As the Bassmaster Elite Series field heads to round three at a familiar haunt — at a primo time — my Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing season is already at a breaking point. I’m not exactly out of anything quite yet, but I’ve experienced two mediocre finishes to start the season. In each case, I’ve chosen someone with a track record of success on the given body of water – Clunn at the St. Johns, Zaldain in Knoxville – and been dragged down by their atypically poor performance.
Before things get further out of hand, I need to hit some sort of reset button. Longtime readers of Fantasy Fishing punditry may remember that I had to employ this technique in August of 2015, when I followed the lead of noted marine biologist George Costanza, who’d opined: “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.” In each case I discounted my initial thoughts and bet on dissimilar anglers.
Editor's note: Read the 2015 article.
I can’t go back to that well again, but I can use my long history of television watching as a guardrail. In this case, I’m going to rely on quotes from David Simon’s highly-literary and occasionally disturbing “The Wire.” If you didn’t watch the show, you should. Until you have that chunk of time, though, enjoy the Pickwick derby. Unlike "Seinfeld," which was generally PG13 (not that there’s anything wrong with that), not all quotes from "The Wire" are fit for a family-friendly website, but I think I’ve found a few that apply.
Remember, all the pieces matter. Here are my picks:
BUCKET A: 'Spread the word, darlin’. Omar back.'
My pick: As much as I’d like to pick a young gun like Patrick Walters or look for Jeff "Gussy" Gustafson to go back-to-back, no one is hotter right now than returning gangster Greg Hackney. He won an FLW tournament at Pickwick in June of 2014, but you could put him a long cast from a damp moon crater right now and he’d catch five good ones a day.
Solid backup: Mark Menendez has been fishing the TVA impoundments since before half of Bucket A was born and has a B.A.S.S. win on the Tennessee River. After riding out most of last year on a medical waiver, he’s back and fishing well through two events.
BUCKET B: 'You know the difference between me and you? I bleed red, and you bleed green.'
My pick: Few of us thought that the Tennessee River in Knoxville, where a smallmouth has to be 18-inches to keep, could be won exclusively with brown fish, but it was. Could Pickwick be won exclusively with brown fish, or with a mix of brown and green? Perhaps, but even if it’s strictly a largemouth beatdown noted smallmouth hammer Jamie Hartman will get it done. After all, the New York native earned one of his two Elite wins at Guntersville.
Solid backup: I’d love to see Steve Kennedy get another win, and in particular I’d love to see him do it with a big bait, but even coming off his runner-up finish in Knoxville I’m not quite ready to embrace that roller coaster relationship quite this early in the season.
BUCKET C: 'Deserve got nothing to do with it. It's his time, that's all.'
My pick: Lots of anglers have been around longer, but few have sniffed around closer to winning without closing the deal over the last year than Brock Mosley. After a tough start at the St. Johns, he found his mojo again with a Sunday appearance at the Tennessee River. Now the tour is coming closer to home, and he should be ready to reel off a string of top finishes.
Solid backup: Unlike Mosley, Stetson Blaylock has an Elite win, and he’ll likely earn more over the course of his career. He barely missed the cut line in Knoxville, something that doesn’t happen often, and hasn’t happened twice in a row since the tournaments spanning the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. He’s a solid pick just about anywhere.
BUCKET D: 'I'm gonna show you as gently as I can how much you don't know.'
My pick: Clark Wendlandt in Bucket D? I’ll take that all day long and twice on Sunday. Coming off an Bassmaster Angler of the Year season, he remains a humble, quiet killer, with plenty of experience on the TVA. Don’t expect him to stay in the bottom half of the AOY standings for long.
Solid backup: Darold Gleason’s Elite career hasn’t started the way most of us expected, but as the tour heads back to large southern impoundments, and particularly to lakes with grass, you should plan to see him on the final day more than once.
BUCKET E: 'Yeah, now, well, the thing about the old days: they the old days.'
My pick: Anyone can finish 99th, like Justin Atkins did in Knoxville, but not everyone can win a Forrest Wood Cup like he did in 2017. I’m betting that his tough start to 2021 is more of an aberration than his Opens results (second, behind Bryan New, in last year’s overall Opens standings) or his FLW track record. Besides, he lives in Florence, Ala., so this is more or less a home game for him.
Solid backup: If Atkins is not your cup of tea, think about Paul Mueller, for whom this is anything but a home game, but who has enjoyed two Elite wins far from home – at the St. Johns and Lanier – and he nearly won a Classic down the street at Guntersville.
It’s all in the game, yo. All in the game.