PHILADELPHIA — Shortly after BASSfest at Chickamauga, the cryptic hashtags started to emerge:
With a healthy gap in the Elite Series schedule and a short time before the Delaware River went off limits, what seemed like hordes of pros made their way to Philly to scout the site of the next event. I’m sure there were even more there in semi-stealth mode, not broadcasting their whereabouts even if they were heading up and down the river in wrapped boats.
They posted pictures of urban scenery. They posted pictures of a few bass. Mostly they posted pictures of big freighters heading up and down the river, dwarfing their 20-foot fiberglass rockets.
For those pros used to fishing the large reservoirs of the south and west, as well as the Great Lakes, the passing boats may have been big, but the Delaware is going to fish small. It’s going to confuse some of them. Even though a bunch of pros have now visited the river, more than 90 percent hadn’t been there before this year (with one very notable exception among the minority), so for the first time in a while we have as close to a level playing field as possible.
I love it. Don’t get me wrong: Florida in March, Toledo Bend in the late spring and Kentucky Lake in the summertime are all great venues, but when those types of events are on the schedule, there aren’t necessarily a lot of new areas or tricks to uncover. At the Delaware, everything is comparatively new to almost everyone and the script has yet to be written.
When picking a Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team, you can try to work the angles to your advantage, picking river specialists or Northeasterners or those who best understand current. The more I think about it, though, the more I believe in one rule: Winners win. You are what your record says you are. When you don’t have much to go on, go with anglers who consistently do well on a wide variety of waterways.
Here are my choices:
Picked: Jacob Powroznik
Almost Picked: Todd Faircloth
This bucket has lots of proven winners — Elite Series victors, Classic champs and AOYs — but to me, few are surer bets than Powroznik to be near the top. In nine career Bassmaster professional tournaments, he’s been in the money eight times and in the Top 10 on three occasions, including this year’s win at Toledo Bend. He’s also local to Virginia’s James River, a multi-faceted waterway with heavy industrial activity and a strong tide. That gives him the edge over Todd Faircloth, one of the best “win everywhere” anglers.
Faircloth has won on two river systems (the Sabine last year, and the Mississippi in 2012), on a big Texas reservoir and on a highland reservoir, with five second-places (two in Florida) and three thirds (including one on the Red River). Tough not to pick him, especially since he’s having a slightly better year than Powroznik, but after a hot start, he cooled off substantially in the last two events. That’s enough to give the Virginia “rookie” my nod, especially because his ownership percentage is quite low.
Picked: Ott DeFoe
Almost Picked: Bill Lowen
Every time I pass up KVD, it makes me cringe, but I have to do it here, especially because he’s approaching 50 percent ownership. This event would seem to set up well for DeFoe’s proven versatility and expertise with current. He won this year’s Northern Open on Douglas in the current and won the All-Star event on the Alabama River in 2011 as well. He hasn’t yet had a Top 12 in Elite competition this year, but he’s been solid throughout, missing only one check. I wanted to pick Lowen, and one day he’s going to win one of these grind ’em out tournaments, but he’s burned me a couple of times and I’m afraid to take the chance with so many other top sticks in this bucket.
Picked: Stephen Browning
Almost Picked: Steve Kennedy
Browning’s Classic ticket is already punched via his Open win on the Red River, where he’s gotten the job done in consecutive years. He’s a winner and he knows river systems, including the industrial Arkansas River, so he seems like a safe pick. I’d love to pick Kennedy, who seems to win something on some tour every year, but he hasn’t finished higher than 29th on the Elites this year. I don’t know if that means he’s due or he’s in a slump, but he’s just as likely to finish 100th as he is to finish at the top, so with Browning rolling, I’ll err on the side of caution here.
I thought about picking Edwin Evers, who, like Faircloth, seems to do well on every type of waterway, but at more than 45 percent ownership, I’ll go with Browning, who stands to earn me more distance from the competition if he wins.
Picked: Mike Iaconelli
Almost Picked: Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago
Seriously? Ike’s still in Bucket D? And he’s fishing on his home water? This one is like the free square in a game of “Bingo.” Unless he makes a hard turn and parks his boat on the bank or gets captured by the ASPCA, he’s money in the bank here. At the very least, he’ll get a good check.
For sentimental reasons related to tough off-the-water issues, and because he’s a proven winner on river systems, I’d love to see Kevin Short turn the Delaware pink, but like Lowen he’s burned me too many times in the past when I’ve chosen him in tournaments where he was expected to do well. It’s not enough to overcome Ike’s built-in advantage. Yes, I realize that more than 60 percent have picked Ike, but truth be told, that’s fewer than I expected.
Picked: Joe Sancho
Almost Picked: Ish Monroe
Here’s one where I’m going against my own rule of picking winners. Boyd Duckett and Kevin Hawk have proven themselves on the sport’s biggest stages, but they’re both really struggling now. I’m also tempted to pick former Rookie of the Year Billy McCaghren, another Arkansas River rat, but he too can’t seem to get on track. I’d love to pick Ish Monroe, too, because of his four B.A.S.S. wins on four different waterways (one of them, Oneida Lake, in the Northeast), but they’ve all been relatively high-weight affairs. In low-weight tournaments, his results are less dominant, including a 42nd-place finish in the Pittsburgh Classic and 79th on the Mississippi in Iowa (2009). He did have a fourth place at the Sabine last year, but if I’m going to gamble in this case it’s going to be with an unknown commodity like Sancho.
Sancho’s track record with B.A.S.S. has been mediocre, and since making the Elites, he’s yet to cash a check, but given his proximity to Philly, he’d be a fool if he didn’t put every ounce of effort before the cutoff into making this a career-turning event. For the sake of one Bucket E pick, I’m willing to bet that Joe Sancho (whom I’ve yet to meet) is not a fool.