SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Despite Oneida Lake's location above the Mason-Dixon Line, don't expect an all-Northerner Top 12 in the Aug. 23-26 Ramada Championship here.
Consider some West Coasters, Oklahomans and a Floridian, perhaps, for your Fantasy Fishing roster, in addition to Northerners like Kevin VanDam, Jonathon VanDam and Michael Iaconelli.
But which ones?
Inform your pick by reviewing anglers' past performances here and analyzing some of the intangibles beyond the data that could propel the competitors to a Top 12 finish. And keep in mind that most – if not all – anglers will need to target both largemouth and smallmouth to make the Sunday cut.
In my previous column this week, I handicapped Bucket A. I'm leaning toward Arizonan Dean Rojas. Following are my suggestions for Buckets B, C, D and E:
Bucket B – Martens, Butcher, McClelland
Although I expect Oklahomans Terry Butcher and Jeff Kriet and Arkansan Mike McClelland to finish high, California native Aaron Martens has been on such a roll in rescuing his season from a dismal start, it would be hard to pass on him.
Still, at 36 percent ownership, Martens is a safe pick that offers little value for Fantasy players needing a big move to rescue their own seasons. If you're in the 90th percentile in points, pick Martens. If you're farther back in the Fantasy points race, take Butcher or McClelland.
Butcher has the best average finish on Oneida of all Bucket B anglers, 13th place (ninth and 10th in August 2008 and 2009, and 21st in July 2006). At 40th place in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) race, he must finish well on Oneida to qualify for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake, the first ever in his home state. If he makes the Sunday cut here and qualifies for the Classic, history will have repeated itself – he qualified for his first-ever Classic after his 10th-place finish on Oneida in 2009. Such intangibles can help anglers. On the other hand, they can put additional pressure on them.
At 1 percent ownership, Butcher offers a much greater reward than does Martens, but it requires taking more risk.
McClelland, who won a 2006 Elite Series event on Grand Lake, is also on the Classic bubble, at 35th in AOY points. Having made one Sunday cut in four Majors on Oneida – 11th in 2008 – he has the second-best average finish here in Bucket B, 30th. His other Elite Series-level finishes: 15th in 2009, 19th in 2007; 57th in 2006.
"I've gone up there and gambled a time or two and tried to catch largemouth the whole tournament and had some failures," McClelland told me last month at ICAST. "But when I've gone up there and mixed it up – catch some largemouth, catch some smallmouth – it's always gone pretty well for me."
When I suggested he might be the most motivated angler in Bucket B, McClelland didn't shy away – "Bet on it," he replied.
I was prepared to lock McClelland on my roster until I interviewed Bassmaster TV host Mark Zona at ICAST.
"He is going to put an enormous amount of pressure on himself," Zona cautioned. "There's a positive of that, and there's a huge negative of that. If you put Mike McClelland on [your roster] in that tournament, you're gambling."
At 3,182nd place in the B.A.S.S. Fantasy Fishing Challenge, I'm inclined to roll the dice, hoping for a big gain. At 0.8 percent ownership, McClelland is Bucket B's best high-risk/high-reward pick.
At 26th in AOY points, Kriet is in a better position to make the Classic without needing to swing for the fence. And he has decent history on Oneida, including a runner-up finish in 2009 and an11th-place finish in 2007. His average finish is 33rd, with 48th- and 70th-place finishes in 2008 and 2006. At the time of this writing, he is at 3 percent ownership.
Martens is the most-picked angler in Bucket B, likely on the strength of his mid-season surge from the back of the pack to 13th in the AOY race. After missing four straight 50-cuts to start the season, Martens rallied to three Top 5 finishes in the last four tournaments.
Will his momentum continue? It will have to if he wants to improve on his past performance at Oneida. Having never made a Sunday cut here in four tournaments, Martens' average finish is 37th – 14th in 2007; 14th in 2006; 27th in 2008; 93rd in 2009.
While Martens is too far back to win AOY, he's a threat to win any tournament, especially one in which smallmouth will be a factor. "He's going to catch 'em there," Zona said. "And he'll focus on smallmouth and still be somewhere in the Top 15."
Not the type to ease off, Martens will fish to win. The smart money is probably on him.
"I like Oneida," Martens told me at ICAST. "But I wish largemouth didn't exist in that lake! I wish there was no grass. I wish that it was all smallmouth. Because I love smallmouth fishing, I always do well in smallmouth tournaments. But obviously, it's been dominated by largemouth. … I'm going to focus on both and see what happens."
Others in Bucket B:
- Michael Iaconelli – 37th-place average finish here (third, sixth, sixth,10th, 54th). Out of the AOY race, a mid-level finish gets him into the Classic, so he might fish conservatively.
- Alton Jones – 22nd-place average finish (sixth,15th, 19th, 45th). With a win already this season, Jones is already Classic-qualified.
- Skeet Reese – 24th-place average finish (seventh, 14th, 32nd, 43rd). Classic-qualified, barring disaster, Skeet is not likely to fish super aggressively.
Bucket C – Biffle, Kennedy, Roumbanis
Although conventional wisdom dictates that Oneida will be won with a mixed bag of both green and brown bass, Bucket C favorite Tommy Biffle won here in 2006 on just largemouth. Remember also that Biffle bucked conventional wisdom last month on Green Bay, scoring a Top 12 finish with largemouth in a tournament otherwise dominated by smallmouth.
Another Oklahoman on the Classic bubble (38th in AOY points), Biffle must finish high here for a chance to fish for a half-million at home next February on Grand Lake. Considering his history on Oneida, it's a good bet he'll do just that. His average finish here is 10th (first, 2006; eighth, 2009; 15th, 2007; 16th, 2008.)
At 7.6 percent ownership, Biffle is the third-most-picked angler so far in Bucket C, following Timmy Horton (22.2 percent) and John Crews (14.6 percent). Horton's best finish here is 10th (July 2006). His other finishes are 26th, 29th and 65th. Crews averages a 45th-place finish here (12th, 13th, 76th, 78th).
Also popular in Bucket B, at 6.8 percent ownership, is Steve Kennedy. And for good reason – his average finish here is 14th, having placed second in 2007 and sixth in 2009. In 2008 and 2006, he placed 19th and 30th. Kennedy is my gut pick. Not sure yet if I'm going to go with it, though. I'm leaning toward Biffle.
At 2.7 percent ownership, Oklahoman Fred Roumbanis, is an intriguing risk-reward pick. If a frog bite turns out to be the deal, Roumbanis could blow up. His previous finishes here: 18th, 23rd, 33rd, 86th.
Bucket D – Monroe, Wilks, Morris
Although other Bucket D anglers have better past histories on Oneida – 25th, John Murray; 26th, Rick Morris; 32nd, Ish Monroe – my gut is telling me to pick Dustin Wilks.
At 70th in AOY points, Wilks is among numerous anglers who must win here in order to classify for the 2013 Classic. In his two Elite Series events on Oneida, he has fared well, placing fourth in 2008 and 32nd in 2009. At 2.7 percent ownership, he's a good value.
Still, Monroe might be the best bet. Having already qualified for the Classic with his win on Okeechobee, he won't be under the same kind of pressure as will Wilks, Murray (81st in AOY race) and Morris (58th, AOY). On the other hand, Monroe is the second-most-picked angler in Bucket D, at 16.5 percent. If you're above the 90th percentile in Fantasy points, he is the safe pick.
Murray and Morris are higher risk picks, at 2.3 and 4.7 percent ownership. A Top 12 could possibly qualify Morris for his fifth Classic, so the motivation – and pressure – will be high.
Steer clear of fan favorite Brandon Palaniuk this week. At 40.8 percent ownership, you won't make much of a move against the field with him, even if he performs well. Secondly, BP often follows a high finish with a low finish. In the last tournament, he was runner-up.
Bucket E – Schultz, Simonton, VanDam
Although 2009 Oneida champion Chad Griffin is in Bucket E, as is Green Bay champ Jonathon VanDam, I'm leaning toward Bernie Shultz. Although the Florida pro is not having a great season (85th in AOY points), he has a great history on Oneida and momentum coming into this week, having placed ninth on Green Bay.
In three Elite Series events on Oneida, Bernie has made the Sunday cut every time, placing eighth in 2006, 10th in 2008 and11th in 2009. He's also competed in eight Classics. A win on Oneida would send him to his ninth.
"You could see Bernie doing it [again]," Zona said. "Bernie does well on smallmouth." But, he said, you must give Griffin "a little bit of a nod" because he's won here. Still, Griffin is in last place in the AOY race, with only 120 points (leader Brent Chapman has 566 points). I'm steering clear and sticking with Schultz.
Of the young guys in the bucket, you could consider Northerners Michael Simonton or VanDam, who placed second and 29th here in a 2011 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open, respectively. Avoid Oklahoman Jared Miller, who finished 115th in that event.
Having qualified for the 2013 Classic with his win on Green Bay last month, VanDam will be loose and confident. If the smallmouth/drop shot bite is the deal, we could see both him and Bernie on Sunday again. But at 1.9 percent Fantasy ownership, Bernie offers better value than VanDam, who's at 41.5 percent.