The 2017 season doesn’t kick off with the Bassmaster Classic this year, which will be a change for the Elite Series angler, but Cherokee Lake should prove to be very interesting. It’ll be a cold event, no doubt, and there will be some big fish weighed in. You’ll not want to miss this one!
The 2015 Lake Hartwell Classic was a cold event, one of the coldest in history, but Cherokee could certainly surpass it on the thermometer. Luckily, the Elites will be on one of the best southern-smallmouth fisheries in the country.
BUCKET A: CHERRY
My pick: Hank Cherry
Cold water = Jerkbaits. Jerkbaits = Hank Cherry. The North Carolina pro fishes throughout the winter and at times, loves the nastiest weather, because the nastiest weather allows for a stellar jerkbait bite. After a great 2016 campaign this could be a great event for Cherry to start 2017 strong.
Watch out for: Ott DeFoe
It’s hard to beat local knowledge when it comes to tough conditions. Casey Ashley proved that at Lake Hartwell and it’ll be hard to beat Ott DeFoe on his home fishery. There will be a few other anglers that will have home-lake comfort, but none other than DeFoe in Bucket A.
BUCKET B: EHRLER
My pick: Brent Ehrler
I genuinely believe this could be Brent Ehrler’s first Elite Series victory. He came close at the Potomac River in 2016, but I think cold conditions and slow finesse tactics that he is comfortable with in California could pay dividends at Cherokee. We saw how great he was at Mille Lacs Lake for the Toyota Angler of the Year Championship, and it’s worth noting he qualified for the Elites via the Northern Opens where they frequent smallmouth fisheries.
Watch out for: Brett Hite, Kevin VanDam
For some reason, Cherokee continues to remind me of Lake Hartwell and the conditions the Classic contenders faced. Being able to watch Hite give a fantastic electronics seminar on the water, and calling his shot during the Classic was impressive. He will probably be able to do the same with a drop shot in hand. Kevin VanDam should never be counted out, especially when the conditions are tough and a jerkbait could play.
BUCKET C: MULLINS
My pick: David Mullins
David Mullins is one of those local anglers that could undeniably have a huge advantage at Cherokee. He spent plenty of time during pre-practice, and will certainly have a gauge as to what the fish are doing. He knows how to find those above average groups of smallmouth with the endless rocky terrain.
Watch out for: Seth Feider
The amazing Feiderman fished different at the end of the 2016 season compared to how he approached the preceding events, and that had a serious impact on his fishing prowess. He fished to win — almost out of desperation — at the Mississippi River and ended up in second place. He fished to win on his home body of water and did, so that indicates to me that he’ll be taking a more aggressive approach to this year’s events. This year may be the year where Feider puts an even bigger mark on his career.
BUCKET D: MUELLER
My pick: Paul Mueller
Mueller has been tearing it up during off-season — and for most of the 2017 season. After leaving just a few hours into the season so he could see the birth of his first-born child, Mueller was in a deep hole. He managed a decent AOY finish and with four smallmouth fisheries on the schedule, this could set up to be his best year yet.
Watch out for: John Murray
He isn’t the local Tennessean that you probably expected me to mention in this bucket, but Murray is amped up for the smallmouth fisheries on the schedule this year and he could get his season started in the right direction just up the road from his new stomping grounds just down the road.
BUCKET E: TACORONTE
My pick: Jesse Tacoronte
The Floridian probably loves smallmouth fishing more than flipping grass in the Sunshine State. Tacoronte has been in the industry for a while and I’m not sure he gets real nervous, which will certainly help him at the season’s opening event.
Watch out for: Stetson Blaylock
If you kept up with the FLW Tour over the last few seasons then you already know Stetson Blaylock is a very good angler. It’ll be interesting to see how Cherokee will play, but Blaylock could prove he is the real deal beginning in Tennessee.