Fantasy Fishing: Tone it back a bit

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Kyle Jessie

Wes Logan will be considered a favorite at Neely Henry.

After one of the greatest slugfest events in Bassmaster Elite Series history, we will all have to take a step back and realize that Neely Henry will not be quite the heavyweight derby that Lake Fork was. With that being said, I have been looking forward to this event since the schedule came out. The Coosa River is my newly adopted home water, so I can’t help but wonder how the Elites will attack Neely Henry. For most of the Elite Series field, this will be a brand-new challenge in that we have never had an Elite Series event on this body of water and very few B.A.S.S. events here in general.

The most recent B.A.S.S. event on Neely Henry was the Basspro.com Bassmaster Open there back in October of 2020. Many of the Elites fished the event, but keep in mind that was a completely different time of the year. I fully expect Neely Henry to show its full potential in this event.

Just because the weights won’t be quite the same as Lake Fork, you can count on power fishing playing a huge role at Neely Henry. It’s likely that we will see plenty of braided line in this event. Frogging, swimming a jig, walking baits and flipping will all be major players.

Of all the events on the Elite schedule, this may be the most appropriate event to pick locals. In my short time in Alabama, I’ve come to realize that the Coosa River is full of very unique fisheries and being a local may be a huge advantage. I won’t solely select anglers based on being locals, but it certainly plays into a couple of my picks.

Let’s start with my Drain the Lake squad.

  • Josh Stracner 
  • Matthew Robertson 
  • Bill Lowen 
  • Matt Herren 
  • Clent Davis 
  • Justin Hamner 
  • Wes Logan 
  • Stephen Kennedy 

BUCKET A: PALANIUK

It’s really hard to believe this is the first time all season that I’ve had Brandon Palaniuk on my Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team. The one thing that stands out to me about Palaniuk in this event is his ability to find patterns that may be a bit off the wall. Sure, he can swim a jig and frog with the best of them, but I could easily see him finding a pattern that the rest of the field might miss. The five-time Elite Series champion also fished the Basspro.com Bassmaster Open on Neely Henry last year and finished in the Top 12. Not suggesting that it will fish the same as it did back in October, but having a general feel for the lake beforehand typically helps.

Solid secondary selection: Bucket A is chock-full of anglers that I think will do well at Neely Henry, but the other angler that stands out the most is Kyle Welcher. His style matches up with this fishery perfectly. Covering water up shallow with a swim jig or frog, or even slowing down and flipping will most definitely play. The second-year Elite pro has plenty of experience on the Coosa River which will give him a great idea of where to start come Day 1.

BUCKET B: LOGAN

I knew as soon as the Elite Series schedule was released that I would be picking Wes Logan in Fantasy Fishing regardless what bucket he was in at Neely Henry. The Alabama pro is an absolute hammer on the Coosa River. I’ve had the opportunity to share the boat with Logan on the Coosa River, and I have no doubt that he will be able to swim his jig around Neely Henry to success. As I’ve mentioned, understanding how the Coosa River fishes may very well be a huge advantage.

Solid secondary selection: It is shocking that Bill Lowen currently sits at 2.1% player percentage. The Elite Series veteran is known to be one of the best shallow water fishermen on the Elite Series and arguably the best swim jig fisherman on tour. Lowen is one of the best there is at managing shallow water over the course of four days. Look for Lowen to contend for his second Elite Series trophy.

BUCKET C: NEW

Although Bryan New is a rookie, he is one of the best in the world at the running and gunning style fishing. The North Carolina pro will likely find a handful of productive shallow areas and rotate through them until he ends up with five big ones. In an event like this, fishing with an open mind and fishing new water (no pun intended) could play big time. 

Solid secondary selection: It’s possible that I will make a last second switch to Scott Canterbury in Bucket C. I have stuck with my original picks all season long, but this may be the one that makes me switch them up. The former Bassmaster Angler of the Year is another Coosa River hammer that everyone should have their eye on at Neely Henry. Obviously at 43.5% player percentage, a lot of folks also expect him to show out.

BUCKET D: DAVIS

Clent Davis is another angler who is right near the top of the list of Coosa River hammers on the Elite Series. The Alabama pro lives a little further south on the Coosa River chain of lakes, but I imagine he still has spent plenty of time on Neely Henry. Davis is a great swim jig fisherman, which should be a huge player in this event. 

Solid secondary selection: Although Justin Atkins lives on the other side of the state from Neely Henry, it seems as if he’s extremely comfortable on the Coosa River. Last year he did well at not only Neely Henry but also Lay Lake in the Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens. Also, Atkins runs with Wes Logan. Between these two, they will likely get it dialed in by the time the tournament starts.

BUCKET E: GROH

Nobody in Bucket E really stood out to me as a clear favorite in this event. I’m going with my gut and selecting Chris Groh. I know that Groh loves to fish a swim jig and fish shallow vegetation so he might feel right at home on Neely Henry.

Solid secondary selection: It was really a toss-up between Chris Groh and Bill Weidler in Bucket E. The Alabama native is another angler with plenty of experience fishing the Coosa River and loves throwing a swim jig. At a much higher player percentage, I’m going to take the risk with Chris Groh over Weidler.