It may not be fair to suggest that Lake Oahe is an entirely new playing field, as the Bassmaster Elite Series visited this massive body of water just four years ago. However, taking out of Mobridge will present the anglers with a massive part of the lake that wasn’t reachable in 2018 due to the lack of gas stations on the water. It’s basically a flip-flop situation where the anglers will be fishing the end of the lake that wasn’t accessible in 2018.
Personally, these types of events are my favorite when it comes to Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing and Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge. While you can technically factor in history for a handful of anglers, the majority of the picks will be made based on anglers’ strengths and gut feelings. The lack of history at Lake Oahe will also help spread out the angler percentages.
Currently sitting at 94.3% in Fantasy Fishing and 99.3% in Drain the Lake, I’m going to take a few calculated risks with my picks in this event in hopes of shooting up the leaderboard.
Let’s get into my picks.
BUCKET A: JOHNSTON
I’m confident that current Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year leader Brandon Palaniuk will continue his success at Lake Oahe, but at a player percentage just shy of 50%, I’m willing to take a risk on Cory Johnston in Bucket A. In all reality, how big of risk is that? It doesn’t seem like a big risk considering how dominant Johnston has been during his career in Elite Series events when smallmouth bass are involved. At 5.9% player percentage, Johnston may just be a steal.
Solid secondary selection: While Bucket A is full of smallmouth experts, another name that jumped out immediately was Taku Ito. The former Elite Series champion has proved to be a force when fishing for smallmouth, and he loves to utilize his electronics which will be extremely important at Oahe. At 10.1% player percentage, this may be the lowest we will see him during a smallmouth event.
BUCKET B: CHRISTIE
The first thing that comes to mind for most when thinking about Jason Christie is his ability to power fish shallow with a spinnerbait or jig, but the 2022 Classic Champion has proved over the years to be an expert with his Garmin LiveScope, which will be huge in this event. It also doesn’t hurt that Christie had a solid 30th-place finish at Lake Oahe back in 2018. With almost nothing to lose, expect Christie to go for the win in South Dakota.
Solid secondary selection: Given his history of success with smallmouth, along with a third-place finish at Lake Oahe in 2018, it’s hard to believe that Clifford Pirch is currently sitting below a 10% player percentage. The Arizona pro is having a really nice bounce-back season, and this event sets up extremely well for him.
BUCKET C: DIPALMA
Given the percentages, it’s a relatively big risk to go with Greg DiPalma, but I’ve had a gut feeling about this pick since the schedule was announced. In 2018, the Carolina rig proved to be a major player, and DiPalma has experienced success fishing a Carolina rig for smallmouth in the past. Regardless if it’s with a Carolina rig or not, expect DiPalma to have a solid showing at Oahe.
Solid secondary selection: After a less than stellar event at the St. Lawrence River, I would expect Josh Douglas to be deadly in the last two events of the season. The Minnesota pro is a smallmouth expert that should feel right at home at Lake Oahe.
BUCKET D: ATKINS
Back-to-back top 15 finishes have given Justin Atkins a lot of momentum coming into Lake Oahe. The Alabama pro has a lot to fish for in the last two events, but he still seems to be fishing with a lot of confidence of late. Expect Atkins to utilize his electronics to sack up big bags of smallmouth in South Dakota.
Solid secondary selection: If you don’t mind the 41.3% player percentage, Paul Mueller is a much safer pick in Bucket D. Over the course of his career, Mueller has excelled in events that heavily rely on the use of electronics. Coming off of a Top 10 finish at the St. Lawrence River, look for Mueller to keep up the momentum.
BUCKET E: KELLEY
After a surprisingly tough finish at the St. Lawrence River, it seems likely that Jonathan Kelley will bounce back at Lake Oahe. During the 2021 Bassmaster Opens season, Kelley proved that he can smallmouth fish with the best of the best which should have him motivated to prove it at the Elite Series level.
Solid secondary selection: If you’re willing to make an even bigger gamble in Bucket E, look for Darold Gleason to have a good showing at Oahe. The Louisiana native is another angler who excels with a Carolina rig and his electronics which should both be big players.
Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge
• Daisuke Aoki
• Greg DiPalma
• Austin Felix
• Jeff Gustafson
• Chad Pipkens
• Clifford Pirch
• Alex Redwine
• Jason Williamson