This week the Elite Series is set to attack the St. Lawrence River from Waddington, N.Y., for the Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown. This is the first time the St. Lawrence is a stop on the Elite Series tour. This will be the first smallmouth beatdown leading to Volume II for the season finale on Lake St. Clair.
For this reason, I have chosen anglers in each Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing bucket who I think are good smallmouth anglers and have a low Fantasy Fishing ownership percentage in hopes of ending my season with a bang and getting back into the top 10 percent of Fantasy Fishing players.
Skeet Reese is second in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) standings and ranks fifth in Fantasy Fishing points, yet is still only owned by 7.3% of Fantasy Fishing players this week. Reese knows how to catch fish anywhere the Elite series goes. If he can find an area he likes, this could be an event he walks away with a win and makes his way closer to Edwin Evers in the AOY standings.
Of course I want to take Kevin VanDam here, but he has too many Fantasy Fishing players already picking him (30.7%). Any time a tournament will be dominated by smallmouth, his name has to be mentioned.
I also like Aaron Martens here. I have seen him posting pictures of giant smallmouth he has caught in practice. I am sure he has saved plenty of big ones to show the TV cameras once the tournament gets started. Martens is an excellent smallmouth angler with his finesse tackle. His 19.5% fantasy ownership scarred me away from him, unfortunately. If ownership numbers were thrown out, Martens would be my pick.
Once again I am happily surprised by how few Fantasy Fishing players have picked Randy Howell this week (6.9%). Howell is a very strong smallmouth fisherman with many of his Top 10 finishes of his career coming on smallmouth fisheries. Howell already has his Classic spot wrapped up with his Northern Open win on the James River, so he does not have to worry about AOY points. Howell can make the bold moves it will take to finish near the top this for this event.
I also like Brandon Card for this event. Card is having a strong season with three Top 12 finishes. His ownership at only 4.1% makes Card a steal as well.
My other choice would be Takahiro Omori. Omori has made a check at five of the six events so far this season. Look for Omori to excel in the next two events chasing smallmouth.
Brian Snowden is my pick for Bucket C and a daring pick to move up in the overall Fantasy Fishing standings. Snowden is a good smallmouth fisherman from the Ozarks. I look for his skills at chasing smallmouth there to carry over to the St. Lawrence River. Only 1.7% of Fantasy Fishing players are picking him, so there is tremendous upside if he can have a strong event here. It is a little scary knowing that if he slips and has a bad tournament that 98% of Fantasy Fishing players could gain on me in this bucket.
Jason Christie and Bill Lowen are my other two anglers to watch in this bucket. Christie took a win on the Detroit River last year in the Northern Open, so we know he is capable of catching big smallmouth. His 19.3% Fantasy Fishing ownership does not leave enough meat on the bone for me to choose him. Lowen is good almost anywhere the Elite Series goes, and his 7.2% Fantasy Fishing ownership leaves him with a lot of upside. Lowen seems like a very safe choice here, but I am wanting to step out and take a little more risk this week.
Kevin Short is from Arkansas and, like Snowden, has a lot of experience chasing after smallmouth in the Ozarks. Also, Short spent a lot of time last year up North chasing after smallies once the season was over. I am hoping all his time up there has paid off and he can bring home a Top 12. I am a little surprised that only 4.4% of Fantasy Fishing players have picked Short this week.
Nate Wellman is someone I expect to do very well here, but his 17.8% of Fantasy Fishing ownership ruled him out for me in this bucket. Fletcher Shryock with 5.9% Fantasy Fishing ownership is the only other angler who seems to stick out in this bucket.
I have been waiting and waiting for Kevin Hawk to have his breakout event on the Elite Series, and I am hoping this will be the one. With only 2% Fantasy Fishing ownership, I can see the points piling up if this is that first big break for him. Hawk is a strong finesse fisherman, and I think this will give him a boost at this event.
Brandon Palaniuk is always a strong choice at a smallmouth event, especially in a lower bucket like this, but with 55% Fantasy Fishing ownership, there is no real gain here.
Chad Pipkens with 5.5% ownership could be the dark horse to have a breakout event after all his experience smallmouth fishing.
Do not forget to get your Fantasy Fishing picks in for this week. Expect to see a lot of quality smallmouth hit the stage and really show off the fisheries available up North.