If long-range forecasts and historical weather data are accurate, this year’s Classic will be contested in cold weather on cold water. That would suggest that Grand Lake bass are more likely to be closer to their winter haunts than prespawn locations.
Because winter-pattern bass and prespawn bass require different techniques to find and catch, Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players would be wise to learn which anglers in the Classic field have finished high previously on fisheries similar to Grand in similar weather and water conditions.
Judging from most reports, the favorites in this year’s Classic are Edwin Evers, Tommy Biffle, Jason Christie and Mike McClelland. The first three are Oklahomans. McClelland lives about an hour away, in Bella Vista, Ark. Each has enjoyed success on Grand, but the Classic, more than any other tournament, is cruel to locals. As Bassmaster’s Ken Duke reported here last month, only one angler living in the same state as the Classic waters has ever won – Boyd Duckett in 2007. Call it the Classic Curse.
But the Classic Curse concerns winning, not placing high. And Fantasy Fishing players don’t have to pick the winner to succeed (although it does help). Rather, our challenge is to pick the five highest-scoring anglers from as many handicapped buckets. So don’t concern yourself with the Classic Curse when making your roster picks.
Focus instead on the field’s history on fisheries similar to Grand Lake O' the Cherokees in similar weather and water conditions.
Grand Lake is a rocky upland reservoir with little to no grass. So before making my picks, I reviewed angler histories in tournaments contested in cold, late February/early March weather on fisheries with little grass. Most anglers in the top three buckets competed in most or all of the following four tournaments, which were held in on fisheries that contain little grass in weather similar to conditions forecast for the Tulsa area at the end of this February. For reference, the average low temp in Tulsa in late February is 32 degrees; the average high is 53; the average mean temp is 42.5 degrees.
One last thing – if it rains during the Classic practice period, you’ll likely want to reconsider all your picks!
If you'd rather listen than read, here's a podcast about Classic picks as well:
Based on that data, I determined the following picks:
Conservative Pick – Kevin VanDam
Popular Pick – Edwin Evers
Wild Card Pick – Jason Christie
Sentimental Pick – Mike McClelland
My Pick – Tommy Biffle
Christie (10.2 percent fantasy ownership) has certainly enjoyed success on Grand, much of in mid-March and in minor-level tournaments on another pro circuit. Still, he’s likely to know where the bass live and bite in February, when average temps are similar. Christie’s biggest challenge won’t be finding spots; it will be fishing clean under the added pressure of being followed by a flotilla of spectators and the hype generated because he’s a local and is crossing over from another pro circuit.
Evers, another Oklahoman, is the most popular pick at the time of this writing, at 30.7 percent ownership (only .02 percent more popular than KVD). Not only did he finish third and fourth on Grand in the past (in June 2006 and 2007), his average finish on rocky/non-grass lakes in February/early March tournaments – what we’ll call “similar conditions” for the rest of this column – is the best in Bucket A, at 10th place. Evers’ best finish in similar conditions is a win in the 2003 Eufaula tournament. He’s known to be great with a spinnerbait, the bait that BassGold data indicates is likely to win the 2013 Classic.
Not much more can be said about Kevin VanDam’s ridiculous success in recent Classics. Those events he dominated, however, were held on fisheries with grass, of which Grand has little to none. VanDam’s average finish in similar conditions is only fourth-best in Bucket A, at 36th. Still, that average includes a third in the 2008 Lake Hartwell Classic and a fifth in the 2007 Lake Amistad event. He won on Grand in June 2007 and placed 22nd there in June 2006, so he knows the lay of the lake. And although he didn’t win a tournament last season, his seventh-place showing in the 2012 Angler of the Year race proves he remains a force to be reckoned with. If the Classic Curse again rears its head, he’s the angler most likely to benefit.
I’m ignoring the curse, however, and picking Biffle. Another Oklahoman, he fares almost as well as Evers in similar conditions (13th-place average). Plus, he lives on Fort Gibson Lake, a similar fishery on which he won an Elite Series tournament in 2010. He’ll know what mood the bass will be in, making for a more efficient practice period, allowing more time to find the spot-on-the-spot, rather than spots. And, at 3.9 percent fantasy ownership, he offers more bang for the buck than Evers, Christie or VanDam.
Although Biffle finished 30th and 34th on Grand in the June 2006 and 2007 events, fishing it in winter plays better to his strengths (if only because he’s Mountain Man tough and won’t be as bothered by near-freezing temps as some others in the field.)
Although McClleland (5.1 percent ownership) is familiar with Grand, having won there in June 2006 and placing 11th there in June 2007, the renowned jerkbait technician doesn’t have a stellar record in cold-water tournaments on non-grass fisheries. He placed 42nd in the 2008 Classic, 74th in the chilly Amistad tournament and a respectable 18th in the 2004 Table Rock event, for an average finish of 54th.
Brent Chapman’s average finish of 32nd place in similar conditions is third-best in Bucket A, and Chris Lane has not excelled in similar conditions, averaging a 51st-place finish.
See Bucket B on the next page.