Fantasy Fishing: Bet on swamp crawlers and river rats

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James Overstreet

Lee Livesay has made the Top 50 cut in all three Elite Series events in 2021.

Ever since I was a kid watching B.A.S.S. tournaments and reading my monthly Bassmaster Magazine, one thing I always paid extra attention to was how to adjust to changing conditions. It seemed like every time I tried to get out on the water, the weather would beat me there and ruin my trip. It was amazing to watch the haymakers thrown around on Pickwick Lake making it a difficult place to fish effectively. Even with the strong current and constantly changing water level, these pros proved that they belong at the top level of the sport. 

Next, we’re heading to a true river system down in deep south Texas. What the Sabine River may lack by way of big bass, it makes up for in endless areas to tuck into. The Elites have been here three times starting back in 2013, and each time they seem to fine-tune it more and more. On average, it will likely only take 15 keeper fish to make the final day. Keep in mind that a keeper bass down there is only 12-inches and may weigh less than a pound.

We should be hitting it at a great time for this fishery to really show out. We haven’t had any crazy heavy rainfall in the last week or two and the water should be relatively stable. We also just had a full moon a few days ago, so we will likely see the tail end of a wave of spawning bass be caught. 

One more thing to keep in mind is a month or so ago, the Russian Tundra decided it wanted to vacation to Texas. As a result of the insanely cold temperatures, a lot of fisheries have had much of the forage take a hit. Because there is less bait, a lot of fish have come seemingly out of nowhere and we have had more giant bass caught this season in Texas than any other year I can remember.

Now, this fishery is a shallow river and giant, deep-dwelling bass probably don’t exist here, but you can bet that there will be some effects on the bass because of that storm. Don’t be surprised if we see the biggest fish we’ve had at this venue come across the stage. I’m praying it’s caught by one of the guys I’m picking below.

BUCKET A: HACKNEY 

It was so difficult to not pick Greg Hackney at the last event, but by start of Day 1, I made a jump to my backup pick, Brandon Palaniuk and it paid off huge. Even though Greg had won previously on Pickwick, it didn’t necessarily set up to fit his strengths this time around. That said, there is not an angler in the field who is better suited to bring this one home than him. You can see the fire in his eyes reflecting off of that Bassmaster Angler of the Year trophy he’s after. His first two Elite events were incredible, and he backed that up with a fantastic finish in the first Southern Open. Pickwick was certainly not what he wanted, but you better not bet against him here. He won the 2018 Sabine event fishing mostly topwater. It would not shock me one bit to see him go all “Clunn” on this river and win back-to-back trophies.

Don’t forget about: Brandon Palaniuk

Brandon Palaniuk has shown how versatile he is. He won last year’s Santee Cooper event flipping shallow vegetation. He also likes to find little isolated areas to throw a crankbait. If he can find a limit each day, he may snag another Championship Day finish.

BUCKET B: LIVESAY

Frogs, frogs, frogs. Having fished against Lee Livesay in Texas for several years, I’ve seen him dominate using those things. We haven’t had many chances for him to really showcase this technique, but rest assured there will be some brought across the scales that he tricks with a frog. He can also flip with the best and is one of the most studious anglers on tour. He won’t leave any stone unturned, and he may just stumble on a gold mine.

Don’t forget about: Bill Lowen 

If we go to a venue where you have to drag a bait through the mud for a small limit to have a shot at winning, you can bet Bill Lowen will be there licking his chops. He has some stout history here. Back in 2013, he finished fifth with less than a 10-pound average per day. He backed that up with a 22nd in 2018. Typically, I have a strict policy about picking anglers the event after they win one, but this will be one I seriously have to consider.

BUCKET C: RIVET

Historically, the Lousiana boys have fared well here because more often than not, they grow up fishing little backwaters and sloughs in water barely deep enough to cover a bass. Tyler Rivet definitely fits that bill. Heck, even his name sounds like “river-rat.” That being said, basically anytime he has posted results on a system like this, they are solid. He has a few finishes on the Red River including a 21st and 31st out of huge Opens fields. He finished 21st on this very river back in the 2017 Open out of nearly 200 anglers. He’s got my vote.

Don’t forget about: Jamie Hartman

Jamie Hartman is one scrappy dude. He tends to find ways to get bites when they’re tough to come by. From what I can tell, he loves to throw moving baits and topwater baits, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to do that here. This one could be strong for him despite his middling finish back in 2018.

BUCKET D: ZALDAIN

After an amazing 2020 season we all expected Chris Zaldain to be a mainstay up in Bucket A. Despite his first two tournaments being bombs, he smashed them on Day 1 at Pickwick Lake, and that limit may have been critical for him to right the ship. He loves to throw swimbaits around vegetation and is a sniper if he can lock eyes with them. Zaldain has been here every time the Elites have been here and has consistently posted great results. He has 17th- and 20th-place finishes in 2015 and 2018 respectively.

Don’t forget about: Clark Wendlandt

If it’s clean enough to look at them, there may not be a more deadly pick than Clark Wendlandt. With this likely to be primarily a spawning event, if he can find some stable water, that may just be a viable way to catch a few. He’s also a little mad at them after an up-and-down event on Pickwick. That could make for some fireworks.

BUCKET E: GLEASON 

Darold Gleason has not had the start anyone expected. It could be the pressure, or maybe we just haven’t been to events that fit his wheelhouse. Either way, he has a great opportunity to turn it around. The Sabine literally runs out of the south end of the famed Toledo Bend where he is from. You can bet he has put in some work to find some sneaky little hidey-holes. He has also fished many local events and several B.A.S.S. Central Opens on fisheries like the Red River in Louisiana, which fishes very similarly. He had a mediocre finish in the Open on this system back in 2017. He has come a long way since then.

Don’t forget about: Jason Williamson

Every now and then I get a feeling deep in the old belly drum and occasionally they pay off. I made a last minute switch to Steve Kennedy at Pickwick, and it paid off big time. Jason Williamson likes to flip and is known to randomly catch giants. In this one, you may get five bites that weigh 5 pounds. One 5-pound bite and a few line burners can go a long way.