This week is the first time that the Bassmaster Elite Series has fished the Alabama River in Montgomery, Ala., in the regular season. The postseason event took place on the Alabama River from 2009 to 2011. This makes choosing anglers for Fantasy Fishing a little difficult, but not impossible. Thirteen of the anglers fishing this event call Alabama home, and at least one is in each Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing bucket.
This is the first real river test for these anglers this year. It will be important to load up on anglers who are good at fishing rivers. Also, as part of this season's theme, anglers who can catch a limit each day is important.
It is hard to not pick the three big names leading the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) standings here at the midway point: Edwin Evers, Kevin VanDam and Skeet Reese. Even with his recent win, Skeet Reese is only owned by 4 percent of Fantasy Fishing players. There is a little risk and a lot of reward picking Reese here.
I decided to stay way from the Top 3 and go a little different route. Gerald Swindle is having a solid season, sitting 17th in the AOY standings. The ability to bring a limit to the stage each day here at the Alabama River will be important, and I expect Swindle to do this. Only being owned by 9 percent of Fantasy Fishing players gives fans the ability to beat most players in this bucket.
Boyd Duckett is having a solid season so far this year. He will have to do a little bit better the second half of the season to get into position to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic at Lake Guntersville. For this reason, I expect Duckett to have a strong tournament in his home state and stage a second-half surge up the AOY standings. Hopefully, this week Duckett can land his first Top 12 finish. Duckett is the third-most owned angler in the group, but at 11 percent, there is plenty to be gained here.
I also like Mark Davis and Bill Lowen in this group. Both of these anglers are perfect ownership percentages at less than 6 percent. Both are accomplished river fishermen who excel this time of year.
Greg Vinson is another angler who needs a solid second half of the season to fish the 2014 Classic in his home state. Sitting 49th in the AOY standings, Vinson still has a shot to move into a Classic position, but it will take some work. The Alabama River offers the perfect opportunity for Vinson to start that move. Vinson is a good river fisherman. He lives close to the Alabama River, and I expect that to be an important factor in this event. Being owned by 33 percent of Fantasy Fishing players is hard to pick, but that still leaves Vinson able to beat two-thirds of Fantasy players if he is best of the bucket in the end.
Other anglers to consider would be Chris Lane and Charlie Hartley. Lane is only owned by 3 percent of Fantasy players and needs to do some work to improve to qualify for the Classic. You know he wants to fish this Classic because he has a tackle shop on the banks of Lake Guntersville. Charlie Hartley is a very good river fisherman and is only owned by 0.1 percent of Fantasy players. Essentially, Hartley would beat all Fantasy players if he finishes toward the top of the standings this week.
Russ Lane is down in 69th in AOY standings and almost certainly needs a win to fish Lake Guntersville in February. This being a home state event, I see Russ Lane going for broke to make it happen. Russ Lane has fished well at home state events in the past. Although he is the third-most owned angler, fans can still gain a lot of points.
I expect Tommy Biffle and Randy Howell to also have a big event this week. River fishing typically turns the event into a shallow-water, bank-beating event. This style of fishing fits perfectly into Biffle’s hand. Also, Biffle is underrated, still being down in Bucket D. Howell is having a much tougher season this year than last. Howell needs a good turnaround, and fishing his home state could jumpstart a strong second half of the season.
This time of the season, it always seems there are a couple anglers who are way undervalued. This season, I see Matt Herren as being this angler in Bucket E. Herren will turn his season around this week on the Alabama River. Herren is the second-most owned angler at 27 percent.
Other anglers I like in this group are Kevin Short and Jamie Horton. Kevin Short is an excellent river angler and excels in tough conditions. His first win on the Elite Series came on the northern Mississippi River in high water conditions. This week's conditions on the Alabama River will be very similar, and for this reason, I see him doing more than just making a check. Only being owned by 7 percent of Fantasy players makes him a perfect choice. Jamie Horton is another angler who lives close to the Alabama River, and 8 percent of Fantasy owners taking Horton leaves lots of upside.
Remember to get your fantasy picks in for this event. A $2,500 gift card to Bass Pro Shops is up for grabs again, along with a season-ending prize for the overall best Fantasy player.