-14
1. 14-4, 2. 14-3, 3. 13-6, 4. 13-7
9
Terry Butcher - 55-3
1. 16-9, 2. 14-7, 3. 11-5, 4. 12-4
10
Bernie Schultz - 54-15
1. 15-3, 2. 12-7, 3. 13-12, 4. 13-9
11
Mike McClelland - 53-8
1. 10-3, 2. 17-14, 3. 15-0, 4. 10-7
12
Mark Davis - 53-4
1. 13-13, 2. 15-5, 3. 12-5, 4. 11-13
38
Kevin VanDam - 36-3
1. 10-13, 2. 13-1, 3. 12-5

History & Notes;

Big Bass
Day 1 — Britt Myers 4-14
Day 2 — Dean Rojas 4-0
Tommy Biffle won an Elite Series victory here in the summer of 2006. On a lake known for big bronzebacks, Biffle used swimming frogs to catch even bigger largemouths and bring 63-10 to the scales over four days while the second- and third-place finishers targeted smallmouth. The 2008 Empire Chase, Aug. 7-10, will force Elite anglers to make the same decision  to go after the more plentiful smallmouth or go for broke and hope for action from the bigger largemouth. Last year, the fishing was so good that even the pros that didn’t finish near the top came away raving about Oneida Lake.