Over the past two Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments, we’ve seen the best and the worst that southern fisheries have to hand out in the fall – enormous potential, with a dose of realization that it’s easy to miss key clues. That leads to classes of “haves” and “have nots.” One guy in the weigh-in line will have two swimmers, and the dude behind him will have five for 25 pounds.
That makes Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing even harder than usual, because often the Top 10 are just one zig or zag away from being in the bottom 10, or vice versa. That’s why the weights were all over the map at Guntersville and Santee, not just within the field, but also for individual anglers. Even Brandon Palaniuk, the Santee winner, was inconsistent.
So for Chickamauga that means you’re looking to pick pros who have at least two of the following three attributes: (1) Demonstrated expertise on TVA lakes, ideally during the fall; (2) an ability to adjust to changing conditions as the event goes on; and (3) a willingness to junk fish. Keep those in mind when you make your picks.
Here are mine:
BUCKET A: VETERAN SAVVY
My pick: Scott Canterbury stumbled at Santee Cooper, with his second poor performance in the last three events, but he showed last year that he’s built to catch ‘em down the stretch. The grind of the season, and of those subpar finishes, won’t get him down. Besides, his trend this year has been to trade off good and bad finishes (6-46-2-43-11-72-9-65) so this one has to be good.
My backup: David Mullins is fishing lights out this year with only one finish out of the money – at Eufaula. He’s finished in the Top 10 in two of the last four, and 11th in a third and after Santee is in position to make a run at the Bassmaster Anger of the Year title.
BUCKET B: GROSS MARGINS
My pick: Buddy Gross has had to recircle this one on his calendar this year, but he managed to earn a win elsewhere. With Palaniuk showing how much fun it is to win twice in one year, expect him to invoke the Buddy system to double up.
My backup: After Day 2 at Santee, I fully expected Steve Kennedy, who had his area all to himself, to add to his collection of blue trophies. Maybe it’ll come a week later, thanks to his same mainstay swim jig.
BUCKET C: SHALLOW AND SHALLOWER
My pick: John Cox needs to keep the throttle in forward to ensure a Bassmaster Classic spot. He might’ve found the winning fish at Santee, but he had to share them with Jocumsen, Gussy and others. That should inspire him to get further off the grid this week to have something all his own.
My backup: Bill Lowen may finally be back on track after Santee. Despite two finishes in the 80s in the three events before that, he’s still in range of a Classic berth, which would make two in a row for the first time since he qualified for seven in a row from 2011 through 2017.
BUCKET D: GOTTA GET BACK
My pick: In his return to the Elite Series, Gerald Swindle has surprisingly not set the world on fire, but you can never bet against the two-time AOY, especially on the TVA system, and especially when junk fishing is in play.
My backup: Derek Hudnall found the swamps of Santee to his liking, and while a second Classic berth may be a little out of reach, some momentum to end the year will go a long way in furthering his career.
BUCKET E: SALVAGING POINTS AND DOLLARS
My pick: It wasn’t an exceptional finish by his standards, but with a 40th-place check John Crews got to fish on Day 3 for the first time since the Classic. The 12-time Classic qualifier is too good to stay down in Bucket E much longer, and he will make many of us happy when he breaks out at some point.
My backup: Like Crews, Lee Livesay is too good to stay down here much longer. He won’t look past Chick to get to his home waters of Lake Fork, but a little momentum heading into that derby could go a long way toward a blue trophy.