How deep into the postspawn will Bull Shoals bass be this week?
Historical BassGold.com pattern data indicate that most Bull Shoals tournaments held in April and May are won targeting shoreline wood cover with jigs. That's very good information for picking a Fantasy roster. Here's why: Even though prevailing conditions suggest Bull Shoals bass will be in deeper postspawn patterns, no doubt some good bags will be caught shallow.
Bearing in mind the BassGold information and the fickle nature of postspawn bass, Fantasy Fishing Challenge players should cover their bases: Balance your TroKar Quest rosters with shallow and deep water anglers, and pick the most undervalued. Here are my picks.
Bucket A: Skeet Reese
You could pick Kevin VanDam every week without a specific reason, but he's an especially good bet this week because he excels with deep crankbaits and shallow spinnerbaits and crankbaits. But with 41.9 percent of Fantasy Fishing players taking him, he's a low-risk, low-reward pick.
A few days of rain could make Tommy Biffle, Todd Faircloth or Terry Scroggins better bets. At 1.9 percent, 7.6 percent and 0.9 percent picked, those three offer greater value. If Biffle, for example, finishes highest, you'd earn more points than 91.1 percent of your opponents and jump considerably in the standings.
If you pick a flipper, hope for rain which would provide more dirty water and flooded shoreline brush. Among the three above, Biffle has the best average finish on Table Rock, a White River impoundment similar to Bull Shoals.
I like Skeet Reese this week, rain or shine. He excels at changing tactics on the fly, and considering his momentum – he's leading the Angler of the Year race – he's a compelling pick. Importantly, at 9 percent ownership, he offers better value than KVD.
Bucket B: Mike McClelland
If you think shallow patterns will prevail, pick Greg Hackney. His finishes in Missouri tournaments and on Table Rock are the best in the bucket. And at 4.2 percent ownership, he's undervalued.
At this writing Alton Jones is the early favorite in B, at 29.3 percent. During a normal spawn, he'd be a good pick, but with Bull Shoals trending postspawn, other anglers look better.
Jones' past Ozarks finishes suggest the same. In three Table Rock tournaments, he's never placed higher than 26th. In six Beaver Lake tournaments, he finished 3rd, 14th, 29th and three times outside the top 50, including a 101st.
I'm picking Mike McClelland. Although he's not off to a great 2012 (48th in the AOY race), his previous Ozarks finishes and skill with jerkbaits and jigs makes him my guy.
And on Table Rock, McClelland has finished second twice, plus 15th, 18th, 25th, 30th and 46th. He's the second-most-picked angler in Bucket B, at 15.1 percent.
If you want a really high-reward pick, take Matt Herren at 0.3 percent. In six April or May tournaments on Beaver, his best finish is 11th and he's finished outside the Top 30 once. He also finished 8th on Lake of the Ozarks in fall 2005.
Bucket C: Aaron Martens
Lock in Aaron Martens and don't consider anyone else. Martens fell from Bucket A to C after a terrible 2012 start (82nd in AOY points), but he's way too good to be in Bucket C for long. An Ozarks impoundment is a perfect venue for him to stage a comeback.
On Table Rock, Martens has finished 2nd twice, 14th and 46th. On Beaver, he's finished 5th, 11th, 12th, 27th, 39th and 83rd – all in April.
Postspawn makes Martens a better pick, as he's likely to target deeper, bigger female largemouths with dropshots and other finesse tactics. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Martens won here. Check that: I wouldn't be surprised if he finished second....
Note that Martens is the early Bucket C favorite, at 25.8 percent. Mark Davis (13.6 percent) and Tim Horton (10.7 percent) are also popular, but I'd steer clear of Davis. Despite being a former Bassmaster Classic champ who knows upland reservoirs, Davis has trended downward in the last two years.
Horton also has slumped from previous form, but a deeper, postspawn bite could fit his deep cranking strengths, especially if its sunny.
Stick with A Mart.
Bucket D: Brian Snowden
Even though the most popular Bucket D anglers so far are Matt Reed (23.6 percent), Denny Brauer (21.9 percent) and Kevin Short (20.9 percent), Brian Snowden's past finishes on Ozarks impoundments makes him seriously overqualified in D.
His nine Table Rock finishes include two fifth-place finishes and two more Top 10s. He finished out of the money only twice. In four Lake of the Ozarks tournaments, he finished second twice, 18th and 157th. In two Beaver Lake events, he finished 21st and 27th.
If the weather is cloudy, count on Snowden to crank his way to a Top 10 finish. And at 6.5 percent ownership, he offers great value.
Bucket E: Cliff Pace
Although I noted in a previous column that the early key to Bucket E success has been picking locals, I think the Bucket C and D strategy is better this week for E. That strategy is picking the most undervalued tour veteran, which here is Cliff Pace.
This is more of a gut pick, as neither past performance nor BassGold pattern information point to Pace as a clear favorite. But compared to the unproven rookies and anglers perennially out of the money in E, Pace is the most undervalued, by far.
He has 18 Top 10s, including two wins and two seconds. Kenyon Hill has three wins and 23 Top 10s, but Pace is younger and his recent finishes are better. No other E angler has comparable numbers.
Hope that helps you this week. Can't wait for the tournament!