As we all know, when you're setting your Fantasy Fishing roster, you always have to consider Kevin VanDam. This week you may be tempted to bench KVD in favor of a Florida native, but in my opinion that might be a mistake.
Florida guys do finish well on Okeechobee. Bobby Lane has four top 10s and two 11ths there. Chris Lane has won two Okeechobee events and was fourth in another. Terry Scroggins has placed first, second, third and fourth in six tournaments (wow!).
But most of those finishes came in January or February, when the spawn was heating up. Since the spawn is almost over now, post-spawn patterns likely will prevail this week. Sounds like a great time to rip a lipless crankbait through grass. Hmm...what four-time Bassmaster Classic champ and seven-time Angler of the Year is a Red Eye Shad master?
What BassGold Shows
BassGold.com, which I'm learning how to use for Fantasy Fishing, shows that a worm has been the most successful March/April bait on Okeechobee, with 44.45 percent of top five finishes coming on one. But crankbaits were the second-most effective baits, at 22.22 percent.
Because a post-spawn pattern is most likely this week, I'm focusing more on the crankbait data, which again points me to KVD. Certainly fish will be caught punching mats, but that will most likely be the default setting for anglers not familiar with Okeechobee so the mats will get a ton of pressure. I anticipate KVD finding offshore stuff and crank-mining it like only he can.
BassGold also shows that of 50 percent of previous top five finishers on Okeechobee targeted "submergent" (underwater) vegetation. That sounds like Bobby and Chris Lane flipping territory, but then again, lipless crankbaits and spinnerbaits worked over and through submerged grass can be a killer post-spawn tactic...so we're back to KVD.
Bucket A: KVD
While KVD might not jump to mind for Florida, he finishes well there and he's excelled on Okeechobee. Between 2001 and 2008, he placed first, second, fourth, 11th, 31st (twice) and 84th. Four of those finishes came in March. Another good reason to pick him.
Also in Bucket A: Shaw Grigsby, Dean Rojas, Skeet Reese, Mike Iaconelli and Aaron Martens. Neither Evers nor Reese have fished Okeechobee much, and Ike will be the first to say he "sucks" in Florida. Martens has competed a bunch here, but never with huge success.
Grigsby would be a better choice if sight-fishing were more of a factor. Rojas is good on the Big O in January and February too, with three top 10s in FLW events, but no good spring finishes. Still, if the stars align for a frog bite, he could win it.
Tuesday morning, Scroggins was the most-picked Bucket A angler at 27.8 percent. KVD was second, at 18.7 percent. VanDam an underdog? Watch out!
Bucket B: David Walker
For my pick in this bucket, I considered David Walker, Greg Hackney, Kelly Jordon, Alton Jones and Steve Kennedy. Hackney and Jordon are flipping wizards who'll be right at home in Okeechobee's acres of grass...but their average finishes there are 24th and 34th.
Walker's average finish is 54th, but my gut says he's in such a good place right now, he's the the best bet. He won his last event of 2011, finished 10th last week and 13th in the Classic. His average finish here is 43rd. Jones' is 41st.
If my gut's right, Walker is a great value pick, at 4.4 percent ownership. So if he wins Bucket B, I'll make a big move against the Fantasy field because most people are picking Alton Jones (34.2 percent) and Ott DeFoe (16.4 percent). DeFoe, in his sophomore season is talented and popular, but the Big O is a tough puzzle to solve with little experience.
Bucket C: Brent Chapman (maybe Herren!)
My favorites in this bucket are Brent Chapman, Matt Herren and Randy Howell. Chapman has the worst average finish of all these (70th), but my gut says his hot streak will continue. In two months, he's won an Open, finished 18th in the Classic and 4th last week. Also, I'm becoming a believer in those Tightlines UV soft-plastics he throws.
Average Okeechobee finishes for Herren and Howell are 40th and 51st. I might yet talk myself into taking Herren, another good flipper with momentum (13th last week). Howell's a solid pick too, with two good finishes here, 11th and 27th.
Chapman is leading in ownership percentage, at 23.8 percent. Keith Poche and Greg Vinson are also popular, at 15 and 11 percent. Only 1.5 percent have picked Herren, so he might yet make my roster: If your low-percentage pick beats a high-percentage angler, you gain more ground against the field. Howell's a good value too, at 3.6 percent.
Bucket D: Keith Combs
In Bucket D, you might consider Clark Reehm, Derek Remitz and Jason Quinn. All have at least one top 15 here, but here are their average Okeechobee finishes: Reehm, 22nd (only two events); Remitz, 56th; Quinn, 74th.
But I'm picking Keith Combs. He doesn't have a top 15 here (best is 18th), but does have a hot hand: third last week, 16th in the Classic, 1st in the Toyota Texas Bass Classic, and top 15s in his last two 2011 events. His average Okeechobee finish is 50th.
I'm with the crowd on Combs: 33.8 percent have picked him. Bill Lowen is getting a lot of love too, with 20.8 percent.
Bucket E: Russell Parrish
Few Bucket E anglers have competed in many Okeechobee tournaments, so it's a bit of a pick 'em. I'm taking a flyer on Russell Parrish, a Texan who placed 33rd on the Big O in a 2011 FLW Open.
Also consider Floridians Kyle Fox and Cliff Prince. Fox finished 7th on Okeechobee in a 2010 Open and 24th in a 2007 event.
Jamie Horton seems popular with his Federation Nation brethren, with 40.8 percent ownership. Prince and Fox follow, at 21.5 and 19.4 percent. Less than 1 percent have picked Parrish, who placed 19th last week. Prince finished 16th and Fox 76th.
Greg Huff hosts the "Fantasy Fishing Insider" podcast . This week's Insiders are Terry Scroggins, Gary Klein, David Walker and Mark Zona. Listen or subscribe to it free on iTunes or here: http://bit.ly/9K5txd