The fans have spoken, and democracy ruled in determining the final four Bassmaster Elite Series anglers who may be served a slice of the $100,000 pie during Toyota All-Star Week and the Evan Williams Bourbon Championship, Sept. 27-29, out of Muskegon, Mich.
The championship is an Elite Series postseason competition among the top performers from the 2013 tour, along with four pros whose avid fan support catapulted them into the postseason battle on Muskegon and White lakes.
Perhaps Gerald Swindle of Warrior, Ala., one of the elected four, put it best when learning he’d earned the votes: “To me, the whole idea of being voted in by the fans is more flattering than anything. It almost means more than to win a tournament. Fans speak the loudest, and I listen to them. It’s very satisfying to be part of that many lives.”
The other three Fan Favorites are Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho; Michael Iaconelli of Pittsgrove, N.J.; and Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif.
They join Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss., who earned a postseason spot as the 2013 Bassmaster Classic champ, and Hank Cherry of Maiden, N.C., who, as the 2013 Rookie of the Year, also qualified.
The other anglers in the field are the pros who ranked as the Top 8 in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points: Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala.; Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla.; Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich.; Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla.; Keith Combs of Huntington, Texas; Alton Jones of Lorena, Texas; John Crews of Salem, Va.; and Chris Zaldain of San Jose, Calif.
The 14 All-Star pros will compete in the fifth Elite Series postseason. The original postseasons in 2009 and 2010 in Montgomery, Ala., were much different than the current All-Star Week format. Anglers qualified on points alone, and the competition determined the Angler of the Year winner. Both years, Reese led the AOY competition going into the postseason, and both times VanDam came from behind to win the title. VanDam and Reese are the only anglers to fish every postseason since its inception.
In 2011, Toyota All-Star Week took on something very similar to its current form. That year, Rookie of the Year Ott DeFoe outlasted Edwin Evers to take the title, also on waters in and around Montgomery.
The 2012 All-Star battle in Decatur, Ill., shaped up much like this year’s Toyota Angler of the Year race. Evers and Martens went to the wire, with Martens pulling off the win and taking home the All-Star trophy. With both having earned their 2013 postseason spots as No. 1 and No. 2 in AOY points, this year could well be a rematch on many levels.
The four All-Star Fan Favorites:
It hasn’t taken long for Palaniuk, 25, an Elite rookie in 2011, to find a place in the hearts of bass fans. Last year, the young pro was in fifth place in voting, but this year, Palaniuk earned the most votes during the campaign on Bassmaster.com.
“It’s kind of humbling, and I feel honored,” said Palaniuk. “I think being voted in to All-Star as the top guy is the biggest honor you can receive from the fans. Without the fans, we have nothing — no sponsors, no sport. The fans are everything to bass fishing in that respect.”
Palaniuk’s career to date has been the sort to draw fan recognition. This year, he won the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on the St. Lawrence River, taking home a trophy, $100,000 and a berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic. In 2012, he won the Bassmaster Elites Series event on Bull Shoals Lake.
Iaconelli, 41, is the 2003 Bassmaster Classic winner and 2006 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year. He will be fishing his fourth postseason event, having missed the 2010 tournament. Ike finished 45th in points this year, but fans voted him in.
Iaconelli has accrued more than $2 million in prize money in his B.A.S.S. career. Like Palaniuk, he’s a former B.A.S.S. Nation Championship winner.
Swindle is the 2004 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year winner and will be fishing his fourth postseason. The 43-year-old pro has qualified for the Bassmaster Classic 14 times, including the 2014 Classic on Lake Guntersville.
“I promised my fans I would give them 100 percent and do all I could to make them proud if they voted me in,” Swindle said. “I’m going to let it all hang out there on the water, and if all else fails, maybe I can make them laugh on the stage.
“This is two years in a row I’ve been voted in, and I appreciate that. I don’t ever want to outgrow the fans. I’m out here today fishing three in a boat on Lake Guntersville because I love bass fishing, and I love the fans of bass fishing.”
The Auburn, Calif., angler won the West Point Lake Battle Elite Series tournament in May, $100,000 and a berth in the Classic. Reese finished 18th in AOY points this year. He was the 2007 Angler of the Year and 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion and will be fishing his fifth postseason event.
Many of the Elite pros actively worked social media networks this year to stimulate fan voting. Indeed, a late push by Reese on Facebook may have helped him move into fourth place and a berth in Toyota All-Star Week.
“I want to say thanks to the fans for pulling me through,” Reese said. “I’m stoked that the support was there. This is more of a fun event with extra entertainment for the fans. It gets them interactive with fan favorites and with the top guys in points as we battle it out for All-Star. With no points on the line and no Classic berth on the line, it’s just extra fun.”
Toyota All-Star Week competition kicks off with 14 anglers competing on Muskegon Lake on Sept. 27 and Sept. 28. On Sept 29, only the Top 4 anglers, whose weights will be zeroed, will go on to fish on White Lake.
Six of the Elite Series pros who do not make the Top 4 cut will take to the water again with partners in the Folds of Honor tournament presented by ARE Accessories on Muskegon Lake. Toyota All-Star Week also includes the Carhartt Bassmaster College Classic Bracket. Eight college anglers, determined during the college championship, will compete on Grand River on Sept. 27. The field will be cut to four college anglers for the second day of competition on Grand River, leaving only two anglers to go head-to-head on Sept. 29 for the coveted Bassmaster Classic berth.
The Toyota All-Star Fan Favorite Angler Sweepstakes was administered by US Sweepstakes & Fulfillment Co., which screened all votes to ensure accuracy and legitimacy. All-Star fan voting on Bassmaster.com began on Aug. 1 and ended at midnight on Sept. 6.
Image courtesy Seigo Saito/Bassmaster