Fantasy Fishing: Expect a shallow water beatdown

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Seigo Saito

Given how good of a shallow water angler Jason Christie is, Neely Henry should set up right in his wheelhouse.

If we learned anything from the last event at Lake Fork, it’s that there are some venues where you’re truly never out of it. With a combination of perfect timing and consistency, Lee Livesay was able to bring home the trophy. That final day on Lake Fork will go down in the history books as being one of the most amazing displays of topwater fishing ever recorded, and thanks to Bassmaster LIVE, we got to watch it all go down in real time!

Now we head from a lake where a 6-pounder was a decent limit filler, to Neely Henry Lake, where a 6-pounder may very well be the big bass of the tournament. Neely Henry is primarily a shallow water fishery and has great populations of both largemouth and spotted bass. Looking at past ABT and Bassmaster Opens tournament results, it appears that finding a few fish over 4 pounds for a limit will go a long way.

Unlike Lake Fork, which was won catching mostly prespawn females, this one will probably be a postspawn beatdown. Many of the same techniques like crankbaits and topwaters are likely to make an appearance, but I would expect to see a few more shallow water and vegetation-focused lures to play. It could just be high hopes, but I have a feeling that a frog is going to be a star player.

While the Bassmaster Elite Series has never been to this fishery, many of the anglers have fished here as recently as 2020. Given that tournament happened in October, don’t put too much stock in those results. Technique-specific experts will be the “soup du jour.”

BUCKET A: CHRISTIE

Neely Henry is a stained, shallow lake with some vegetation. Frogs, spinnerbaits, swim jigs and the like should dominate. Jason Christie is a master of all things shallow. I recall a tournament a few years back on Toledo Bend about this time of year where he threw a frog and swim jig for four days and landed a Top 10. He also seems to have a knack for landing those bonus fish that you’ll need to finish strong. If there happens to be a shad-style topwater bite, he’s won an Elite event doing that too.

Don’t forget about: Kyle Welcher

It was tough to not go with the sophomore Kyle Welcher. His social media and YouTube channel are filled with videos fishing this lake, and usually he is flipping docks or throwing a frog. I wish I could snatch him up on Drain the Lake, but I was a dummy and burned him last event on Fork. If you still have him in your pool, now would be a great time to throw him in the mix.

BUCKET B: MENENDEZ

This venue reminds me a lot of Dardanelle, which happens to be a lake where Mark Menendez and Jason Christie have wins. Menendez is a wily veteran who has been doing the shallow water thing longer than most of the field has been alive. He has had an up-and-down season, but this one hits him right in the feel goods. Watch out for him on Sunday. 

Don’t forget about: Brandon Cobb

Brandon Cobb loves some good topwater action. He had a great event on Lake Fork doing just that. Postspawn is prime time for that technique, and if he can find a place to get bit consistently, he’ll be dangerous.

BUCKET C: CANTERBURY

Even with the (justifiably) high ownership, Scott Canterbury is a bargain pick. He lives just a few miles west and is as local as it gets. It’s unlikely that he has spent much time in recent years on Neely Henry this time of year, but you can bet he has seen everything this lake has to offer. Any time you have shallow power fishing, he tends to shine.

Don’t forget about: Chad Morgenthaler

If you’re looking to follow the momentum, roll with Chad Morgenthaler. He just came off a Top 10 on Fork and is fired up. This time of year, the fish are always on the move. If he can lock them down on Day 1, he should be sharp enough to follow them as the tournament goes on. Back-to-back Championship Sundays anyone?

BUCKET D: HARTMAN

This hasn’t been a standout season for Jamie Hartman, but the guy is incredibly talented, and you know he’ll have a breakout event eventually. He dreams about big topwaters and crankbaits, both of which will factor. He’s a steal in this bucket at fewer than 5% ownership at the moment.

Don’t forget about: Frank Talley

Last year on Guntersville, Frank Talley found an area with current where the big ones were stacked up and threw shad-style baits to a victory. The shad spawn will definitely be a main target. Stumble upon the right stretch and you can get healthy real fast.

BUCKET E: MUELLER

This is one of the few times you will see me make a purely mathematical decision in Fantasy Fishing. While Paul Mueller proved he can fish shallow vegetation, (proven by his win last year on the St. Johns River) grinding it out in the mud is definitely not what he statistically does best. However, he has amassed the most Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing points out of all the anglers in this bucket and is the only guy with multiple Top 50s. For those reasons I’m going to roll the dice. I’m definitely going to save him for smallmouth country in Drain the Lake though.

Don’t forget about: Chris Groh

Chris Groh typically finds himself in the mix at least a couple days in this type of event. He is certainly proficient when fishing shallow, however, consistency is the name of the game. He needs to put together multiple solid days to make a jump out of his slump. That’s not something he’s done so far, but that’s not to say he can’t start now.

Drain the Lake

We have a couple more largemouth events coming up, so I need to be very choosy about who I burn. I had a great start on Fork, but I’m down some key players. I’m going to save a few of my ‘Bama boys for Guntersville in a few weeks. Here’s who I’m rolling with this time around.

  • Drew Benton 
  • Jason Christie  
  • John Cox
  • Derek Hudnall
  • Stephen Kennedy 
  • Mark Menendez
  • Chad Morgenthaler 
  • Frank Talley 

Wish I could pick: 

  • Brandon Card 
  • John Crews 
  • Matt Herren 
  • Kyle Welcher