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Fantasy Fishing: All or nothing at the Classic

It is finally time for the 53rd running of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota on the Tennessee River, and to be honest I don’t think I could be any more excited. The first Classic I ever attended was in 2019 in Knoxville, and I was amazed at just how cool the biggest event in bass fishing was. So, getting to go back to Knoxville for another Classic and getting to work for B.A.S.S. is pretty awesome. Never would I have thought back in 2019 I would be doing this, but here we are.

Looking at the weather in Knoxville next week, it sure doesn’t look too promising to stay consistent. With cold nights dipping under the 30-degree mark during practice and chances of rain all week, there’s going to be a lot of changes going on. Depending on the amount of rain the Knoxville area actually gets, you could definitely expect to see some fluctuations in the water level. It will be interesting to see who finds fish in practice but will have to adapt throughout the tournament to stay on them.

Albeit, you could assume we are going to see a Classic for the record books both on and off the water. The last time the Classic was held in Knoxville, it shattered the attendance records, and with rumors of hotels being sold out for the first time since 2016, there is a suspicion this one is going to break the previous record. Not to mention the fact that we are going to see some big fish caught considering it’s the Tennessee River and this is the best 55 bass anglers in the world.

For those keeping up with how I have done in Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing this year, let’s just say it’s time to get the train headed in the right direction, and there is no better way to do it than in the Bassmaster Classic.


When you look through Bucket A, you could just about imagine any guy in there has a real shot to win the Classic. It’s hard to just pick one, but I am going to Brandon Palaniuk for the simple fact of his previous success on the Tennessee River. I also considered how close he has come to winning a Classic before. He knows the Tennessee River well, and a Classic trophy would look really nice beside the 2022 Bassmaster Angler of the Year trophy.

Alternate: Brandon Card

Brandon Card was my initial pick in Bucket A. More than likely, I am going to regret going against the hometown favorite who has spent a lot of hours on this body of water. So, if you want a hometown favorite who knows the river, add Card to your roster.


Not only is it the Tennessee River in late March, which fits Gerald Swindle’s style, but it truly does feel like it is Swindle’s time to win an event. There is not a bigger tournament to win than the Bassmaster Classic. Add in all the changing conditions throughout the week, which could make for some interesting fishing, Swindle is one angler you can count on to junk fish or change up to fill a limit and potentially a big bag.

Alternate: John Cox

When you consider prespawn fishing in late March, John Cox is one angler you have to think about. While I didn’t take him in my lineup, if you are looking for someone you can count on to catch them shallow cranking, look no further than Cox.


I can remember watching Scott Martin’s video back in 2021 of him on the Tennessee River catching them cranking a flat-sided crankbait, and you would expect to see that happen again. Martin had a good finish in the previous Elite event as well with a 25th-place finish, and he will be looking to improve on that finish and find himself in the position to win going into Championship Sunday.

Alternate: Matt Robertson

If you have been keeping up with Matt Robertson on social media lately, you will find he has caught them on Kentucky Lake and winning local tournaments there trying to stay sharp for the Classic. Hopefully he can roll that momentum into the Classic.


Prespawn conditions and dirty water fit right into Luke Palmer’s wheelhouse. Palmer has excelled in prespawn tournaments, and you could expect to see that work out well for him during this year’s Classic. Plus, he told me he was going to win, so I will take his word for it.

Alternate: Will Davis Jr.

Will Davis Jr. might be overshadowed by Tyler Rivet in Bucket D, but don’t forget about him. Davis is the 2022 B.A.S.S. Nation Champion, and while it has been since 1994 that a Nation Champion has taken the Classic victory, look for Davis to be a factor in the tournament with the momentum he has had in the previous two Elite tournaments.


The chance to take a guy in the Classic that I have fished against a lot back home in West Virginia doesn’t happen often. Matter of fact, Wil Dieffenbauch is only the fifth person from West Virginia to qualify for the biggest tournament in bass fishing. Dieffenbauch is an incredible local fisherman in West Virginia and knows river fishing very well. Recently, he won the 2022 B.A.S.S. Nation of West Virginia State Championship on the Ohio River.

Alternate: Jonathan Dietz

Someone who has flown under the radar and been kind of sneaky is Jonathan Dietz. He qualified for the Classic via the Nation Championship, but he recently notched a 24th-place finish at the St. Croix Bassmaster Open on Lake Eufaula.

Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge

• Brandon Lester
• Brock Mosley
• Carl Jocumsen
• Gerald Swindle
• Greg Hackney
• Jason Christie
• Matt Robertson
• Stetson Blaylock