Fantasy Fishing: Go with pros who adapt quickly

There's still time to sign up for Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing. This year there are more opportunities to win, even if you missed the first two tournaments of the year.

It’s springtime – the birds are chirping, the flowers are trying to bloom and Hank Cherry is trying to find room in his pockets for all of that newfound wealth. Meanwhile, the bass are confused. As we saw last week at Guntersville, they want to be up shallow, but this spring’s heavy rains and inconsistent weather have toyed with their ability to get busy with one another.

This rescheduled tournament should in many ways build on last week’s big event. Chickamauga isn’t Guntersville, but it’s close enough to expect similar factors to come into play. There’s grass, big fish and big water, but the most important element is the season. In spring, more than any other time of year, the fish are constantly changing. Expect to see some anglers catch big bags one day and small bags the next, or vice versa, and unless there’s an analog to the Brown’s Creek causeway, the anglers will have to stay on the move.

Go with pros who excel at adjusting on the fly. Here are my picks.

BUCKET A: GROSS

My Pick: Buddy Gross

To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man, and on Chickamauga Gross is pretty much the man. He lives there and he knows it well. He also knows how to win, as shown by his two FLW Tour wins, one of them up the road at Pickwick. Now, just two tournaments into his Elite Series career, he has a chance to make a name for himself more widely. Don’t expect him to fold under the pressure.

Solid Backup: Stetson Blaylock

The soft-spoken Blaylock has been a hammer for quite a while, and coming off a third-place finish in the Classic his springtime stock has never been higher – unless you consider his April 2009 FLW Tour win on Lake Norman, or last year’s Elite victory at Winyah Bay.

BUCKET B: LESTER

My Pick: Brandon Lester

Lester’s another quiet guy who can do it all, and he’s shown solid skills on the Tennessee River over the course of his relatively short Elite career. Coming off a seventh-place finish at the Classic and a mid-field finish at the St. Johns, he’ll have to push hard to edge up into the AOY race that is his natural habitat.

Solid Backup: John Cox

You can’t discount Cox any time the fish are shallow, even if he’s fishing back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back tournaments.

BUCKET C: COBB

My Pick: Brandon Cobb

At barely 30 years old, the baby-faced Cobb has a lifetime of experience and no fear of going for the win, as he showed last year not once but twice. So far this year he’s struggled, but his history demonstrates that won’t last long, so bet on him to be back for a Sunday appearance (and possibly in the winner’s circle) sooner rather than later.

Solid Backup: Bill Lowen

Like Cox, don’t bet against him any time the fish are shallow. His dock pattern at the Classic didn’t last all three days, but even when his fish shut down he’s rarely far from the top of the leaderboard.

BUCKET D: HAMILTON

My Pick: Skylar Hamilton

Hamilton had a solid week at Guntesrville, ending up 12th, and after a tough start at the St. Johns he’ll need to keep the momentum going if he’s going to qualify for consecutive Classics. He’s shown the ability to do that, finishing in the money in half of his B.A.S.S. events (including a late spring/early summer victory in a 2016 Open on the Arkansas River), and this one’s less than two hours from the house.

Solid Backup: Anyone Named Johnston

Now that I met them both at the Classic, I finally know which one is which, but I still don’t know enough about their fishing styles to pick one over the other. Still, based on their collective track record, you can bet that one, the other or both will be toward the top of the heap.

BUCKET E: LIVESAY

My Pick: Lee Livesay

Livesay’s Classic showing proved that nothing about his 2019 season was a fluke. He’s especially comfortable around big fish, and years of guiding on Lake Fork during its busiest season have forced him to adjust quickly or forfeit repeat business. Expect him to be a force now and for the foreseeable future, which makes him a bargain in Bucket E.

Solid Backup: Rick Clunn

If Guntersville is any indication, there should be a squarebill or vibrating jig bite going on, rather than sight fishing or ledge fishing, and that’s the grand master’s wheelhouse. As he showed last year at the St. Johns, his best days may still be ahead of him.