Elite Series by the numbers

With another Elite Series season in the books, another Bassmaster Classic field (mostly) determined, Kevin VanDam again the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, the bass fishing world is in good stead. Heck, even co-anglers are getting chucked over the side of the boat for '09. All seems to be in working order.

Allow us, then, to rock the johnboat for a moment, because the end of the third year of the Bassmaster Elite Series inspired a flurry of spreadsheet nerdiness 'round these parts. Who, we wondered, are the best anglers over that period by average TTBAOY points? And, judging by this year's final standings, which tournament best mirrored the final rankings — and therefore could be said to have been the greatest challenge of the season?

(Note: These are what you might consider "bar room arguments." So grab your fishing buddies and your laptop and head to a watering hole with wi-fi. All set? Good. Onward, then.)

First, to the three-year rankings … Start by checking out the first chart below:

Granted, it ignores some fine anglers — e.g. Mark Davis, Bobby Lane, Casey Ashley, Derek Remitz and Bryan Hudgins — because they've not fished all three years of the Elite Series. It also doesn't take into account the successes of Peter Thliveros, Boyd Duckett, Alton Jones and others who among them won $3 million from Classic wins and Majors titles since 2006. As those tournaments are standalone events, they don't affect the points.

If you have arguments about anglers' comparative abilities, that's a place to start. Otherwise, though, this is about as good a measure as you'll find of who have been dominating and faltering over the past three years. We've included the top 40 among the 76 anglers who fished the Elites from 2006 to 2008.

No. 1 won't surprise you; can't imagine No. 2 would much, either. But let the debate begin: Who's No. 3? And does this list, crude though it may be, provide a satisfying top 10?

A few other things we noticed:

Of the top seven anglers on this list, three of them — Aaron Martens, Steve Kennedy and Greg Hackney — declined in each of the past two seasons, as did, in descending order, Kevin Wirth, Kelly Jordon, Tommy Biffle, Thliveros, John Murray, Gerald Swindle, Jason Quinn, Matt Reed and No. 37 John Crews. Yet only three of the top 40 — Todd Faircloth, Timmy Horton and Brian Snowden — have posted consecutive year-on-year gains. One theory as to why it's easier to decline than to improve: The new guys coming onto the Elite Series are strong, gobbling up points the top anglers once captured.

At No. 58, Jeremy Starks is the lowest on the list to have won an Elite Series event; next, at No. 54, is Paul Elias. Aside from those two, no lower than Hill, at No. 33, has won in that span.

The TTBAOY race last year between Kevin VanDam and Skeet Reese was every bit as strong as it appeared at the time. Reese's points total in 2007 was the highest in the three years of the Elite Series, while VanDam's runner-up total was the second-highest. Put another way, VanDam in 2007 would have beaten Mike Iaconelli in 2006 or VanDam in 2008 for the title. He just happened to catch Skeet at his peak last season (and perhaps push him to those heights).

Surely you'll tease out other trends and treats from this data, so we invite you to use the comments feature below.

Turning to the tournaments of 2008, we wondered which tournament's results were most mathematically similar to the final TTBAOY points results (see chart on right).

These results are presented as an average difference between an angler's finish in the event and his finish in the TTBAOY points. A tournament in which every angler finished 30 places away from where he finished the season would be represented on this chart as 30. A tourney in which every angler finished precisely how they finished the season would be a 0.

As it turns out, the tournaments were mostly knotted in the mid-20s (not shocking, considering that each tournament's standings influence the TTBAOY results). Curiously, though, some odd events ended up being fairly representative.

For all the talk of how strange it was to fish during a blueback herring spawn, the Pride of Georgia event on Clarks Hill Lake represented the final TTBAOY standings better than any other tournament. It was a grinding, run-and-gun tournament that followed events with mostly big bags in Florida and in Texas. The preview story on Bassmaster.com explained: "A late spring across the Southeast has left bass scattered across Clarks Hill Lake and in every stage of the spawning cycle."

Some of the best anglers met the challenge. The top 12 read like a who's who of the sport, including VanDam, Reese, Jones, Faircloth, Horton, Thliveros, Denny Brauer, Edwin Evers and Davy Hite. (VanDam at the time: "I guess the cream rises to the top.") That Kenyon Hill hung on against that field made his victory all the more impressive.

Close behind was the Empire Chase. Despite fishing for smallmouth in unfavorable weather, Lake Oneida showed surprising accuracy, with six of the top 12 TTBAOY anglers fishing on the final day.

By contrast, the event with the greatest variation from the final TTBAOY standings was the tournament just before Clarks Hill, on Lake Amistad. Bunched in the Battle of the Border's top 12 were the unlikely likes of Clark Rheem (ultimately 88th in TTBAOY); Billy Brewer (82nd), and Kurt Dove (92nd).

It was a good tournament for underdogs, given that its first day was called on account of high winds. With just two days before the 12-cut, guys who found fish early took a lead that was easier to defend.

One revealing surprise was the Lone Star Shootout, on Falcon Lake. Even though Paul Elias took the title, which was 78 places better than his final TTBAOY standing, the average angler placed about 24 spots away. So even with the freak bass being caught on that lake, the tournament was as close to the final standings as most other events.

Overall, the events were similarly dispersed. It goes to show, perhaps, that while certain anglers may do better in particular conditions and fisheries, when it comes to the sport as a whole, skill trumps environment.