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.
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.
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.