DETROIT — After a total smallmouth smashfest on the St. Lawrence River, the Elite Series kicks it up a notch with a visit to the No. 1 bass lake in the world, Lake St. Clair. Just like on the St. Lawrence River, a limit will not be enough. It will take five quality smallmouth a day to have a shot at a Top 12 finish. The Plano Championship Chase will be a great end to the Elite Series. The top anglers in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) standings are battling for the postseason, while anglers in the middle of the pack are looking to qualify for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic on points and anglers at the bottom are looking for a win to qualify for the Classic.
I am taking a slightly different approach this week for choosing my Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing anglers. I’m taking a combination of bucket favorites and low percentage Fantasy Fishing anglers in hopes of getting my highest Fantasy Fishing point events of the season.
Aaron Martens took his fourth Top 12 two weeks ago on the St. Lawrence River. Martens is one of only two anglers this year with four Top 12 finishes. Martens is also in second in the AOY standings, needing another Top 12 to have a decent shot at catching Edwin Evers. Anytime smallmouth are in play, Martens will be in contention for a win. Martens is owned by 20 percent of Fantasy Fishing players. If he can beat Kevin VanDam and Edwin Evers, that puts me ahead of 60 percent of Fantasy Fishing players.
It will be very hard to pass on KVD and Evers this week. Other than Kentucky Lake, Lake St. Clair has to set up best for KVD to get record win No. 21. I have to pass on KVD because he is owned by more than half of Fantasy Fishing players. KVD is 39 points behind Evers and will have to be at his best in hopes of coming back to challenge for the AOY trophy.
Evers is having an awesome season and needs a good event to hold off Martens and KVD. Evers has won an event with smallmouth before, so I would not be surprised to see him challenge for a Top 12 or even a win if he can find the right area on St. Clair.
John Murray is also a strong pick for a smallmouth event. Murray is coming off a Top 12 finish on the St. Lawrence. Murray is only owned by 3 percent of Fantasy Fishing players, which seems like a complete steal after the Top 12 at the last event. If Murray can beat just Jonathon VanDam and Jason Christie, I will beat 70 percent of Fantasy Fishing players for this bucket.
Jonathon VanDam is the favorite in this bucket and clearly should be after finishing second on the St. Lawrence River. It would be hard to not see another Top 12 coming for JVD this week. JVD will need a win another good finish to stay in the Top 29 to automatically qualify for the 2014 Classic.
Randy Howell is another strong bet for Lake St. Clair. Howell has three Top 12 finishes on the season and is a successful smallmouth angler. Howell is 37th in AOY standings and in range of making the classic on AOY points. This could be the event that Howell makes that final push to be fishing Guntersville in February.
Bernie Schultz is from Gainesville, Fla., but can catch quality smallmouth like anyone on the Elite Series. Schultz is coming off his first Top 12 finish of the season and appears to have a good shot at another Top 12. He is 52nd in AOY points and needs a win to qualify for the Classic.
Josh Bertrand is a strong pick for Bucket C. I am picking Schultz over Bertrand simply because of Fantasy Fishing ownership percentage. Overall, they are both about equally rated in every category.
Michael Iaconelli is the favorite in the group and needs a good finish to end the season on a high. Also, Iaconelli is looking to qualify for the Classic and will need a win for that to happen. With 45 percent ownership, it is hard to take Iaconelli.
Kevin Hawk is my pick for Bucket D. Hawk also got his first Top 12 on the St. Lawrence River and can find the big smallmouth to get another Top 12. Hawk only has a 12.5 percent Fantasy Fishing ownership, so there is a lot of room to gain over other players. Hawk needs a win to have any chance of qualifying for the Classic.
Nate Wellman is another strong pick, but a 28 percent Fantasy Fishing ownership is higher than I would like. Wellman has a win on Lake Erie chasing smallmouth and could easily win on Lake St. Clair.
Kevin Short is another pick to consider for this event. I expect all the time Short spent fishing up North for smallies last year to pay big dividends at this event. A 5 percent Fantasy Fishing ownership means Short can pull away from the majority of Fantasy Fishing owners with a strong finish.
To finish off my anglers who finished in the Top 12 in the last event, I am taking Chad Pipkens for Bucket E. Pipkens is owned by 21 percent of Fantasy Fishing players, but I do expect a big event from him. Pipkens has a fifth place and 16th place finish on Detroit River/Lake St. Clair in the Northern Opens.
Brandon Palaniuk is coming off a win at the St. Lawrence River and locking up his ticket to the Classic. Palaniuk has struggled to finish strong in back-to-back events, but this could be his third event with a big event. Palaniuk stated he is looking for a back-to-back win. With smallmouth being the main target, Palaniuk can pull off a rare feat on the Elite Series. The biggest issue with choosing Palaniuk is he is owned by 63 percent of Fantasy Fishing players. If Pipkens beats Palaniuk, that puts me ahead of two-thirds of Fantasy Fishing players for this bucket.
Jared Lintner is a strong smallmouth angler from California. Lintner finished in the Top 50 on the St. Lawrence River and I think this will happy again on Lake St. Clair.
Do not forget to get your Fantasy Fishing picks locked by launch tomorrow morning, in time for this week’s Elite Series event. Whether you are pushing for the season Fantasy Fishing player standings or it’s your first Fantasy Fishing event, the player with the highest point total still wins a $2,500 Bass Pro Shops gift card and a Gemini jersey.