Fantasy Fishing: Level playing field at Tenkiller

What’s especially interesting about the final regular-season event of the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series is the fact it will end on a lake that nobody has practiced for. Up until a couple weeks ago, Oklahoma’s Fort Gibson Lake was the location of a spring event, which was rescheduled for these upcoming dates due to catastrophic floodwaters. Now, because of continued terrible water conditions, it’s been pushed to Tenkiller, another lake just up the road.

Probably the most similar aspect each lake shares is they are both located in eastern Oklahoma. Other than that, they are vastly different.

Largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass will all be in play at Tenkiller, and it’s a pretty small body of water considering the other fisheries the Elite Series has visited this year.

Whom does this event seem to favor? I can think of a bunch of anglers worth putting in my lineup, but I’m making choices based on three simple factors: Season momentum, career experience and the ability to adapt to pressured waters with quick decision making.

A final point I’d like to make is simple: With the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title nearing its finale, this event is primed to either make or break someone’s dreams. Canterbury has been on a tear this year, but can he overcome the surprises that wait at Tenkiller? Guess, we’ll see.

Let’s dig in:

BUCKET A: LESTER

Brandon Lester is very experienced, and he’s again enjoying a fantastic season. But what I like best about Lester is how hard he pushes at every event — over the past two years especially. Not to mention he has proven over and over again his proficiency at catching any of the three bass species that will be in play at this event. He’s been very close to taking home his first blue trophy, and if there ever was a time when all things considered line up to his favor, it’s at Tenkiller. I'm betting on Lester for the W.

Dark horse: Knowing smallmouth and hot, late-summer water will be on the docket, you can’t overlook Seth Feider, Chris Zaldain and the current AOY leader Scott Canterbury. These guys all know how to pluck bass from warm summer waters and have mondo momentum on their side.

BUCKET B: PALMER

Luke Palmer is an Oklahoma resident. He’s been quiet and unassuming during his rookie season on the Elite Series. That doesn’t mean he’s not looking to make a bunch of grown men cry at Tenkiller. He will be going into this event in 23rd in the AOY standings, which is a comfortable place to be. Watch out for Palmer.

Dark horse: If Palmer isn’t to your favor, look at Clifford Pirch. There isn’t a more proven southern finesse angler with countless experiences on bodies of water that get pressured and very hot during the summer months. This really plays perfectly into Pirch’s wheelhouse. He’s coming off of a disappointing northern swing where he left a lot of points on the table. I know he’d love to mop up with a big finish (or a win) in Oklahoma.

BUCKET C: MULLINS

When I think David Mullins, I think East Tennessee lakes like Cherokee where he guides clients to big bass of all three species. Tenkiller is just an Oklahoma version of that, and he’s been fishing very well lately. I’m betting on momentum and Mullin’s tenacity to carry him through this derby to help him climb the AOY standings.

Dark horse: Two anglers I’d look for to do well, if you’re not ready to bet on Mullins, include Greg Dipalma and Jeff Gustafson. Both have proven smallmouth and largemouth track records, but both also seem to know what it means to manage the pressure of earning a Classic berth and an invite to the AOY Championship at St. Clair the following week. Look for these two men to earn some points and climb the AOY leaderboard.

BUCKET D: HUDNALL

Despite an early season disqualification, Louisiana rookie Derek Hudnall has smiled through it all and proved he belongs at this level. What’s more, he’s only four spots out of the Classic cutline — a good finish here should put him in contention to make that cut. I believe in Derek Hudnall, and you should too.

Dark horse: Steve Kennedy has been pulling himself out of the hole he dug early in the season, and his grisly experience with dragging a deep-water swimbait should help him through this event. I bet he at least earns a Top 35 check, if not more. I’d also look for Chris Groh to keep climbing. He, too, has dug himself a hole, but did better at Cayuga and climbed a few spots in the AOY standings. He’ll have to at least finish in the Top 10, if not win the thing to make the AOY Championship, but that makes him a dangerous man. I know in his mind he has nothing to lose at this point. And those types of anglers usually fish very well. Groh the distance.

BUCKET E: JOCUMSEN

Carl Jocumsen has struggled this year, and I know for a fact he’s very disappointed in himself. Thing is, he’s going to get his pro fishing career redirected at some point. I believe it’s going to happen soon. Bottom line is I know his current standing does not, in any way shape or form, indicate how good he really is. He’s just in a slump right now, and there are usually tons of fireworks and exciting finishes that occur when an angler like Jocumsen ascends from the ashes. This could be his event.

Dark horse: The anglers in Bucket E are enduring a tough season, but like I said, they are the types of anglers who could blow it out and win. I’d look for rookies Harvey Horne and Dale Hightower to finish their seasons with a quality finish. Both guys live nearby and have nothing to lose. I bet they make some noise at this one.