As the Bassmaster Elite Series heads to Lake Guntersville, I can’t help but be reminded of the last time we were there. In March, as the collective eyes of the bass fishing world focused on the Big G, we’d only been recently introduced to the pandemic that would change our world and radically restructure the 2020 season.
Now we’re headed back in the late summer, early fall timeframe, a period when fishing in the Deep South can be tough. Some anglers will catch the fire out of them, but don’t expect to see top-to-bottom greatness. Some of these guys are going to struggle, and that has the potential to shake up the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
Of course Guntersville is one of the most storied venues in bass fishing history, a place that has both launched careers and cemented greatness, so this tournament will conjure up hundreds of memories in all of us. When picking my team, there’s no doubt I’m going to lean on sentiment a bit, but I don’t want to let emotion get in the way of anglers who know how to grind it out in the heat this time of year.
Here are my picks.
BUCKET A: SAVVY
My pick: After a tough derby at St. Clair, Scott Canterbury has fallen to ninth in the AOY race, but there’s nothing like home cooking to get yourself back on track. If he’s going to make a serious run at repeating, he’ll need to get some redemption on Guntersville, where he finished a subpar 46th in the Classic.
My backup: No one needs to feel sorry for Paul Mueller, who has won two Elites since nearly winning the 2014 Classic on Guntersville, but I’m sure those memories of what could have been haunt him on occasion, and a win would tamp down that hardship.
BUCKET B: SENTIMENT
My pick: Matt Herren has come close to winning an Elite on several occasions, but he hasn’t been able to seal the deal. Right now he’s inside the Classic bubble, but without a ton of wiggle room, and if he wants to get back to the state of his biggest career win (a Texas Toyota Bass Classic) in March, he’ll need to make hay in Alabama first.
My backup: Brandon Lester has as much TVA experience and savvy as anyone in the field, as demonstrated by his seventh-place finish in this year’s Classic. He excels in tough tournaments, and like Herren he needs to grab that first Elite victory.
BUCKET C: SENTIMENT
My pick: Chris Zaldain needs to get the Guntersville monkey off his back after last year’s near miss. He also needs to make sure he stays in the Classic hunt to qualify to fish in his adopted home town of Ft. Worth. Right now he’s 36th, just eight points above 40th.
My backup: Brandon Card is a point behind Zaldain, and with his ninth-place finish at this year’s Classic he showed that past Guntersville struggles may be behind him. If he’s going to make consecutive Classics for the first time in his career, this event will be pivotal.
BUCKET D: SAVVY
My pick: Clifford Pirch has quietly fished seven Classics in a row, but if the season ended today he’d be outside the cut for 2021. He’s never had a great finish at Guntersville with B.A.S.S., but they’ve never fished it when it was tough, either. That’s when he seems to have an edge over much of the field.
My backup: After the disappointment of an early exit from St. Clair, it would be sweet for Hank Cherry to come back with a win. We know he can catch a few here.
BUCKET E: SENTIMENT
My pick: How great would it be to see 74-year-old Rick Clunn pick off the young bucks one by one in the Alabama heat? He’s had some great finishes at Guntersville, including top 10s and two wins, one of which was the 1976 Classic, held a bit later in the fall.
My backup: John Crews had a brutal Northern Swing, but there’s plenty of fishing left to go, and he’s too experienced and levelheaded to have it get him down. He was sixth here in this year’s Classic and third in a 2010 Elite.