Welcome, everyone, back to the 2018 season of Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing. I ended last year with a solid run and somehow managed to sneak into the top 10 percent. I've got do better this year. Not only am I shooting for a top 5 percent or better finish, I plan on kicking the rear ends of the other pundit pickers along the way.
If you don’t know much about Lake Martin, let me set the stage for you: Back in 1990s, a gallon of gas cost $1.09. You might spend $0.75 on a loaf of bread. A Blockbuster movie rental would run you a $2 for five days. The VCR was in high demand, the internet was barely a thought and that brand new truck and boat combo might run you somewhere in the vicinity of $25,000.
It was the early 90s the last time B.A.S.S. had a top-level event on Lake Martin, located in Eastern Alabama, and times sure have changed. We might as well be fishing a completely different lake this time around. Sure, it had the same small fish, deep, clear water and rocky bluffs back then. Those anglers would find deep bass using flashers and paper scrolling by on their SI-TEX Honda units (ok, maybe not that long ago) and good ole’ fashioned know-how. Now we have four 16-inch flat screen, 8K resolution, might-get-the-NFL-Channel-when-you-hold-your-rod-tip-up, supercomputers on the front of the boat, and there’s not a fish within a cast of your boat that passes gas without you picking up the movement on your units. That opens up a whole new level of bass fishing on this lake that we’ve not seen in B.A.S.S. history.
Not to mention, the field of anglers fishing the Elites this year is stronger than ever.
Historically, you can catch really good numbers of bass on this lake, but the average size is nothing to write home about. In 2002, our very own Mark Zona was barely edged out by Jason Quinn and the eventual winner, Koby Krieger, with an average of about 6 to 8 pounds per day.
That’s pretty measly by Elite Series standards.
My prediction is that with today’s technology, you should see the leader more than double that daily average, but when you get a 3-pound bite, it will be critical to capitalize on it. It could be the difference between a Top 12 and not cashing a check. If an angler happens to find a stack of largemouth somewhere, it could be lights out.
BUCKET A: ASHLEY
My Pick: Casey Ashley
For every angler in the Elites, the first tournament of the year is critical. It sets the tone for the rest of the season. And with the new format where the Classic is the second event on the schedule, carrying momentum into that event will be more important than ever. I believe that will be most valuable to the man who won it last time the Classic was at Hartwell, South Carolina local, Casey Ashley. This guy knows how to catch finicky, deep spotted bass. He is a stud in clear water and fishing docks. How could I not give him an edge here? He’s got my vote.
Other Pick: Jacob Wheeler
Last year, we had a generally unknown venue for the first event. It was a clear water, light-line event as well and Wheeler walked away with the title and continued his perfect streak of wins in Elite Series competition. That “disappointingly” halted at the next stop, but he is no fool when it comes to catching cold-water bass. Finesse tactics like drop shots and shaky heads should play here and that is right in his wheelerhouse.
BUCKET B: IACONELLI
My Pick: Mike Iaconelli
Ike is one of the few anglers that actually has some recorded tournament results on this lake. He has a few middle-of-the-pack finishes, and one fifth place back in 1999. His last win was on the Delaware River where it was a game of small bass and where ounces separated 15-20 places. He also had a sixth place at the Classic at Hartwell in 2015. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him pick up some momentum here and carry it into March.
Other Pick: Jason Williamson
Last year, we saw Jason Williamson get his year started strong. He has done well in events on similar bodies of water. Nearly all of his Top 10 finishes came on clear-water fisheries. He crushed the first four events last year, and you can bet he’ll have his game-face on to start the season. He’s a solid bet for a top 20.
BUCKET C: MCCLELLAND
My Pick: Mike McClelland
Watch out for this guy on clear, rocky lakes too. From what I’ve seen, its not going to be a matter of finding bass, but finding better than average bass will decide the winner. My biggest reason for picking him, is that if you look at the first tournament of the season every year, he is consistently scoring top end finishes. He offers a lot of bang for your buck.
Other Pick: Justin Lucas
If you have a little more expensive taste, Justin Lucas is your guy. He is topping the list based on ownership percentage. However, it’ll probably be very cold, the fish will be sluggish and it’ll take finesse tactics to get the job done. Lucas is a killer with a drop shot and that makes him a stout pick here.
BUCKET D: VINSON
My Pick: Greg Vinson
I hate to give away what most people probably won’t realize, but Greg Vinson used to call Lake Martin his home lake. I fully expect to see his percentage climb, which stinks for me, but that’s why we pundit pickers are here … to share the wealth. He probably knows more about this lake than just about any other angler competing. He could take home his first Elite level win. You’re welcome.
Other Pick: Timmy Horton
Timmy Horton is probably as close to a home-town favorite as you can get outside of Greg Vinson. He’s definitely spent time on this lake and has several top 30 finishes here. He’s a smart bet.
BUCKET E: HANSELMAN
My Pick: Ray Hanselman
Let’s be honest. Some guys hang around a few years and some guys become legends. This guy has one of the most unbelievable records that will ever be held. In 2015 he SWEPT the FLW Costa Series. He won ALL THREE EVENTS in a region. That’s like winning all three Southern Opens. He is the real deal. I am banking on the fact that he’ll have a low ownership because he is relatively unknown in the B.A.S.S. universe. I know one thing though. He knows how to win.
Other Pick: David Fritts
David Fritts is one of those anglers who has probably had a line in every lake across these United States of America. He kicked some tail on Lake Martin in the 90s, and he’s got what it takes to do it now.