It’s time for my annual look at who’s fishing the Bassmaster Classic and who I think we should keep our eyes on as everything unfolds. I’m afraid, though, that if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary you’re going to be disappointed. My picks are going to be right in the mainstream with everyone else.
At the Elite Series pro level, we have to look at Mike McClelland first. He’s won on Grand Lake before in the Elite Series — 2006 — so it’s not like he doesn’t understand the lake. I know some guys have pointed out that his win was in June, a very different time of the year. Maybe, but he still found the winning fish.
Another thing is the weather. It’s been fairly warm in Tulsa for a while. If the jerkbait bite turns on during the tournament, his chances of winning get even better. There’s no one on planet earth better than Mike McClelland when it comes to making a bass bite one of those things.
Two other pros that should never be counted out are Kevin VanDam and Aaron Martens. KVD is always a threat and nowhere more so than on a lake that lends itself to pattern fishing. If he finds something he can duplicate, watch out. VanDam is every bit as good as his record indicates.
As for Martens, he’s a money player. In a big event, he’ll put his head down and figure something out. And Grand Lake will have plenty of open water as well as structure opportunities for the anglers. That’s one of his many specialties. If he’s anywhere close after Saturday, he could be the one holding up the trophy on Sunday afternoon.
Don’t count Jason Christie out, either. He might be a little inexperienced at this level — he’s a rookie Elite Series guy this year — but he’s a local with a lot of knowledge of the lake. Maybe even more important, he’s a true professional. He’s fished eight B.A.S.S. events (Opens) and won two of them. That tells me he doesn’t panic, makes good decisions under pressure and generally knows how to put a final day together.
That’s a look at the Elite guys. But there are a few others who could pull it out. The B.A.S.S. Nation qualifier from the Mid-Atlantic Division, Gerry Jooste (Zimbabwe), has many years of successful bass fishing under his belt. He could get it done. And so could the Weekend Series qualifier, Albert Collins. He’s from Texas, a state well-known for producing men and women who can fish.
My neighborhood favorite has to be the Federation’s Northern Division qualifier, Mark Dove. Unlike his name implies, he’s aggressive, skillful and a man who can produce when all the marbles are on the line. Another thing in his favor is that he’s from Indiana so he’s used to cold, tough conditions. That doesn’t look likely, but you never know.
Of course, no one knows which angler will win at this point. What we do know is that Grand Lake will win. I always thought that she doesn’t get the respect she deserves as a bass fishery. I suspect that’ll change between Friday and Sunday.