Going with my gut (again) on Chickamauga

DAYTON, Tenn. — I was pretty pleased with my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing advice at the last Elite Series. I went mostly with anglers who’d been chosen by few fans, and the picks paid off. Specifically, I had Greg Hackney (third), Cliff Crochet (seventh), world’s greatest bargain Zell Rowland (17th) and Tommy Biffle (30th). Stephen Browning was my only non-check-casher, just out of the money in 57th.

More importantly, when you compare them to my second choices in each “bucket,” it shows that my picker was working well.

  • Hackney beat my alternate, Scott Rook, by 76 places;
  • Crochet beat Bill Lowen by 52 places;
  • Browning beat Steve Kennedy by seven places;
  • Biffle beat Kevin Short by 33 places; and
  • Rowland beat my two other choices, Boyd Duckett and Greg Vinson, by 74 and 89 places, respectively.

That may be dumb luck, but I’m going to ride this gut hunch horse until it leads me to the glue factory. With rare exceptions, I’m just not convinced that there’s a more scientific way to do this.

Most of us expect that this event is going to be a slugfest. Last year, just a few weeks later in the season, Casey Martin won an FLW Tour event on Chickamauga with 103-3. There are two things that make that deceiving. First off, second place was a still-impressive-but-far-less-so 80-8, and the 10th-place finisher had 20 bass for 65-15. Second, Martin and many of the other top finishers did much of their damage with an Alabama rig, which Elite Series pros can’t use. Still, it’s the Tennessee River and big fish live there. A few members of this stacked field are going to whack them.

The other potential complication is that the field is larger than normal with the addition of a few dozen Open-level pros. As Tyler Reed explained, though, while they’ll impact the final payout, their presence likely won’t meaningfully change things as far as Fantasy Fishing goes. If it was a body of water where you had to scratch and claw for every bare keeper, I’d say that their dilution of the fishery could be a game changer, but this place is a pig factory.

FLW also visited in 2011, and current Elite Series pro Clifford Pirch won, but he didn’t fish last year’s tournament. Is one event enough to justify a pick? For that matter, are two events enough? The only angler in this year’s field who had two very good finishes in FLW Tour events on the Chick is Brett Hite (fifth and 32nd). Others, such as Justin Lucas and Randall Tharp, paired finishes in the teens with another worse than 70th place.

All of these guys can fish grass. It may just come down to who averages a little bit more per fish to make a difference of a lot of points.

Without further delay, here are my picks.

Bucket A: Combs

Almost Picked: Walker

As usual, this bucket is loaded. David Walker may be the closest thing to a local in this group, but at more than 14 percent ownership, I can’t quite justify him as a dark horse or a hunch. Jason Christie (8 percent) is tough to pass up, as is Todd Faircloth, at approximately the same percentage of ownership and one of the best grass anglers on the planet.

Without the castable umbrella rig in play, and with big fish at stake, I think a cranker will win it, and Keith Combs is my pick. Despite what I’ve written previously about his exceptional Lone Star State prowess, he’s due for another win elsewhere.

Bucket B: Palaniuk

Almost Picked: McClelland

When was the last season Kevin VanDam was in anything but the first class cabin (i.e., Bucket A)? I desperately want to pick him or Ott DeFoe, but even if one of them were to win, the high ownership percentages wouldn’t allow me to separate from the pack. I was tempted to go with Timmy Horton, a Tennessee River stud, or Mike McClelland, one of the best offshore anglers in the game, but I’m taking a gamble on the inconsistent Palaniuk, another cranker who knows how to win. Go big or go home, indeed.

Bucket C: Zaldain

Almost Picked: Lester or Pirch

As with KVD in Bucket B, it’s a rare Evers sighting here in Mendoza Line territory. Apparently the whole world has figured that out, because right now just about one of every two Fantasy Fishing players has last year’s near AOY winner as their pick.

I suppose you could call Brandon Lester the home state favorite, but to tell you the truth, I couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup. I’m sure he’s a great guy and a great angler, but his hometown is 139 miles from Dayton, slightly less than Atlanta and slightly more than Guntersville, so there’s no guarantee he’s fished Chickamauga much.

That being the case, I’m going with the guy who had the longest commute — Zaldain — who seems to have gotten on track with back-to-back eighth-place finishes. How’s that for the scientific method?

Bucket D: Iaconelli

Almost Picked: Card

If you think KVD is an outsider in Bucket B and Evers doesn’t belong in Bucket C, what the heck is Iaconelli doing in Bucket D? It’s like finding a $400 swimbait in the bargain bin marked down to $3.99. It may not be, strictly speaking, a ‘necessary’ purchase, but you can’t pass it up, even at more than 26 percent ownership.

Brandon Card lives about 90 miles away and I often succumb to the need to pick Tommy Biffle on big fish fisheries, but again my pick here is clear. Similarly, it’s tough to disregard past winner Pirch, especially at less than 2 percent ownership, but this time, to coin a phrase, I like Ike.

Bucket E: Hawk

Almost Picked: Duckett

I had to go back three times because I kept reinserting Boyd Duckett.

Once again, this bracket offers up a lot of value investments, with no clear-cut winner. I had to rule out Ish Monroe because a third of the contestants picked him. After that, only Greg Vinson was picked in double digits.

I desperately want to pick Duckett, who doesn’t live far away, and has loads of Tennessee River experience, but he’s coming off four finishes of 90th place or worse in a row. Really? Did I read that wrong? Maybe there’s some off-the-water issue that we don’t know about, but that kind of funk can’t last for an angler that good.

Still, that kind of negative momentum could be hard to overcome. Would a mere check be satisfactory? Maybe for him (although I doubt it), but 49th doesn’t do players a whole lot of good in Fantasy Fishing.

As a result, I’m going with Kevin Hawk, who is not fishing the Opens this year in order to put more time into the Elites. He’s had some clunkers, too, but this is the time in the season when he tends to figure a little something out.

Be sure to pick your team by takeoff on Wednesday, June 11!

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