Fantasy Fishing: Let the weatherman make your picks

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Bill Lowen, 38th, 10-3
James Overstreet

Bill Lowen will be fishing his 11th Bassmaster Classic at Lake Ray Roberts.

If I’m completely honest, I got absolutely crushed in Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing at Lake Guntersville a few weeks ago. So, while I would normally do a recap of the event in regards to my Fantasy Fishing performance, this time, I’ll simply sum up what I learned from that tournament like this — don’t suck or Kyle Jessie will catch up. 

I figured that mid-depth would play. It did. I figured grass would play. It did. I picked guys who would lean more offshore. Whoops.

Fortunately, our next tournament is on a venue that I am relatively familiar with, as in it was almost my backyard pond for the last five years.

I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, and until recently I lived just a short drive north from Denton to Lake Ray Roberts. I’ve fished a lot of events out there, and it feels like it can show its ugly side at any moment. Most of my tournament results came with 30 mph winds and huge waves or subzero temperatures in late April.

It is a big lake with a small population of fish relative to its size, but the fish that live there can be absolute giants.

The typically clear-water lake has a ton of flooded timber, one marina, a fair bit of both submergent and emergent grass, deep house foundations and a bunch of rocky points and humps. Everything tends to come down to one factor … wind. Ray Roberts is mostly wide open on the bottom half of the reservoir and has several large creeks on the north end. It seems most local tournaments are almost always won on the east branch way up the lake or down in the state park area on the south end. But, if that wind decides to come in hot, you better buckle up, because where you start might be where you have to spend your entire day.

One last thing to keep in mind before we jump in. Extended forecasts show a fair chance for thunderstorms. The lake is already in a flood stage at over 3 feet high as I write this. It has been high for several days, and with more rain coming it will probably stay high. Personal history would dictate that the winning fish will move shallow into flooded growth along the banks. Topwaters will be a major player early, while shad-type baits like crankbaits, swimbaits and spinnerbaits will fill in the gaps.

If the water settles down and stabilizes, the deep bite might turn on, but if it remains unstable, it might make for a tough bite. But if you get a few of the right bites, you could walk away a champion without weighing a single limit of bass. 

BUCKET A: PALANIUK

Until last season, I thought I had Brandon Palaniuk pegged. He was an offshore stick who loved to crank and throw a dropshot. I’m sure those things are still true, but since his win on Santee Cooper fishing shallow grass and his most recent win on the James River, which is a notoriously shallow fishery, he is as well-rounded as he has ever been. If you need momentum, he has it. If you need confidence, he has three wins in two seasons. If you need technique wizards, he can fish deep, shallow and everywhere in between. He is my guy.

Don’t forget about: Matt Herren

I can’t understand how a guy like Matt Herren has such low ownership. I guess everyone is expecting this to be a deep-water slugfest, but while I would love to see that go down, I don’t see it happening. If I’m right and it is a flooded bush, shallow-water, crankbait beatdown, you’ll regret not picking him.

BUCKET B: LESTER 

Brandon Lester has been sneaky good this season. He finds himself in Bucket B with a few finishes near the top, but he hasn’t seen a championship day yet. But what he does have is Classic confidence. He has visited the Classic stage five times and has been in contention to win the last two years. The other three visits, he still finished in the 20s or better. I can see him fishing his strengths, whether that is dropshotting and cranking out deep, or throwing squarebills on shallow rocks. He is my safe pick for a Top-15 finish.

Don’t forget about: Steve Kennedy

If Pete Robbins isn’t picking him, consider Steve Kennedy. A few years ago, he finished second throwing a white swim jig in flooded bushes. He also did the same thing on his way to a victory on Lake Dardanelle in 2017. Swimbaits will almost certainly play as well, and we all know how he loves to sling that thing around.

BUCKET C: LOWEN

I’m all in on my shallow water strategy if you can’t tell. Bill Lowen is notorious for not fishing in water deeper than the top of his head. In fact, in what was supposed to be an offshore event, Lowen locked in his first blue trophy stirring up mud on Pickwick earlier this year. He is a bonafide-Wyatt Earp-oak when it comes to the Bassmaster Classic, and the pressure doesn’t seem to give him much trouble. He’s got a pair of Top 10s and several finishes in the teens in Classic competition, but it’s his midseason finishes in shallow fisheries that catches my eye: June 2018 — Mississippi River and Sabine, 22nd and 22nd; June 2019 — Guntersville, 14th. I could go on.

Don’t forget about: Brandon Card

This time of year, expect Brandon Card to lock a topwater in his hand and go to work. June is a beautiful time for big walking baits and ploppers on Ray Roberts, and when you throw flooded points and bushes in the mix, hang on. I’d hang a dollar bill on him leading one of the three days.

BUCKET D: NEW 

Bryan New was born for the big stage. He has worked his tail off and shown that he has what it takes to make it. I haven’t quite figured out what he loves to do, but I know that excelling while fishing behind people as a co-angler in the Bassmaster Opens taught him to fish thoroughly, which is imperative here. This is his first Classic, but his win on the St. Johns River in his first ever Elite event tells me that a few nerves might push him to fish better. He also has back-to-back solid finishes in the last two events on Neely Henry and Guntersville.

Don’t forget about: Austin Felix

If you want a good offshore guy, run with Austin Felix. The deep game has certainly fared better for him so far in his career. If it turns into an offshore deal, it could get nasty. His momentum is fantastic too, with a 10th, ninth and 14th in the last three events.

BUCKET E: WIGGINS

Man, Bucket E has been tough for me. I’ve started writing about three different anglers, and each time I get a swimming feeling that I’m going the wrong way. I eventually landed on Jordan Wiggins. He punched his ticket to the Classic by flipping shallow grass in Florida, but virtually every Bassmaster Open he has fished has been on Smith Lake. Of those six tournaments, five are better than 21st and three are Top 10s. That said, he is a very versitile angler. Hopefully he can keep his head from spinning and bring some giants to the scales.

Don’t forget about: Pat Schlapper 

Simply put, Pat Schlapper is just dang good. He won the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship to qualify for this year’s Classic. He hasn’t had the breakout year he would have liked on the Bassmaster Elite Series necessarily, but he has seen scattered success, two of which finishes were in the 20s on shallow-water fisheries. If nothing else, I would think he would be a good bet for solid points. I might just have to switch come tournament time. 

Drain the Lake

I started off Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge with a bang, but I have not been so hot the last two events. I’m still saving a bunch of my smallmouth guys for when we go up north. Here’s my Classic lineup.

  • Cody Bird 
  • Drew Cook 
  • Brandon Lester 
  • Bill Lowen 
  • Luke Palmer 
  • Pat Schlapper 
  • Hunter Shryock
  • Patrick Walters