It was too good to be true. After a spring full of warm, favorable weather, it looks as if we’re heading back to reality with cool temperatures and changing conditions for the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota. Changing conditions are standard in springtime tournaments, so this should come as no real surprise.
As far as Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing, it’s going to be important to select anglers that have the ability to adapt and adjust with those changing conditions. This was true when Ott Defoe won the 2019 Bassmaster Classic at the Tennessee River, and it will almost certainly be true again this year.
When making Fantasy Fishing picks, I tried to select anglers based on fishing strengths and overall versatility because I truly believe that there will be a mixture of fish caught shallow as well as fish that are still in their deeper, prespawn haunts.
Let’s get into some picks.
BUCKET A: BLAYLOCK
It’s always hard to make a Bucket A pick regardless of the event, but this is the most stacked Bucket A in recent memory. While it would be easy to want to pick the reigning Bassmaster Classic Champion or even a former Champion on the Tennessee River, I’m counting on Stetson Blaylock to come through in a big way. In two springtime Classics, the Arkansas native has a pair of third-place finishes. This is largely due to his ability to adjust on the fly and change with the bass. Blaylock has been my pick to win the Classic since the beginning of the year, so it’s only right to pick him in Bucket A.
Solid secondary selection: It’s hard to not think back to Greg Hackney’s “stand down” vibrating jig catch just a couple of years ago at the Tennessee River, or even Chris Zaldain’s Day 2 charge with a swimbait in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic in Knoxville. Either of the two anglers would be an excellent choice, but Zaldain’s 1.5% player percentage might be a risk worth taking.
BUCKET B: WALTERS
Patrick Walters doesn’t seem like a sneaky pick for Bucket B, but considering his 7% player percentage, he may be getting overlooked. The South Carolina pro is viewed as one of the best forward-facing sonar fisherman on the planet, and it seems as if that will be a factor to some degree in this event. In his previous two Classics, Walters has finished 12th and 10th, and his last trip to Knoxville resulted in a solid 23rd-place finish.
Solid secondary selection: Another angler who may be getting overlooked in Bucket B is Brock Mosley. The Mississippi pro’s fishing style matches rather well with this stretch of the Tennessee River as it’s conducive to anglers who like to wind baits like a crankbait, vibrating jig or even a spinnerbait. Mosley also notched a ninth-place finish here back in 2021.
BUCKET C: COMBS
The thought of Keith Combs being able to lock a crankbait in his hands for three days sounds like a winning formula. Coming into the Classic, Combs has as much momentum as anyone in the field. Just to make the Classic, Combs won the last St. Croix Bassmaster Open of the 2022 season at Sam Rayburn and followed that up with back-to-back top 35 finishes to open the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series season. Look for Combs to crank his way to the top.
Solid secondary selection: Four years ago, Matt Robertson introduced himself to the bass fishing world with a big furry coat at the 2019 Classic in Knoxville. While his finish wasn’t the best in 2019, he came back to the Tennessee River in 2021 and notched a 17th-place finish. Although Robertson calls home a few lakes up from this pool of the Tennessee River, Fort Loudoun and Tellico match his fishing style extremely well.
BUCKET D: PIRCH
There’s something about this pool of the Tennessee River that Clifford Pirch really likes. In two events in Knoxville, the Arizona pro has two top 25 finishes. We’ve seen that a big swimbait can play on this body of water, and it may be perfecting timing for Pirch to exploit that again.
Solid secondary selection: It’s hard to suggest Luke Palmer is going to be a contender based on past results on this pool of the Tennessee River as his worst Elite Series finish came here back in 2021 in the way of a 95th-place finish. However, I’ve heard Palmer talk about this event on numerous occasions, and it still stings based on what could have been. Expect the Oklahoma pro to have a good showing this time around.
BUCKET E: HUFF
Cody Huff is another angler who is considered to be one of the best forward-facing sonar anglers, and if we’ve learned anything in the first two Elite Series events in 2023, it’s that you can count on someone figuring out a pattern using this technology. Even if the Missouri pro isn’t able to get that pattern established, his White River roots should help him out if he decides to throw a crankbait around rock.
Solid secondary selection: Carl Jocumsen could absolutely be a contender in his first ever Bassmaster Classic. The Australian pro is one of the best swimbait fishermen in the field, and if that plays, lookout for Jocumsen.
Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge
• Brandon Card
• Matthew Robertson
• David Mullins
• Tristan McCormick
• Clifford Pirch
• Brandon Lester
• Chris Zaldain
• Gerald Swindle