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Kicking off the season in Florida is a tradition in tournament bass fishing that has stood the test of time. Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players are licking their chops to see if the big girls show up to play while most of the country is still hunkered down with ice or cold winter conditions.
Bass fishing in Florida is synonymous with big bass and bed fishing, but will the females actually make the move before or during the event? That is the big question when selecting your Fantasy team to kick off this 2020 Elite Series season.
You may recall many stories from the 2019 Elite Series stop where anglers like Seth Feider found mega schools of staging fish in practice that either dwindled or flat out disappeared by tournament morning, because the fish moved to the bank and their eventual spawning destinations. Likewise, there were a few anglers who were on pretty much nothing in practice and were still aware enough to anticipate the coming change and move to the right areas that produced big Day 1 limits.
What does that mean for you? You need to decide if you are going all-in on anglers that excel at sight fishing, or banking on guys that specialize catching prespawn staging fish.
Me? I think the Big Bass Gods will shine bright on the 2020 Elite anglers, and I am all-in on top-end, sight-fishing anglers.
BUCKET A: COX
Little truth talk? I love fishing shallow, and John Cox is a bit of a superhero in my mind. The results he’s produced fishing shallow, and while competing entire seasons with few if any electronics, is just impressive. Cox is a heck of a sight fisherman, and look for him to make hay with his General worm. It just feels right to pick him.
Prespawn Alternate: Seth Feider was on some amazing staging fish last year, and he is good enough to make the adjustments needed if they start to leave him, so if you are not all-in, Feider would be a solid alternative.
BUCKET B: WALTERS
Patrick Walters showed up for me last year in this event, and he will fly just under the radar in this bucket with two returning superstars in Palanuik and Swindle. He is a great young angler and should be a solid value for this kick-off derby.
Junk Fishing Alternate: Gerald Swindle has never not cashed a $10,000 check out of Palatka, so he is a solid bet if you want to play it safe. No matter what stage the fish are in, Swindle will have 14 rods on the deck, and he’ll likely use them all to fill up his livewell with a solid limit — and earn you some decent Fantasy points.
BUCKET C: COBB
Can Brandon Cobb sight fish? Did you watch the Hartwell or Lake Fork events last year? Did you see his 11-pounder? Alright, I think we are all on the same page.
Prespawn Alternate: Greg DiPalma had one of his best finishes last year at this same event. I believe GDP mixed things up with staging and bedding fish, so I’d look for him to learn and grow to put forward another solid event in his sophomore season.
BUCKET D: SCHMITT
Honestly, I could not identify a pure sight-fishing stud in this bucket. Bryan Schmitt was runner up on the 2019 Bassmaster Open on the Harris Chain where he largely cashed in on an offshore grass bite with swim jigs catching staging fish. So this pick will hedge my bets a little for the bed fishing strategy
Sight Fishing Alternate: Kyle Welcher is a young angler, he should have decent eyesight, and hopefully he ate his carrots as a kid. He also finished third behind Schmitt on the Harris Chain last year, so he can’t be totally lost in Florida.
BUCKET E: FELIX
I’ve had the pleasure of fishing against Austin Felix when we fished common tournaments a few years back in Minnesota. He is known where I am from as one heck of a bed fisherman, and overall, he’s pretty darn good. Felix I believe is a steal in Bucket E, and I don’t see him spending much time here.
Prespawn Alternate: Destin Demarion actually has guided out of Palatka in past years and is very knowledgeable about the fishery. I’m not sure what his style of fishing is, but as a guide, you need to learn to be on fish during all stages and seasons.