Pick undervalued veterans and rookies with good Ozarks records

Last year, we were asking how far into the postspawn Bull Shoals would be. This season, the spawn will have just begun.

“There’ll be some fish that will are moving up on the beds and we’ll still have some prespawn fish as well,” says Ozarks area guide Mike Webb, who recently caught an 11-pound, 7-ounce largemouth upstream from Bull Shoals on Table Rock. “The water temperature is getting up close to 60 degrees with these warm nights already. We’re right there for them to move up.”

But don’t load your roster with just sight fishermen. There won’t likely be enough spawners to go around. Plus, several top sight fishermen don’t have stellar records on Ozarks impoundments in April.

If you’re in the 90th percentile in Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing points thus far, balance your roster with a combination of the “Most Popular” and “Safe Bet” roster-pick suggestions below, mixing in one or two “Also Consider” picks. If like me, however, you had a bad tournament early and need to make up some ground, gamble on a couple of “High Risk/High Reward” picks along with a combination of “Best Value” and “Safe Bet” picks.

I’m avoiding the “Most Popular” picks, as they will not help me make much of a move against the field. There’s only one grand prize for the season (a Triton-Mercury boat-motor package), so play to win. To make a big move, pick a few veterans who have fallen to lower buckets plus some high-risk/high-reward anglers with good track records on Ozark impoundments in April.

Bull Shoals is one of three White River impoundments on which major bass tournaments are held. Far more, though, have been held on Table Rock and Beaver lakes, so before making my roster picks, I reviewed angler history on those venues, which fish very similarly. My picks are in italics. You can also listen to the podcast below:

Bucket A

Safe Bet: Alton Jones (2.4% Fantasy Fishing ownership)

Also Consider: Ish Monroe (4.5%)

Best Value: Alton Jones

High Risk/High Reward: Takahiro Omori (0.3%)

Most Popular: Kevin VanDam (33.2%)

Although Jones placed 28th on Bull Shoals last year, his sight fishing prowess and record on White River impoundments in mid to late April (when bass traditionally begin spawning in the Ozarks) make him both a safe bet and a great value, at a mere 2.4 percent ownership (as of April 13). In three pro-level mid- to late-April Beaver Lake tournaments, Jones finished third, 14th and 29th. Fourth in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points, Jones has started the season strong.

Despite finishing 45th on Bull Shoals last year, KVD is the most-picked angler in Bucket A (33.2 percent). Intercepting egg-laden prespawn females moving to beds is among KVD’s specialties, and his best White River finishes have come in April — fourth in early April 2005 on Table Rock and 12th in late April 2001 on Beaver. KVD enters the tournament 10th in AOY points.

I always like “Big Bass Specialist” Ish Monroe’s chances to weigh big kicker fish, as it takes a different mentality to stick with big baits, sacrificing numbers. Ish has that mindset. If he gets on a pattern rich with prespawn fatties, he’ll likely improve on his previous best springtime White River finishes — 17th on Table Rock in late April 2012 and 15th on Beaver in mid-March 2010 on another pro circuit. Ish is sitting at seventh in the AOY race.

Omori has good prespawn White River history too, with 10th and 21st-place finishes in mid to late April on another tour. Omori is 19th in AOY points.

See picks for buckets B, C, D and E on the next page.

Bucket B

Safe Bet: Brent Chapman (15.1%)

Also Consider: Greg Hackney (4%)

Best Value: David Walker (3.3%)

High Risk/High Reward: Cliff Pirch (0.6%)

Most Popular: Mike McClelland (35.2%)

Chapman (15.1 percent ownership) grew up fishing Ozarks impoundments and his record reflects his experience — fifth here last April; 11th, 11th and 27th on Beaver in early April; and third and 20th on Table Rock in early April 2005 and late April 2012.

With that record and last year’s Angler of the Year title under his belt, it’s surprising Chapman is not the most-picked angler in Bucket B. That honor, however, belongs to Mike McClelland.

Although McClelland finished 35th here last season, he’s fared well in two April Table Rock derbies — second and 25th. But he’s struggled on Beaver in April — 36th and 84th. Hackney’s been hit or miss on White River lakes in April, too —first and 18th, but also 43rd, 46th and 65th.

Walker has the most White River-in-April experience in this bucket, with three Top 20s in 10 major-tour tournaments. His finishes: seventh, 14th, 19th, 35th, 39th, 40th, 59th, 121st and 134th.

From the Classic through the first two tournaments, at least one rookie drastically outperforms expectations. This week, Pirch appears poised to be one of those guys. In three pro-level April tournaments on Beaver Lake between 2005 and 2012, he finished fourth, seventh and 30th. On the other hand, he finished 62nd last April on Table Rock.

Bucket C

Safe Bet: Aaron Martens (14.5%)

Also Consider: Scott Rook (9.1%)

Best Value: Brian Snowden (2.6%)

High Risk/High Reward: Stephen Kennedy (0.8%)

Most Popular: Ott DeFoe (22.8%)

Like he did last season, Martens fell from Bucket A to C after a terrible start. But like I wrote last year, he’s too good to stay long in Bucket C, where he’s a great value. On Table Rock, Martens has finished second twice, once in early April 2005. On Beaver, he’s finished fifth, 11th, 12th, 27th, 39th and 83rd — all in April.

Although Snowden, a Missouri native, also grew up fishing the Ozarks, his best finishes on White River reservoirs have come in the fall. His April record is hit or miss — 28th, 47th and 106th on Table Rock and 21st on Beaver. Last year on Bull Shoals, he finished 40th.

If Rook can return to early-2000’s form, he’ll be a threat. In April 2001 and 2000, he placed third and fourth on Table Rock, respectively. In early April 2005, however, he finished 39th.

If the big-swimbait bite that Kennedy committed to unsuccessfully here last season improves with this year’s clearer water, expect him to be in the mix. That’s according to Elite Series emcee Dave Mercer, interviewed in this week’s “Fantasy Fishing Insider” podcast.

Bucket D

Safe Bet: Tommy Biffle (5.6%)

Also Consider: Matt Herren (8.7%)

Best Value: Also Tommy Biffle

High Risk/High Reward: Andy Montgomery (0.7%)

Most Popular: Michael Iaconelli (41.8%)

With Bucket A cred to spare, Biffle is arguably the most undervalued angler in Bucket D, at 5.6 percent ownership. His record in April is, however, hit or miss — eighth, 22nd, 27th and 33rd on Beaver, and 33rd on Table Rock, are the high points. The lows? Finishes of 61st, 67th, 124th, 125th, 129th on Beaver, and a 281st on Table Rock in a BASS Invitational-format tournament.

Before last year’s Bull Shoals tournament, I wrote “Need a really high-reward pick? Take Matt Herren at 0.3 percent.” I thank him for making me look good by finishing third. He’s a good pick this year as well.

In five April tournaments on Beaver, Herren has never finished outside the Top 30. He previews this week’s tournament with me on the “Fantasy Fishing Insider” podcast.

Bucket E

Safe Bet: Brandon Palaniuk (63.5%)

Also Consider: Casey Scanlon (1.1%)

Good Value: Jared Lintner

High Risk/High Reward: Chad Pipkens (0.2%)

Most Popular: Also Brandon Palaniuk

Palaniuk, last year’s tournament winner is in Bucket E? That’s a no-brainer pick, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Palaniuk won on a spot last year, not a repeatable pattern. That spot will have gotten pounded, having been exposed in media.

On the other hand, Palaniuk loves throwing Rapala DT Series crankbaits and Storm Wiggle Warts, which are both killer in the Ozarks in the spring. Not to mention that Rapala’s new Scatter Rap (which Palaniuk and only a few others have much experience with) seems perfectly suited for prespawn water nearing the 60-degree mark.

Although it will be tough to pick against Palaniuk this week, I’m going to roll the dice on a rookie. With Palaniuk at 63.5% ownership, I can’t bring myself to follow the crowd.

Like Cliff Pirch, Chad Pipkens is rookie who appears poised to have a break-out tournament this week. In four pro-level April tournaments in the last three years, he’s finished first, eighth, 12th and 38th. His two Top 10s were on Beaver and Table Rock.