Fantasy Fishing: Southern experience will be critical at Eufaula

What a rollercoaster life has been in America over the past two months. Really, it’s been a mess. I’m ready to reset 2020 and start over. But Hank Cherry wouldn’t like that after winning the Classic in March. Neither would Paul Mueller who won the opening Elite derby at St. Johns River.

The good news is, we’re scheduled to hit the road for the revamp of the 2020 Bassmaster Elite Series at Lake Eufaula, in southeastern Alabama, June 10-13. You can bet that the anglers are chomping at the bit to get back into the competitive spirit.

How have they made use of their down time? Some went turkey hunting, some invested a lot of time with their families, but most have been fishing almost daily — I can assure you that every Elite pro is sharp and ready. That’s a good sign for what’s coming — Eufaula is going to be good.

Lake Eufaula has a rich history of amazing bass fishing, but it’s been quite a while since a Bassmaster major was held on the lake. The lake is in great shape, and while typically a muddy-water fishery, I’d be surprised if we don’t see a few bags exceeding 30 pounds.

What’s more, the lake during June will lend itself to the junk fishermen, or those who are good at making quick decisions and catching bass consistently across several presentations and different structural elements. 

My selections will represent experience, tenure and adaptability. Let’s dig in.

BUCKET A: CREWS

John Crews is as seasoned a veteran with an impressive list of accolades as anyone on the Elite Series. When junk fishing is in the forecast, he generally does well. Plus, he’s very adept at utilizing his electronics to locate and catch schools of bass that are living on the ledge, near brushpiles and everywhere in between.

Darkhorse: Scott Canterbury won the Bassmaster Angler of the Year title in 2019, and you can bet he wants to keep that title for another year. After a pretty solid showing at St. Johns, he is going to have a shot a big-fish lake in his home state of Alabama. If someone understands Guntersville, there’s a fair chance that some crossover techniques and location patterns will come in to play at Eufaula.

BUCKET B: BENTON

If I had to pick the winner, I’d go with Drew Benton. He’s an absolute hammer on Seminole, which is the next lake down the river from Eufaula, and I’d bet he’s got some super sneaky spots located on Lake Eufaula. He’s proven his chops fishing at this level, and he’s really become a leader and veteran among the cast of characters who make up the Elite Series.

Darkhorse: David Mullins happens to be travel buddies with Benton and Drew Cook — another angler worth considering. But I have been watching Mullins get better and better over the last three to four years. His confidence is up, his productivity is way up, and he’s good at making quick decision when a pattern fizzles out. He’s due for a big finish, if not a championship title, and I think his day is coming. Could be in early June at Eufaula.

BUCKET C: SWINDLE

When the term junk fishing was invented, a picture of Gerald Swindle was placed next to the definition in Webster’s. Look it up. Okay, while that may not be entirely true, the grizzled veteran from Guntersville, Alabama, is arguably the best junk fishermen on the planet. Not to mention he’s very accomplished at finding bass anywhere they swim, regardless of their paintjob. And, as I like to say: He’s beyond overdue for a title.

Darkhorse: Clifford Pirch has been on the water regular winning local derbies since the ‘ronas hit, and he’s a very adaptable and sneaky angler. Again, with my theme of being overdue, Pirch fits that bill, but is also the bill of finding fish related to multiple types of structure. I expect to see a strong finish out of Clifford, especially if his hair is as fantastic as usual after a lengthy quarantine.

BUCKET D: MENENDEZ

Of course, Menendez is overdue for a big win, but that aside he’s very accomplished on lakes like Eufaula, and he has quite a bit of experience there over the years. He has a tremendous amount of experience fishing muddy water during hot weather, plus he knows where to find them on ledges, along the shore, in shallow grass or hovering around brush piles. Perhaps he’s not known as a junk fisherman, but he’s not lasted this long by not being adaptable. Look for a big finish for the Kentucky pro.

Darkhorse: Hunter Shryock is far from a rookie, but not quite the veteran most of the above anglers are. If Menendez isn’t your jam at Eufaula, Shryock should be on your radar. I know for a fact he’s been fishing a bunch during his downtime to stay sharp for once the series ramped up again. He’s chomping at the bit, and I bet he climbs out of Bucket D at this event.

BUCKET E: ZALDAIN

Chris Zaldain had a tough season opener at St. Johns River. He’s been close to a victory so many times, but the taste of a title has evaded him. We all know it’s a matter of time until he cracks a grand slam, why not at Eufaula? I firmly believe that the anglers strong with their electronics will dominate this event because of the necessity to stay on the fish, whether they’re on ledges or submerged brush. Zaldain is one of the best in the game at running his Humminbird 360, locating and making bite the fish he finds. Yes, he’s dominating ownership in Bucket E, but that’s because everyone knows he won’t be there for long. It’s a safe bet in this bucket, and one I’m not going to pass on.

Darkhorse: Bill Weidler is a solid selection, too, if you’re not ready to go with the crowd on Zaldain. The Alabama native is fantastic swim jig angler, and you can bet he’ll load his livewells early along the shallow grass edge, then he’ll move to jerking fish from brushpiles as the day wanes on.