And then there were 12 — All-Stars, that is. After nearly 400,000 votes spread among 89 candidates, the final four places in Toyota Trucks All-Star Week are set. Along with the Top 8 anglers in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year rankings for 2012, the fans have selected Gerald Swindle, Aaron Martens, Michael Iaconelli and Skeet Reese. Coincidentally, they were the Anglers of the Year for 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007, respectively.
The four join newly crowned Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Brent Chapman, defending All-Star champion Ott DeFoe, and Terry Scroggins, Todd Faircloth, Randy Howell, Matt Herren, Kevin VanDam and Edwin Evers for the first of two tournaments in Illinois. They will be competing for $100,000 in prize money, including $60,000 for a first-place finish.
In the first stage of the event, Sept. 20-21, all 12 anglers will compete on Lake Shelbyville for two days. Their catches will be tallied, and the Top 4 anglers will be seeded and advance to the Evan William Bourbon All-Star Championship, Sept. 22, on Lake Decatur where the No. 1 seed will face off against No. 4, and No. 2 will be paired against No. 3 in a modified match fishing format.
On Sept. 23, angler weights will be reset to zero for the final competition round — also on Lake Decatur — which features the two advancing seeds, one of whom will be crowned the 2012 Toyota Trucks All-Star champion.
All four of the All-Stars voted in by the fans this year also competed in All-Star Week a year ago, though only one of them — Swindle — earned his berth last year by virtue of his AOY ranking.
Iaconelli won the Bassmaster Classic in 2003 and AOY in 2006. He’s the only angler in B.A.S.S. history to earn those titles, plus win a B.A.S.S. Federation National Championship, earning $1 million in prize money and bringing in more than 100 pounds in a tournament. The fans definitely like “Ike.”
Martens is “The Natural.” The 2005 AOY winner is the only four-time runner up in Classic history. His attention to detail and the finer points of fishing and tackle are legendary.
Reese won the Classic in 2009. He’s topped 100 pounds in an Elite Series tournament, a feat he’s accomplished four times, and once made the finals (Top 12) in six consecutive events.
Reese said, ideally, he would have qualified on points to compete in All-Star Week but appreciates his fans choosing him for the competition.
“I came close, but not close enough,” said Reese, who finished the year 11th in points. “I’m very grateful and thankful to have the fan base out there that wants me to participate. I’m glad to be in.”
Reese said his season started out well in 2012 after a disappointing year in 2011.
“I felt like I started out with a bang — with Top 5 finishes — then the wheels came off,” Reese said. “I went from being on top to wondering if I would qualify for the Classic. I rallied at the end and had some good finishes. Now I’m looking at the list of the eight anglers who qualified, plus the four voted in. It’s a tough crowd to fish against anywhere or any time. It should be some good competition, and I’m looking forward to fishing a new venue this week and getting a new lease on winning.”
Swindle is one of the most popular anglers on the circuit, thanks to his witty commentaries from the weigh-in stage, as well as his success in tournament competition. His skills as a “junk” fisherman — using a wide variety of baits and tactics to scratch out a limit of bass — will come in handy in Illinois. Swindle did not practice on the All-Star tournament waters, saying it would be presumptuous to scout the lakes before fans made a decision. Consequently, Swindles says, he has “no game plan,” except to try to repay his fans for selecting him.
“It’s very humbling that the fans of bass fishing think enough of me to vote me in,” Swindle said. “You put all this time and effort into your career, and people appreciate that. It makes me step back in awe about the whole deal. The fans said I’m going, so I’m going. If I do leave there with a trophy, I owe it to the fans, and I’m not going to forget that.”
One of Swindle’s Facebook fans will receive a big bonus for his or her support. The angler plans to give one person $1,500 in tackle and $1,000 in travel expenses to join him at the All-Star event.
“I want to give a little something back to the fans, so I’m going to have one of them as my guest at the postseason,” Swindle said.
On Saturday of All-Star Week, anglers eliminated after the semifinals will act as fishing guides and tournament partners for six wounded military veterans from the organization, Hope For The Warriors. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for post-9/11 service members, their families and the families of the fallen who have sustained physical and psychological wounds in the line of duty. They will fish Lake Shelbyville.
Rounding out events for the Bassmaster Toyota Trucks All-Star Week are the Bassmaster High School Elite experience on Saturday, allowing students in grades nine through 12 to meet and learn from the pros, and a college tournament that pits teams from eight Illinois schools against one another for bragging rights on Lake Shelbyville on Sunday.
The All-Star Week is being held in conjunction with Decatur Lakefest, a four-day festival set to feature three live music stages, including performances by Country and Southern Rock recording artists Bush Hawg, and Top 12 Country star Dustin Lynch singing his hit single, “Cowboys and Angels.” The venue will also feature a Kids’ Pavilion with a petting zoo, face painting, games and much more.
For the All-Star semifinal on Sept. 20 and Sept. 21, the Lake Shelbyville launch will be held at 7:30 a.m. from Eagle Creek State Park, Rural Rt. 1, Findlay, Ill.
On Sept. 22 and Sept. 23, the Evan Williams Bourbon All-Star Championship is tentatively set to be held on Lake Decatur, where pros are to launch at 8 a.m. CT from Nelson Park, 2203 E. Lakeshore Dr., Decatur, Ill. The lake has been plagued with low water levels recently but is currently considered accessible.
Weigh-ins will be held daily at Nelson Park at 5 p.m. CT. All B.A.S.S. events are free and open to the public.
The Decatur Convention and Visitors Bureau is hosting the All-Star event.
Image courtesy Bassmaster