By Todd Ceisner
Skeet Reese was in an uncomfortable spot heading into the Lake St. Clair Elite Series. He found himself in 51st place in the Angler of the Year points standings, the lowest he’s been this late in the season since 2011.
Sure, there were 57 other guys who’d have traded spots with him in a heartbeat, but Reese was in a position where if he turned in a so-so or poor performance, his season would’ve likely come to an end. His margin for error was incredibly slim.
While many of the top finishers relied on a few finesse tactics, Reese power-fished his way to a 20th-place showing, which extended his season and quest to nab a berth in next year’s Bassmaster Classic. He had 20-plus pounds on days 1 and 2 to key his third top-20 finish of the season.
But for each top-20 showing he’s had, he has an 80th or lower to match, marking the first Elite Series season in which Reese has logged three finishes of 80th or lower. Still, he has a chance to overcome them all with another strong showing at the AOY Championship at Mille Lacs Lake next week.
Currently, he’s 10 points out of the projected Classic cut (top 37 after factoring in double qualifiers), which means he’ll need a top-20 finish at minimum in the 50-man finale to have a shot.
“I look at it as it’s step one done,” Reese said. “I’m not resting yet. The job’s not done. I did what I needed to do (at St. Clair) to get to Mille Lacs. The next hurdle is to do my job there and qualify for the Classic. I don’t feel any relief of pressure yet.”
Another angle Reese will be watching is where Jesse Wiggins finishes. The rookie already has a Classic berth locked up by virtue of his Harris Chain Southern Open win earlier this year and if he’s able to finish in the top 37, he’ll be a double-qualifier and whomever finishes 38th in points will get a Classic ticket. Wiggins is currently 39th with 571 points, three behind Steve Kennedy in 37th.
Stayed in Comfort Zone
Reese came to St. Clair with a smallmouth mindset after competing at a Major League Fishing event the previous week in the Alpena, Mich., area. He said it helped him get in sync with the general fishing conditions in the region.
“It definitely felt like I carried over what I learned,” he said. “Fishing that week I got back in tune and my decision-making was sharp.”
But St. Clair can be a totally different animal from anywhere else. It’s often referred to as a giant bath tub due to its lack of bottom contour changes and sometimes random nature of where the smallmouth tend to group up. Reese wanted to make sure he stayed in his comfort zone during practice.
“My biggest thing was wanting to figure out how to catch them and find a way to catch them the way I want,” he said. “I wanted to fish to my strengths and how I’m comfortable.
“Going out and sitting on points and drifting is not my strength. I figured I could throw a spinnerbait, crankbait or jerkbait and it was just a matter of covering enough water and finding the right bite. Little did I know we’d be catching 20- to 25-pound limits.”
Most of those came via finesse techniques with spinning tackle, which is not Reese’s cup of tea.
“I’m not wired that way,” he said. “I can grab a flipping stick and pick apart a tree, but to sit out there and drift and drag on those flats, I can’t do that. If I have a choice, I want to be power-fishing to catch ‘em.”
Still Work to Do
Reese’s push to earn a Classic berth is far from over and he knows he’ll be under the gun again at Mille Lacs, where he finished 36th at last year’s AOY Championship when he wasn’t competing under such intense pressure.
He’s expecting another smallmouth slugfest in Minnesota, where a 20-pound average was only good enough for a middle-of-the-pack finish last September.
“I don’t know if I fish better under pressure,” he said. “Maybe it focuses me a little more. Once I was able to get some bites, I settled down (at St. Clair). On the first day of practice by 10 a.m., I’d already had the best day I had the entire practice. I got some bites cranking and said, ‘Okay, this is what I want to do.’ I felt like I fished pretty well. I felt a lot of pressure going into the tournament.”
If the conditions are similar to last year, the weights could be comparable, but Reese knows that’s not a sure thing with fall approaching in north-central Minnesota.
“To me the whole variable is wind and weather,” he said. “We were pretty fortunate last time we were there. We didn’t have bad weather. I know I caught big ones there, but just didn’t catch enough of them. I have some ideas on what I need to do to catch 23 to 25 (pounds). It’s crazy knowing that’s what I’ll need.
“If I go get a top-10 finish, that should be enough to get me in the Classic. I’m not worried about winning.”
> If Reese winds up in the group of eight anglers just below the Classic cut, he’ll head immediately to Lake Pokegama (pronounced Poh-kega-ma) for the Classic Bracket event, a match-fishing tournament that uses a Major League Fishing-style format. Reese has experience from an MLF event at Pokegama, but is hoping he won’t have to draw upon it.
“I don’t even want to think about it,” he said. “I don’t even want to consider using the bracket deal to get in the Classic. If I don’t finish in the top 40 (in points), then I didn’t do my job.”