Fantasy Fishing: Conroe Classic Fantasy revisited

The first time I had to submit picks for the 2017 Bassmaster Classic was so long ago that Jesse Wiggins had only qualified for one Classic, Jacob Wheeler had half as many B.A.S.S. victories and Timmy Horton may or may not have had a beard to rival that worn by the GEICO Caveman.

In the ensuing two months, a lot has changed about the world, and at the same time very little has changed. The same could be said about the Classic – on the one hand, I assumed that by the end of March the main wave of spawners would just be showing up at Conroe, but a super-mild winter means that many of them will be long done by then. Additionally, I wasn’t able to integrate the momentum – or lack thereof – of the first two Elite events into my analysis. Those are the changed circumstances. On the other hand, it’s not like any of the anglers have learned or forgotten a lot about fishing in that time. They are what their records say they are, and that’s mostly what I have to go on. Thus, I’m not changing much, but I’m making a few tweaks.

BUCKET A: COMBS

Previous Pick: Keith Combs

Previous Backup: Todd Faircloth

Going With: Keith Combs

If anything, the mild winter and early spawn could help Combs. A shallow bite is a great equalizer, and loads of bedding fish might’ve eliminated any advantage that he had. They certainly won’t be out on their summer structure yet, but the curveball might be enough to let him do something different. Also, as I wrote before, if he wins and I don’t pick him it’s going to result in history’s greatest forehead slap.

BUCKET B: POWROZNIK

Previous Pick: Takahiro Omori

Previous Backup: Jacob Powroznik

Going With: Jacob Powroznik

Neither of these guys has set the world on fire so far this year. Indeed, Tak is uncharacteristically in last place in the AOY standings through two events, and Powroznik is in 82nd. In fact, much of this bucket seems cursed with Skeet, Shaw, Lucas and Benton in 100th, 101st, 102nd and 104th place, respectively. Obviously any of them could turn it around immediately and win their next time out, so while I’m tempted to pick James Elam, who has had a fantastic start, I’m going to switch my vote to Powroznik because he’s won in Texas, and if there are some bedders left count on him to crush them.

BUCKET C: DEFOE

Previous Pick: Jordan Lee

Previous Backup: Dave Lefebre

Going With: Ott DeFoe

Jordan Lee started the season where he left off last year, with two straight checks (plus a 14th place finish in the first Southern Open) and there’s no doubt that he will win a title at some point in his career, but I’m pushing my chips to the middle on Mr. DeFoe, who won the last regular season event of 2016 and then started this year with consecutive top 10s. No one is fishing better right now, and he will find a number of ways to catch Conroe’s fish in a few weeks – and look to better the 31-pound bag he had the first day at Okeechobee.

BUCKET D: EHRLER

Previous Pick: Brent Ehrler

Previous Backup: Steve Kennedy

Going With: Brent Ehrler

Ehrler and Kennedy are both in the middle of the pack right now. While Jason Williamson has previously won in Texas (albeit in south Texas) and seems to have found his groove with no Elite finishes worse than 19th in his last five tries, I’m sticking with Ehrler, who can do it all. If they’re on beds, he’ll catch them. If he has to use a spinning rod, he’ll catch them. If he has to crank, he’ll catch them. He’s experienced on the sport’s biggest stage, has won both the TTBC and the Forrest Wood Cup, and he’s ready for his first title on this tour to go with the others holding down his mantel.

BUCKET E: WIGGINS

Previous Pick: Wesley Strader

Previous Backup: Charlie Hartley

Going With: Jesse Wiggins

Why not? Every time I’ve expected Wiggins to look like a rookie, he’s surprised me. He’s caught them in Alabama, Tennessee and Florida (twice) and hasn’t missed the money in a B.A.S.S. event since 2012, in his first attempt. I may be upset if Strader whacks them, as I expect he will, and like many fans I’d be thrilled with a Hartley win, but some anglers come into this sport knowing how to win. Of course KVD was one, but so were Casey Ashley and Brandon Palaniuk. I don’t know if even they could explain what “it” is, but they seem to have been born with that extra gear that the vast majority of the field has to build. The early returns indicate that Wiggins might be the next in that lineage.

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