Fantasy Fishing: Pickwick should be wide open

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Justin Atkins will be competing on his home lake during the 2021 Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake.

Pickwick Lake was likely to be a great event as originally scheduled in June, but it likely would have fished very small. It's likely most of the top bags would have been caught in very similar ways.

Now that the dates have been swapped so that the Elites are hitting Pickwick in March, the field should be very spread out from dam to dam, and top finishers will likely come from super shallow water as much as offshore. It should be a great mix of techniques, areas and depth ranges that produce high-end weights. Barring weird weather or rapid changes in water levels, winning weights will likely be between 85 and 100 pounds, and we should see giant largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass all play.

If we get a lot of warm, stable weather leading up to the event, there will probably be a few fish starting to spawn, but I think the winner will largely lean on prespawn bass. I expect power fishing to be uber productive, and anglers will be able to find quality fish and catch them the way they are most comfortable. Load your Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing roster with anglers that are comfortable in a slugfest.

BUCKET A: HACKNEY

Every year there is one or a few anglers that get on an influential run. It really looks like Greg Hackney’s return to the Bassmaster Elites might be a super special season. I may be super hard-pressed to have anyone but Hackney selected for Bucket A the rest of the season. This is your fair warning. Hackney has had success on Pickwick in the past, and this event should be well into his wheelhouse.

Notable alternatives: For the same reason Hackney is a deadly pick, it’s hard to think Jason Christie won't carry his momentum from Knoxville into this event. If you want someone a little more "dark horse," look at Bryan Schmitt. He is a grass specialist, and Pickwick has a sneaky amount of good grass in certain sections of the lake.

BUCKET B: LESTER

Brandon Lester let my team down at Knoxville. Maybe that was a bit of a reach on my part, but when I think about what he did in last year’s Bassmaster Classic on Guntersville, I think that translates well to mid-March on Pickwick. Pickwick fishes much more like the lakes that Lester grew up on, so he should feel right at home.

Notable alternative: I am still pretty high on Kyle Welcher. The Alabama native has maintained some solid finishes and has made both Day 3 cuts this season. Pickwick should play into the way he likes to fish, and I expect a solid finish from him. We may even see some frog action from him in this event.

BUCKET C: GROSS

Much like Bucket B and Lester, I am not going to let an uncharacteristically tough Knoxville tournament dampen my hopes for Buddy Gross on Pickwick. Gross has been dominant in summertime events on Pickwick, but I still think we will find strong offshore staging fish in this springtime event.

Notable alternative: Pat Schlapper was one of the few anglers that figured out the big smallies on Pickwick in the current this past November during the B.A.S.S. Nation National Championship. He knows firsthand what lives there and the type of smallmouth mega bags that Pickwick can deliver. So it’s safe to say the smallies will get their fair share of attention from him during official practice. 

BUCKET D: AREY

Marr Arey has definitely seen his fair share of Pickwick from his FLW days, and he is a pretty strong spring angler. Arey seems super undervalued in Bucket D. He just kind of jumped off the page when I took my first glance at the buckets.

Notable alternative: I really feel like one of these days Hanselmania is going to happen again, and this feels like a good place for Ray Hanselman to get things kicked off. Hanselman followed up a super tough St. Johns River event with a top 20 at Knoxville, so maybe Fantasy Fishing players can catch him on an upward swing here.

BUCKET E: ATKINS

It's safe to say that Justin Atkins is pretty ticked off about how his Bassmaster Elite Series season started. Atkins has grown up around Pickwick Lake, and I expect him to turn his season around and have a big event. It is dang near impossible to pass up Atkins for this event.

Notable alternatives: If you can’t stomach the high ownership percentage of Justin Atkins, here are two names that feel right this week: Jason Williamson and Rick Morris. For different reasons, I can really envision J-Will doing some work with a hearty swimbait offering on a jig head for smallies and largies in current, and I can see Rick Morris grinding out some big bags on a bladed jig around shallow wood cover and grass in the Pickwick backwater.