By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Skeet Reese had as many as a dozen rods on his deck throughout most of the practice period for the Lake Guntersville Bassmaster Elite Series. He needed only one to win the tournament.
The Californian employed a very simple approach en route to his fifth regular-season victory since the circuit launched in 2006. Capitalizing on a bait tip from road roommate (and eventual runner-up finisher) Byron Velvick, he averaged more than 23 pounds over 4 days to prevail by a margin of slightly more than 4 1/2 pounds.
While other contenders worked vigorously to adapt to the ever-changing conditions and stay in tune with fish that were transitioning in and out of various spawn stages, Reese stuck with a single program that produced relatively few bites, but appealed to the type of fish that are needed to win at the fertile Tennessee River impoundment. A few large specimens came unbuttoned before he got his hands on them, which is always an issue when throwing big swimbaits, but he was able to wrangle approximately one more than he needed into his boat.
It was his second victory at Guntersville (he also triumphed there during his two-win 2010 campaign), and it left him just one short of Kevin VanDam's mark for the most on B.A.S.S.' top tour over the past decade. The $100,000 payday pushed him past the $3 million mark in career B.A.S.S. earnings.
Here are some of the specifics.
There's little to discuss regarding Reese's practice because nothing that occurred prior to noon on the third (final) day was relevant to how he fished on the competition days. He'd received the heads-up from Velvick that day that the big ones were biting the California-made Basstrix swimbait, and Velvick had given him one to try.
He threw it up next to a laydown and it was inhaled by a 4-pounder. That fish was bigger than any of the two dozen he'd caught previously on smaller plastic offerings.
"I also did a lot of looking (for bed-fish), but I never found any big ones," he said.
> Day 1 5, 25-15
> Day 2 5, 17-06
> Day 3 5, 25-01
> Day 4: 5, 25-05
> Total = 20, 92-11
Reese's first fish of the event was a 4-pounder that he looked at and enticed with a Berkley Havoc Slop Craw. It ended up being the only one he took to the scale that didn't bite the Basstrix.
He picked up four additional (smaller) bed-fish with a Berkley Havoc Bottom Hopper worm. With a limit in his box that weighed between 12 and 14 pounds, he pulled up to the point in Seibold Creek where he'd caught the 4-pounder on the last practice day.
He caught a 2 3/4-pounder on the dropshot, then picked up the swimbait and popped one more than twice that size. He lifted that 6-pounder from the water in full view of Mike Iaconelli, and Iaconelli's non-reaction told Reese that the former already had a crowded livewell (that was the day Ike weighed a tournament-best 28-02).
"It didn't even faze him," Reese said. "I knew right then that he'd already caught them real good."
One of the fish he subsequently culled with was a 7-pounder and he lost a 6 and a 5. His stringer landed him in 4th place, just more than 3 pounds off Iaconelli's pace.
One of the big ones that got away busted the knot that attached his swimbait to 65-pound braided line, and the same thing happened again early on day 2. That prompted him to insert a 25-pound fluorocarbon leader, and that resolved the break-off issue for the remainder of the event.
A 7-inch Basstrix swimsuit produced all but one of Reese's weigh-in fish.
Stormy day 2 saw him weigh what was by far his lightest bag of the derby and he dropped to 11th place. He figured the fish he lost that day, either to break-offs or pull-offs, cost him 4 or 5 pounds.
Day 3 featured post-frontal conditions that caused much of the field to struggle, but Reese was a notable exception. The wind shifted from the south to a northeasterly direction and Seibold received much more turbulence than it normally does due to the creek's directional orientation.
That benefited his swimbait program and he climbed all the way to 2nd, just 2 pounds off the lead.
He caught a couple of 3 1/2-pounders early on day 4 and filled a limit very quickly, then decided to pull out of Seibold.
"I knew there were still some big ones around, but they hadn't repositioned themselves to be active yet," he said. "I'd seen another stretch (in Town Creek) the day before that had wood, and I caught a 3 1/2 and lost one that was 4 1/2 or 5. I knew that would give me some new water to fish the next day.
"I went there and caught one that was 5 1/2 or 6 and another one that was 3 3/4. Then I tried to get on another spot where I'd caught four big ones during the tournament, but some locals were fishing it. I went back a couple hours later and they were gone, and I caught another 5 1/2."
At about noon he'd pulled up BASSTrakk on his phone to try to determine where he stood. That was when he discovered that Iaconelli was having a miserable day (the 3-day leader would weigh just a single 3-pounder and drop all the way to 12th).
"I was surprised to see I was leading, and that was good. The only thing I knew before that was I heard my cameraman say that Keith Combs (who started the day in 9th) had over 20 pounds.
"Then I saw (David) Walker get within like 1-15, and that wasn't good. At Guntersville a guy can jack 7- or 8-pounders back to back, and that crushes a lead really fast."
His late upgrades, however, left Walker and everyone else far behind.
> Reese said he made extremely long casts with the swimbait when he was working it over flats, points or humps, but his throws to laydowns were much shorter. About half of his weigh-in fish came from the wood.
> His retrieve rate varied, but was "pretty slow" the majority of the time.
> He threw a chartreuse shad Basstrix on day 1, but John Murray told him that evening that he thought the fish were biting ayu the best. Murray missed the day-2 cut he gave Reese two more of the baits.
> He tried to purchase additional baits for day 4, but couldn't locate any. He got one more pack on the morning of day 4 from Velvick, who'd somehow secured them locally. "I guess he had more clout than I did," Reese said.
Winning Gear Notes
> Swimbait gear: 7'4" heavy-action Wright & McGill Skeet Reese Victory Pro Carbon Jig/Big Worm rod, Wright & McGill Skeet Reese Victory Pro Carbon casting reel (6.4:1 gear ratio), 65-pound Spiderwire Stealth braided line, 25-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon leader, 7/0 Laser TroKar weighted swimbait hook, 7" Basstrix Paddletail swimbait (chartreuse shad or ayu).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "I think it was just fishing open-minded. Practice sucked, so I didn't want to repeat what wasn't working. I kept looking for new water and new places to fish throughout the tournament. Every day I'd find new spots and catch one or two big ones from areas I hadn't fished before."
> Performance edge – "The rod, reel, line and hook were the key components."
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