We’re on again, off again — just like a girlfriend in high school, the Bassmaster Elite Series has endured an up-and-down season. All of us can relate as we’re each dealing with how the COVID-19 is affecting our personal and work lives. It sucks. But we will persevere, and B.A.S.S. has worked tirelessly to keep the season progressing forward.
And that’s all that can be done.
Originally, the Elite Series was slated to again visit Waddington, N.Y., for the annual smallmouth smash-fest. This year, however, due to increasing COVID-19 regulations, state restrictions, etc., the Elites were forced to relocate to Clayton, N.Y. A different venue, but with access expanding into Lake Ontario.
Canadian waters are likely to be restricted, too. But with the addition of the big pond, there will be no shortage of giant bronze beasts. The marriage between the St. Lawrence River headwaters and Lake Ontario makes for one killer combination sure to wow B.A.S.S. fans from every corner of the bass-fishing universe.
When making selections for this event’s Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing, think tenure, experience and grit. Those anglers who know how big Lake Ontario can get, especially with a wisp of westerly wind, will need experience navigating big waves, and especially the drive to not turn around — grit. Can’t have no quit in ya at this one.
Let’s dig into my selections for the first of two back-to-back derbies in the Empire State.
BUCKET A: CANTERBURY
Scott Canterbury won the 2019 Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, a title held in the highest regards. And that momentum continues into 2020 despite all the health and scheduling challenges. He’s still in the lead, and that speaks to his demeanor and ability to deal with a stressful situation. I think he’ll keep his momentum rolling straight through the New York Swing.
Dark horse: Brandon Lester almost won at St. Lawrence in 2018, and I’d not be surprised one bit to see him dominate this time around. Regardless, he’s a safe bet.
BUCKET B: BLAYLOCK
Stetson Blaylock has done nothing but mature and become a very dominant angler on the Elite Series. Seldom is he not a factor, he makes cuts and makes checks. He’s proven his prowess on muddy southern waters, and on clear northern waters full of big smallies. I’m not sure I’d pick him to win this one, but you can bet he’ll be in the mix.
Dark horse: Hank Cherry won the 2020 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Guntersville, but he’s already known as a jerkbaiting machine that smallies can’t resist. He generally does well up north, and I expect St. Lawrence to be no different this time around.
BUCKET C: FEIDER
How can you not pick Seth Feider at this event. Yes, he’s largely owned, but I’d rather stick with the Llama knowing he will do well here than get passed by his strong ownership. I’ll take the risk and follow him to Championship Sunday.
Dark horse: Jeff Gustafson is complete hammer when the Elites head north. He almost won Cayuga last year, and he knows how to find and catch big smallies from big water. I wouldn't be surprised one bit if he wins this thing.
BUCKET D: CORY JOHNSTON
I’m also going with the masses here. Cory Johnston knows this part of the country as well as he knows his backyard. He’s endured a difficult start to the season, but don’t expect that to last any longer. This event sets up perfectly for this half of the Canadian Brotherhood. Not to mention he needs another crack at the big St. Lawrence smallies after last year’s event plagued him with motor troubles. Expect him to be in the hunt all four days. Plus, I won’t get passed up by his dominating ownership. He will excel, guaranteed.
Dark horse: Lee Livesay may be a guide on Lake Fork in Texas, but he knows how to find and catch big fish. He’s been a factor in nearly every event he’s fished, and I fully expect him to give the entire field a run for their money at some point soon — could be at this event.
BUCKET E: CHRIS JOHNSTON
The younger and clearly better looking half the Johnston Brotherhood was also in contention to win St. Lawrence last year, but he had mechanical issues of his own to deal with. He wants and needs a second chance at this event, and you can expect him to hit the water guns blazin’. Just like his older brother, Chris is leading the bucket's ownership, and I can’t take the risk of getting passed by his Fantasy Fishing ownership. He’s an easy pick.
Dark horse: Greg DiPalma isn’t a rookie, but he’s still earning his respect. But don’t let that fool you, he’s plenty experienced, especially up north. He notched a solid Top 10 last year, and I expect he’ll be in the hunt again this year. He’s a solid and safe pick from Bucket E.