Fantasy Fishing: Shifting to hunger and experience

After looking at my selections for the Classic back in January, I don’t think I’m very far off with two events in the can so far. I firmly believe that season momentum will pay a role, but don’t overlook experience or hunger when selecting your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing anglers for the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods at Lake Conroe in Houston, Texas, March 24-26.

I’ve made a few mild changes based on who I believe has the stronger momentum and who will better handle the pressure that the Classic is known for presenting.

Remember that each bucket was largely situated based on 2016 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. Current AOY standings won’t impact angler bucket placement for the 2017 Classic.

Considering what I just said and what I’m about to say, the 2017 Classic is chock full of anglers fully capable of winning the world title, and while I believe my choices are spot on, I won't be surprised if any of the 52 competitors rise up and win.

BUCKET A: HACKNEY

Greg Hackney has continued to fish angry. In fact, that’s clearly just his style — he’s not happy unless he’s first, and if there’s a guy who’s due for a world title, Hackney certainly fits the bill. He’s continued his dominance at each event in 2017 with two checks, including a Top 12. You can bet Hackney will do well at Conroe.

Dark Horse: Todd Faircloth or Randall Tharp would be my backup selections here, without a doubt. Both anglers are well experienced competing on the sport’s biggest stage, and I’d argue both anglers are due to win. But, so is all of Bucket A.

BUCKET B: IACONELLI

Iaconelli almost beat Keith Combs on Conroe during a TTBC a few years back. Ike is always a contender at the Classic, and he’s more than capable of dealing with the pressure that comes with competing in the Classic — he’ll stay tough, and I’d not be the slightest bit surprised if Iaconelli takes home his second Classic trophy.

Dark Horse: Matt Herren was my original dark horse a couple of months ago, and he’s staying put. Herren is hungry for a win, he can handle the pressure. He knows how to deal with crowds, and he knows how to catch fish from the conditions that the entire field will likely be faced with. Herren could steal the show and not surprise me a bit.

BUCKET C: DEFOE

You can’t argue with how well Ott DeFoe is fishing right now — especially after a big win during the final regular season event of 2016 on the Mississippi River out of Lacrosse, Wis. He’ll be making his sixth Classic appearance in Houson, and one could argue that a Classic victory for DeFoe would change his life as a pro angler. Considering his momentum, experience and consistency, DeFoe is a bargain in Bucket C.

Dark Horse: There are several other anglers who are solid selections in this bucket as well, but Bobby Lane is a quality second choice. He’s no stranger to the Classic, and many would argue that nobody is more overdue for a Classic title.

BUCKET D: WILLIAMSON

Speaking of momentum, Jason Williamson wasn’t even on my radar back in January. But, after two solid showings at Cherokee and Okeechobee, which follows a great finish to his 2016 season, Williamson seems the easy choice in Bucket D. He doesn’t have a ton of experience with the Classic, but he’s far from a rookie. I’d count on the South Carolina angler to stay on the momentum train and finish strong during his second career Classic appearance.

Dark Horse: Hank Cherry and Stephen Kennedy have been to the Classic and know the pressure that comes with it. I’d not be surprised to see either angler finish in the top 5.

BUCKET D: WIGGINS

Jesse Wiggins has some tremendous momentum and seems to have already carved out a spot in the Elite Series as a rookie. There is some interesting experience in Bucket E, and considering that the first two events of 2017 were won by anglers who came from this bucket, perhaps the trend will continue? It sure could, but you can bet a few of these guys will have a strong showing, and I think Wiggins is the best bet.

Dark Horse: Wesley Strader and Alton Jones Jr. could also surprise everyone. While Jones Jr. hasn’t fished a Classic before, he understands the pressure and being from Texas I’d expect him to do well. Strader has fished a Classic once before and is a veteran FLW pro, so you can bet he’ll know how to handle himself at the world championship.

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