BRANSON, Mo. — Heavy rain and strong wind in the practice period this week should muddy up creek arms to the point that Table Rock’s infamously spooky bass will let down their guard and eat crankbaits, jerkbaits and jigs with reckless abandon.
I hope so, because I’m benching finesse fishermen this week on my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team, in favor of power crankers and flippers with a history of success on Table Rock, Bull Shoals and/or similar highland reservoirs in prespawn tournaments.
When the weather’s bad in the Ozarks, fast-moving power fishing baits are best. Sunny and calm days require extremely slow finesse presentations. That’s likely why most anglers’ 2012 and 2013 Bull Shoals results were either “hero” or “zero” numbers. The weather favored the finesse anglers in 2013 and the power fishermen in 2012.
Your best bet is David Walker. Not only is his ownership percentage low (2.5 percent), he enters this tournament with plenty of momentum (currently fifth in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points) and with a solid résumé on Table Rock and other highland reservoirs in spring tournaments.
Highlights include a fifth-place finish here in a mid-March tournament, 17th place on Bull Shoals in late April 2012 and two Top 10s and two more Top 20s in spring events on similar highland reservoirs. Having placed 21st here in similar conditions in March 2004, Walker is poised to improve on that finish and make the Top 12 cut.
Although Greg Hackney (2.4 percent) won an early April 2005 tournament here, he’s my Dark Horse pick this week, because he hasn’t been consistent in recent years. Still, I like his chances flipping shallow wood and floating debris in dirty water. He finished 16th here in similar conditions in early March 2004 and overcame tough conditions in late April 2013 to place 11th on Bull Shoals. A Top 20 in a late April event looks good too.
All that said, I’ve got a gut feeling that Takahiro Omori (1.1 percent) will shine this week. I had to put that in writing, so if he wins, I can say “I knew it! I just knew it!” Riding high in the AOY race at 11th place, Omori has some momentum and two solid finishes on Table Rock to give him confidence this week. He finished seventh here in similar conditions in early March 2004, plus he has two Top 25s in April here. On the other hand, he missed the cut on Bull Shoals twice in recent years — narrowly in 2012 (54th), and significantly in 2013 (96th).
Although Christie (36.5 percent ownership) is the safe — and popular — pick here, what if you could get Christie-like production from an angler with 30 percent less ownership? I think you can — with Hank Cherry.
While competing on the FLW tour, Christie racked up numerous victories and Top 10s in spring tournaments on highland reservoirs, including an eighth-place finish in similar conditions on Table Rock in late March/early April 2012.
But Cherry, known for his jerkbait prowess, has been solid in spring on highland reservoirs, too. Most will remember his Bassmaster Classic debut last year, a third-place showing on Grand Lake. He also has Top 5s and 10s on Murray and Norman. If Cherry can finish a spot or two above Christie, you can make a big move against the field.
Having grown up fishing and competing on Ozarks lakes, Brent Chapman has the experience and résumé to make him the safest bet this week. He’s also a good value at 5.7 percent ownership. Not only did he finish third twice on Table Rock in late March/early April tournaments, he also has two additional Top 20s here and placed fifth in similar conditions on Bull Shoals in late April 2012.
Although Tommy Biffle (5 percent) does not have Top 10s on Table Rock or Bull Shoals in similar conditions, I think he’ll be a major player this week if the creek arms stay muddy. I like his chances flipping shallow cover and trash with his favored Biffle Bug/hardhead combo.
This week’s under-the-radar, dark horse pick is Floridian Glenn Browne (0.1 percent). Because he’s an FLW crossover, many Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players are likely not aware of his solid history in the spring on highland reservoirs. Not only did he finish 13th in a late March 2012 tournament on Table Rock, but he’s scored springtime Top 5s and 10s on Beaver, Lewis Smith, Fort Loudon Tellico (which he won) and Norman. If you pick favorites in all the other buckets, take a flyer on Browne.
Why am I not stumping for KVD? His momentum is stalled and his history in similar conditions is inconsistent. For every Top 20 or better, there’s a bottom 40 as well. Still, we all know what KVD (32.5 percent) is capable of when the crankbait bite is hot, so feel free to ignore my advice!
If weather conditions suggested a finesse bite would be the deal this week, I would avoid Palaniuk and his 38.8 percent ownership. But it looks like the crankbait bite is going to be the deal this week and that’s Palaniuk’s jam! He won on Bull Shoals with a crankbait, and the Wiggle Wart — and Ozarks standby — played prominently in his runner-up finish in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees, another highland reservoir. The water was colder then on Grand, but online Ozarks fishing reports indicate that the Wiggle Wart bite is on.
Consider also Michael Iaconelli, who is adept with the same crankbaits Palaniuk throws, but has a more consistent pattern of success on highland reservoirs in a variety of springtime conditions, including three Top 5s, four more Top 10s and three additional Top 20s. He finished 23rd on Table Rock in an early March 2004 Bassmaster Tour event and placed 19th on Bull Shoals the year that Palaniuk won there.
Need to make a big move against the field? Take this week’s Bucket D dark horse, Matt Reed (2.4 percent). If Palaniuk and Iaconelli were not in this bucket, Reed would be my pick, hands down. Some of his best career finishes have come on highland reservoirs, including two Top 5s (one in the spring), three more Top 10s (two in spring), and four additional Top 20s (three in spring).
Although it’s a shock to see 2013 AOY contender Edwin Evers in Bucket E, his 68.8 percent ownership might make picking against him a better play. He’s never made a Top 5 on Table Rock in the spring, although he did place fourth in the April 2012 tournament that Palaniuk won. His best finishes on Table Rock are 11th in a late April tournament and 20th in an early March one. On the other hand, he finished 111th and 138th here in early April and March 2005 and 2010, respectively.
Britt Myers (2.2 percent) — flying below radar since almost winning on Lake Douglas in 2012 — is a great alternative. He’s a low-ownership dark horse with a stellar history on similar highland impoundments in spring.
Of his five Top 10s in 97 Bassmaster tournaments, two came on Bull Shoals: He finished second in the tournament Palaniuk won and fifth a year later, when conditions were very different. His other springtime Top 10 came in that Douglas tournament, in which he finished runner-up. When Myers fished Table Rock in mid-September 2012, he finished 45th. He’ll likely bring useful experience also from 16th-place and 23rd-place springtime finishes on Lake Norman.
Set your team for the Table Rock event before Thursday morning's launch! And you can listen to me discuss and defend my roster picks on my podcast on iTunes or at the play button below.