By John Johnson
No one needs to explain the value of consistency to Matt Reed. The Texan recently ran some numbers from the 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series season that tell him everything he needs to know about that concept.
When you compare Reed's finishes straight up with Kevin VanDam's, Reed ended up higher in four of the eight tournaments. Still, KVD won his fourth straight Angler of the Year (AOY) title by a wide margin, while Reed (who finished 33rd in the points) barely qualified for the Bassmaster Classic.
The big difference, of course, was in their respective worst finishes. A 33rd at Toledo Bend was the bottom of the barrel for VanDam, whereas the best of Reed's four finishes in which he didn't beat VanDam was a 44th at West Point. He also had a 59th, a 75th and an 89th on his ledger.
He'd like nothing better than to eliminate those tank jobs, but that's a lot easier said than done.
"My struggles of the last few years haven't been from a lack of good tournaments, but from the crash-and-burns," he said. "Back over the years I never used to do that at all, but I think the competition level in the Elites is what's brought it on.
"You can't play safeties – you've got to bust the fish to finish high. If I'm not on what I need when the tournament starts, then I just keep practicing because I know 10 or 12 pounds a day isn't going to do me any good. Every now and then that causes me to crash, and it just drives me nuts."
Not Without some Drama
Reed, who's fished at the tour-level for 9 years, will compete in his third Classic next month at the Red River in Louisiana. It appeared that he'd coast to that berth when he was in 19th place in the points with one tournament remaining, but his performance at Wheeler created some unwelcome drama for a guy who'd missed out on two Classics via tiebreakers in recent years.
"It was closer than I ever thought it could get," he said. "It was definitely one of those events that I wish I could figure out how to avoid.
"I thought I had something figured out. Way upriver I had a school of fish on a rock shelf, and some of them were 4- and 5-pounders. When I went up there in the tournament they were gone and I was 40 miles away from anything else I had. That was when the 'oh-crap light' came on."
He scrambled back to Decatur Flats and managed a 7-pound limit that put him in 94th place (6th from the bottom). Suddenly, that all-but-assured Classic spot was in jeopardy.
He managed nearly 10 pounds from the Flats the following day, which moved him up 5 places in the standings and put him in the Classic with a few AOY places to spare.
"Going in, I honestly thought I had it made if I just caught a single fish, but the way it came out, I wouldn't have. I was really anxious after that first day, and after the second day I was able to let out a really deep breath."
Plenty of Classic Confidence
Reed, who made his last Classic appearance in 2007, has a considerable amount of experience at the Red. It's not his favorite venue, but it's not one that holds any trepidation for him, either.
"It's been pretty good to me over the years," he said. "I used to fish it a lot regionally before I joined the tour and it's a fishery I like somewhat.
"The last 5 years I haven't been on it at all, so I went over there for 4 days (prior to the pre-practice cutoff in mid-December). I never made a cast – I just looked around and re-familiarized myself with the drains and how it's laid out."
He'll make no predictions about weights, as Mother Nature will have the final say as to how well it will fish 6 weeks from now.
"It's a huge gamble even having it scheduled there and it's all going to depend on the water (level, temperature, clarity, etc.). Three years ago they caught it perfect – that was as good as it can be at that time of year, and that's abnormal.
"If the water's high and muddy it'll fish tiny because there'll just be little pockets of water that are fishable and we'll all be banging on each other. But that's something that none of us are going to have any control over."
> Reed's bomb at Wheeler dropped him to No. 74 in the final BassFan World Rankings for 2011 – which was right where he began the year. He'd climbed as high as 66th during the season.