First-timer wins 2020 Fantasy Fishing

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Joshua Phillips of Knoxville, Tenn., is the 2020 Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing Champion.

If you have played Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing in the past, then you know what it is like to set what you feel is the “perfect lineup” week after week and end up disappointed with your picks. Unless your name is Joshua Phillips of Knoxville, Tenn., the 2020 Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing Champion. In Phillips’ first full season of playing Fantasy Fishing, he took home the grand prize of a $15,000 Bass Pro Shops gift card, $5,000 cash, one autographed Rapala and Bassmaster co-branded 3-foot giant lure and a Rapala prize package.

The 26-year-old Phillips tried Fantasy Fishing halfway through the 2019 season and decided to compete the full season in 2020. Phillips was the champion in 2020 scoring a staggering 12,209 points and finishing 59 points over second place. We were able to catch up with Phillips and get some insight on his Fantasy Fishing strategy. 

Q: Are you a B.A.S.S. member?

A: I am a B.A.S.S. member. I have been a member for roughly six years now. Being a B.A.S.S. Member also allowed me to win an additional $500 Bass Pro Shops gift card. 

Q: Did you have a go-to angler you selected often during the year? Also, who is your favorite Bassmaster Elite Series angler?

A: There’s two if that’s possible. I seemed to always pick John Cox because of how good of a shallow water fisherman he is and he even proved this year to do well with the smallmouth, and Chris Zaldain because he is so good with his depth finders and so calculated as an angler. Zaldain also fishes for big fish with his big spoons and swimbaits. My favorite Elite Series angler would have to be John Cox.

Q: Do you believe in selecting anglers for Fantasy Fishing that have built up momentum in past events?

A: Yeah, I do. You look at the Johnston brothers when we go up north and it seems like those guys are unstoppable once the Northern Swing starts. After the first northern event at the St. Lawrence, those guys got on a roll, and I ended up picking both of them numerous times moving forward.

Q: Do you tend to pick anglers that are local to the lake or do you try to pick anglers based on their strengths and what techniques they are known for?

A: This year I went with the locals pretty often and it worked out, but I also did that last year and it came back to bite me. I pick local anglers, but you have to be careful with that because it can definitely come back to bite you.

Q: What was your highest tournament finish this year?

A: 709th at the St. Lawrence River event.

Q: How far in advance do you set your lineup before the event starts?

A: Usually around a week and a half on average, but I always make sure to have it set before the first day of practice.

Q: How often do you change your lineup after you set it?

A: Never. I rode this whole year with my original lineup. That was my thing, if you’ve got the gut feeling to put them in your first lineup, don’t go change it. Last year I would pick guys and change it then look back and be like, "Dang, I had that guy!"

Q: How closely do you pay attention to angler’s social media feeds to see if guys are catching them in practice?

A: I follow them pretty close, but I try not to look at them after the first day of practice because you end up getting your hopes up on a certain guy and that makes you want to change your lineup. So I try to not pay attention to it and just keep my original lineup.

Q: Of the incoming 2020 Bassmaster Opens qualifiers, which new angler are you most excited to put in your lineup in 2021?

A: It would be between Scott Martin and Greg Hackney. With those two coming in, them boys better watch out. Martin and the Hack Attack always seem to be so consistent and very versatile which are great qualities when picking anglers for Fantasy Fishing.

Q: What are you going to spend the money on?

A: I don’t know, but I’m debating on getting a new Nitro bass boat. I’ve been looking to get a new boat, but with everything out there nowadays it’s just gotten so expensive. This prize money would go a long way in making that happen.

Q: If you had to give Fantasy Fishing players one last piece of advice to be successful, what would it be?

A: Go with your gut. If you’ve got a feeling that Seth Feider, Chris Zaldain, Kyle Welcher or Buddy Gross is going to do well then pick them and don’t go back and change your mind. Also, I’ll say this too, I’m coming back to play in 2021 so you guys better watch out.

To play Fantasy Fishing in 2021 click here and chose your lineup. The first Elite Series tournament begins Feb. 11 at the St. Johns River. The 2021 lineups should be ready by mid-January.