My 2016 Fantasy Fishing season was anything but a fantasy. I made a conscious decision to primarily pick based on history. There were a couple times where I went with my gut, but for whatever reason, it never worked out.
At each event, there were some guys who were supposed to do well that tanked, and others that were completely off my radar that ended up with a Top 12. This year, I’m going to select a logical pick and a gut pick for each bucket and try to balance them for my final team.
BUCKET A: PALANIUK
Gut Pick: Brandon Palaniuk
With Cherokee being a relatively unfamiliar fishery, many Elite anglers took the opportunity to check it out. In their reports I noticed a few consistent things: Rocks, clear water and smallmouth bass. My first gut pick has got to be BP. Being a snowboarder, the cold weather won’t faze him, and he loves to find pre-spawn bass on rocks.
Logical Pick: Ott Defoe
Tennessee local Ott Defoe has spent more time on this body of water than most. He is stellar with a shaky head or jig in his hand, which I promise will play in this event.
My Pick: Brandon Palaniuk
BUCKET B: LOWEN
Gut Pick: Casey Ashley
Right now with the cold weather, the shad are likely dying off. I fully expect an underspin to play. There are also tons of marina slips to pick apart. Both of those techniques fit right into the wheelhouse of Casey Ashley. I’d look for him to bring in a few big bags.
Logical Pick: Bill Lowen
This guy is a talented late winter/pre-spawn stick. He’ll most likely have a jig and a tube in his hands and will put up some good numbers. If the weather gets tough, which is almost a guarantee, he’ll find a way to put five in the box, and that will go a long way in Tennessee.
My Pick: Bill Lowen
BUCKET C: LESTER
Gut Pick: Brandon Lester
While all three bass species live here, I really think having a 3- to 4-pound smallmouth or two will be critical. While we don’t typically have events this early in the season, I have followed Lester on social media the last few offseasons. He loves to catch cold-water smallies before the Elite Series season kicks off. This event will be right up this Tennessee angler’s alley.
Logical Pick: Mike McClelland
If it is as cold as everyone is expecting it to be, the rocks will be a major player as they’ll hold the most heat. I’m sure Mike will be dragging a jig or crank around for a few key bites.
My Pick: Brandon Lester
BUCKET D: WALKER
Gut Pick: Bernie Schultz
For whatever reason, this Florida angler does insanely well when smallmouth are in the picture. I’ve been burned before by not picking him. And while I don’t really have a logical reason to pick him, this time it just feels like it could be right.
Logical Pick: David Walker
I know it feels like I’m hammering the Tennessee thing over and over, but with this practically being a brand new venue (they haven’t been there since 1981), the insider info these locals have will definitely come in handy. Walker has proven he can find them in transition, and he’ll likely do it again on Cherokee.
My Pick: David Walker
BUCKET E: WHEELER
Gut Pick: Jesse Wiggins
There are so many new faces to sift through this season. There are a few who stand out. Wiggins has a great record on lakes in this part of the country, but being that he is an Elite Series rookie, he will be a bit of a wild card, which is why he ended up as a gut pick.
Logical Pick: Jacob Wheeler
There is a long list of big names that are all logical picks here. Mark Daniels Jr., Wheeler, Chad Pipkens and Stetson Blaylock to name a few. Wheeler, for those living under a rock, has won an FLW cup, has two BFL wins, a BASSfest title and is, wait for it … a rookie? Welcome to the Elite Series. This guy can do it all. I’m going to bet he’ll be a Brett Hite or Jacob Powroznik type and win an Elite Series event in his first season after jumping from the FLW tour. This could be the one. Look for him to go deep.
My Pick: Jacob Wheeler
Keep your eyes on the weather going into this event. If it gets nasty, it will go from being a textbook tournament to run-and-gun mania. If that’s the case, those who can adjust on the fly will be the ones to finish strong.