I think a lot about what other anglers do. It's natural considering what I do for a living. I have the privilege of competing against the best anglers in the world, so more often than not it pays off to pay attention to what's going on around me - on the water and off.
I've mentioned in this column and on my blog (www.boydduckett.com) that every year during the time our ESPN Elite Series is over and before the Bassmaster Classic starts, I try to think about my season and what I need to do to improve. I reflect on what I've done and what I've seen those great anglers around me do. What worked? What didn't? Who's doing really well - and why? I take a look at those kinds of things.
So as I was reviewing the 2009 season, with the goal of looking at ways to better my own career, I thought about the careers of some of those competitors around me.
I also asked myself the same question that people sometimes ask me. Just who's the best on our tour and why? Well, here's what I think.
Who is the best pro bass fishermen on tour?
I believe the best angler right now wouldn't be one person. It would be two: Kevin VanDam and Skeet Reese.
I have the greatest respect in the world for Kevin VanDam, and I'm not the only person who believes he's the Tiger Woods of our sport. He's maybe the greatest angler of all time. He's won everything you can win, and he's got nothing to prove.
But what Skeet Reese has done the past three years is amazing. He almost won the Classic in 2007. I caught a big fish late on Sunday and beat him by six ounces. He won the Classic this year. He was angler-of-the-year last year and he almost was again this year.
In fact, I believe we had a split championship this year. Skeet won the full tour season, and that's something all the anglers respect. Kevin took the actual title because he won with the extended-season format. But overall, it's just amazing what those two guys have done the past three years. What you've got is two anglers with unbelievable credentials and consistency. They win under all kinds of conditions and on every type of water.
Another thing that's amazing about those two anglers is that while KVD has maintained that high level longer than anybody ever, Skeet has gotten better and better every year until he reached KVD's level.
It's not unusual to see a spike in an angler's career. Almost all the great anglers have had those periods where they spiked and then dropped and leveled off. But you can't call what's happened to Skeet a spike, because he kept getting better - and he's not dropped off at all. It's not a spike unless he falls off.
Other great pro bass fishermen, and some are "under the radar"
Even though Kevin and Skeet are at the top, that's not to say there aren't other anglers doing really impressive things.
Alton Jones is an angler that might be following Skeet's pattern. He's been around a lot of years and has had a steady career. But he took off the past two years; he won the classic in '08 and was competitive in the angler-of-the-year race. Then in '09, he finished third to KVD and Skeet.
One thing that's certainly evident is that when Skeet and Alton learn something, they retain it. You don't get consistently better without keeping a lot of earned knowledge in your head and using it.
Kelly Jordan is another solid stick. He's always in the hunt. Everybody recognizes his name, but I'm not sure he gets the publicity he deserves. The guy can fish.
Some guys fly under the radar. Todd Faircloth is probably the most under-the-radar guy on our tour. If you look at the standings week in and week out, Todd is always in the thick of things. One thing Todd has done is get extremely comfortable with his own style of fishing. He's learned how to not worry about what is supposed to happen; he just uses his smarts and makes his game work. His confidence in fishing shallow water is amazing. Todd has two wins, three seconds, two thirds, 22 top 10's and 50 top 20 finishes. That's incredible, and he does it quietly.
Another guy that impresses me is Gary Klein. He's probably the top old-school guy on our tour. He's been around for three decades and he's still competitive. Since I'm not the youngest guy on tour, I've paid a lot of attention to the veterans and Gary Klein and Tommy Biffle are two long-time veterans that are still fishing at the highest level.
Gary has fished in 28 Classics. That's more than most people can even think about.
As I've said many times, everybody on our tour is outstanding. But another angler that stands out is Aaron Martens. Great anglers are meticulous in their preparation, and nobody is more precise about preparation than Aaron. It seems like he spends 40 hours between events getting ready for the one that's coming up.
I've been talking about veteran anglers. On the flip side would be the younger anglers. And my pick right now for the most consistent young angler would be Casey Ashley. He's learned how to be consistent, how to roll with the flow during the course of a full season on tour, and that usually takes awhile.
Casey's carved a niche; he's saying, "I'm one of the guys."