Fat, deep-dwelling, clear-water smallies will fill the winning bag this week, so repeat this mantra as you set your roster for the St. Lawrence River in Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing — spin to win!
Spinning rods spooled with light line will be the winning tools of the trade this week, so set your line-ups accordingly. Sure, there’s some largemouth in the St. Lawrence, but most guys are going to make the long run to the Thousand Islands area, which is one of the best places in the country to catch limits of huge smallmouth. One caveat: If five-day forecasts call for gale-force to blustery winds during the tournament, all bets are off. (Hear Bassmaster TV pundit Mark Zona and I discuss smallmouth fishing weather and handicap the field in my podcast, “Fantasy Fishing Insider.” Additional guests are AOY leader Edwin Evers and Ott DeFoe.)
With only two tournaments remaining in the Fantasy Fishing season, you’ll want to use strategy more than ever to achieve your goal, be it winning a league or just earning bragging rights over your fishing buddies.
If you’re in the 90th percentiile or better in points, it might pay to play defense, making more safe picks than high-risk/high-reward picks. Consider balancing your roster 3-2 or even 4-1, conservative to ambitious. If you’re in the 80th percentile in points, balance your roster 2-3, conservative to risky. If you’re in the 70th percentile or worse, you’ve got nothing to lose, so make one conservative pick and throw four Hail Marys.
I’ve handicapped the buckets to highlight the best bets, safest picks and best dark-horse, high-risk/high-reward picks. I’ll also tell you who I’m picking, and why (I sometimes don’t follow my own advice!). Pick and choose from this menu as your strategy needs dictate, based on where you are in the Fantasy points race.
Kevin VanDam (31.5% ownership): Safest Bet
If you’re protecting a lead, pick KVD. It’s not only possible, but probable, that he will do well this week, as Deb Johnson explained in this article last week on Bassmaster.com.
Aaron Martens (16.3%): Best Bet
Few anglers anywhere are better than Aaron Martens with a spinning gear and light line. Both his reputation and résumé indicate he will place in the Top 12 this week. Consider his career highlights in similar tournaments — two Top 10s and two Top 20s in eight Top 50 finishes in New York tournaments (Lake Erie-Niagara River and Lake Champlain). I would pick him this week, if I didn’t have a gut feeling that Skeet Reese will place just slightly higher than Martens.
Skeet Reese (6.6%): My Pick
With Edwin Evers, VanDam, Martens and Reese at the top of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Race, they will all be extra motivated this week — Evers to protect his lead and the others to make up ground, should Evers falter. Although Evers told me that he’s fishing to make a Top 10, it will be hard for him to not be conservative because all he has to do is avoid disaster and the AOY prize is his.
That’s why I like Reese this week. His personality seems better geared to go for broke and try to win this one. And his career highlights on similar New York waters suggests he’s more than capable: 13th on Erie/Niagara River in mid-July and second, seventh, 14th and 18th on Oneida, all in later summer tournaments. Among all Elite Series anglers, his average finish in New York state tournaments is third-best.
Gary Klein (0.3%): Dark Horse
Gary Klein is fishing better than ever and he’s got eight Top 20s in New York, including two Top 10s in the past 13 years. And he’s made three Top 20s on Lake St. Clair, another smallmouth factory, including a seventh and a fourth, all in late August.
See picks for buckets B, C, D and E on the next page.