Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing is back!
The 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series season should be ultra competitive on the water, and just as fierce among Fantasy Fishing players. With so many qualified anglers, picking the absolute best will be important this year. For the Elite Series, there are two foreign fisheries on the schedule, and the Elites start 2018 on one of those bodies of water.
Lake Martin in Alexander City, Ala., has 44,000 acres of fishable water, and anglers will target both largemouth and spotted bass. I approach this event with two separate perspectives. Not based on who will target one species over the other, but rather if the weather will be cold or warm. During the early parts of the year, especially in the South, a quick breath of warm weather can have fish transitioning to their next stage of the yearly life cycle.
I would be thoroughly surprised if an Alabama angler didn’t win this event, especially if the weather stays cold. With so much pre-practice time and anglers searching for brush and key structure, they may be hard to beat if a late winter pattern or early pre-spawn is still in play.
If the next few weeks gets warm again and the fish transition sooner, then it’s anybody’s game. So here are my picks for all five Fantasy Fishing Buckets, and all are weather dependent suggestions.
BUCKET A: DEFOE
Cold: Ott DeFoe
Don’t think that Ott DeFoe only did well at Cherokee last year because it was one of his home lakes. No, he has a rock-solid proven track record when the temperatures are colder and there are plenty of pre-spawn fish. If you want proof, look at his Bassmaster Classic resume. He has fished six Classics, all but one of those came in February, and he has notched five Top 12s. The one Classic he didn’t finish in the Top 12, he still made the final day and finished 25th.
Warm: Greg Hackney
If Greg Hackney could lock a jig in his hands every day of his life, he probably would. This could be an event where he does that very thing. With plenty of docks for those transitioning fish as well as brush piles and other structure, it could be a magical week for Hackney with his favorite bait.
My Pick: DeFoe
With winter weather hanging around and projections looking a tad gloomy, I’d expect more fish to be in that late winter, early pre-spawn pattern than transitioning elsewhere already.
BUCKET B: M. LEE
Cold: Matt Lee
Staying in-tune with the fish requires time on the water. Whether it’s on Guntersville, Martin or Smith this fall and winter, Matt Lee has been there. He knows he hasn’t hit his peak yet and after a 25th place finish in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year he knows exactly how he needs to practice and approach events in 2018 to back it up with another good season.
Warm: Randy Howell
A crankbait should factor at some point in this event, and I’d expect Randy Howell to have a few on the deck of his boat. Whether it’s a steady cold or intermittent warm weather, they should eat a crankbait on Martin from now until they start spawning. That is something that can be counted on.
My Pick: M. Lee
He’s learned how to practice for events and pre-practice based on his style of fishing. I like how much fun he is having on the water. Fun = fishing better and more relaxed.
BUCKET C: MCCLELLAND
Cold: Mike McClelland
Pee Paw, McStick, it doesn’t matter what you want to call Mike McClelland, but I call this event right up his alley. He is a hardened Ozark angler and shouldn’t get too rattled by the potential of cold weather. One thing that's for certain, he should have a couple jerkbaits that run at varying depths ready to go. Just like I said about the crankbait for Howell, a jerkbait could and should be money so I’d push a few chips into McClelland’s corner.
Warm: Lowen, Tharp
I’m interested to see how much the river portion of Lake Martin could factor into this event. The rivers always seem to get warmer much quicker than the main lake due to numerous factors so anglers like Bill Lowen and Randall Tharp should keep it honest, and maybe find some prime shallow water. Otherwise, I put them in the category with Hackney as anglers that could lock a big-fish bait in their hand and see how it plays out.
My Pick: McClelland
I’ll take McStick McClelland at Martin seeing how a jerkbait bite should definitely be in play. He’s not afraid to mix it up and run up the river either.
BUCKET D: MONTGOMERY
Cold: Brett Hite
Brett Hite is one of the best electronics anglers when it comes to vertically fishing a group of fish or even fishing off-shore brush in my opinion. This could be the perfect event to start 2018 off on the right foot. After an uncharacteristic 2017 showing, Hite is prepared for a comeback.
Warm: Andy Montgomery
Skipping a jig is Montgomery’s forte, and he could cash in big time with a good start to his 2018 campaign. I’ve thought about the numerous patterns and baits that could be key in this event, but one that is a mainstay is a jig. Whether an angler chooses to fish deep with it or shallow around the visible cover it should factor.
My Pick: Montgomery
If you figure in a jig, docks and brush for a Carolina angler like Montgomery, I’d be hard pressed to believe he doesn’t get a check. Especially with a mix of largemouth and spotted bass on Martin.
BUCKET E: STRADER
Cold: Bill Weidler
Bucket E is full of rookies, newcomers and the Elite Series anglers that finished lower in the 2017 AOY standings. Bill Weidler is one of those genuine rookies. He is from nearby Birmingham, Ala., and made the jump to the Elites after qualifying through the Southern Opens. One thing about Weidler is that he is well prepared. Living in close proximity on the outskirts of Birmingham means he probably has solid experience on Martin during the colder months of the year.
Warm: Wesley Strader
Wesley Strader is classified as a newcomer for his first year on the Bassmaster Elite Series because he is a seasoned veteran in professional fishing. He tallied $1.3 million in earnings with FLW and in 29 events with Bassmaster he has another $180,000 in winnings. It’ll be a shock to no one if Strader does well this year on the Elite Series. I expect him to get off to a good start whether it is cold or warmer at the first event. I like his style of fishing; it reminds me of how Gerald Swindle approaches a day on the water. They leave nothing unchecked and are willing to go in the opposite direction to appease a gut feeling they may have.
My Pick: Strader
He’s qualified multiple times for the Elite Series and declined every year until now. I’d expect he is comfortable where he is in his career and was ready to test his skill and experience against this group of hammers. We will be hearing a lot from Strader this year.