Fantasy Fishing: Balancing strengths and history

The 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series got out to a hot start as Kyoya Fujita took home his second Bassmaster Elite Series win in as many years, and notched a Century Belt in the process. While Toledo Bend showed out with numerous bags over 25-pounds and multiple fish weighing over 9-pounds, the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork is sure to take it up a notch. A warm week leading up to the event will likely have bass moving from wintering areas to prespawn areas and even some fish possibly moving to spawning areas.

When picking anglers for Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing, I tried my best to balance in history at Lake Fork as well as angler’s particular fishing strengths considering this is earliest that the Elites have been to this infamous fishery.

Let’s get into some picks.


After nearly every event in the 2023 Elite Series season, I would look back and regret not selectin Brandon Cobb and Kyle Welcher in Bucket A – both anglers were on a tear and for some reason I refused to select them. It feels like we might see that kind of start from Patrick Walters during the 2024 season, and I don’t want to miss out on him being on my team. The South Carolina angler has a win, a second-place finish and a 34th place finish at Lake Fork in three Elite Series trips. Additionally, Walters is coming off of a second-place finish at Toledo Bend.

Solid secondary selection: As expected, Walters is at a high player percentage in Bucket A. If you’re looking for an angler at a lower percentage, Chris Zaldain is a great choice. Lake Fork is well known as a big bait lake, and Zaldain is one of the best there is with a swimbait in his hands. If the Texan can put it together for four days, it could get wild.


Although Cody Huff doesn’t have the history on Lake Fork, he’s a master with forward-facing sonar and typically does well during prespawn events. The standing timber of Lake Fork is a familiar sight to the Missouri pro who calls Bull Shoals and Table Rock Lake home. Look for Huff to back up a solid event at Toledo Bend with another good finish at Fork.

Solid secondary selection: In three Elite Series events at Lake Fork, Derek Hudnall has never finished outside of the top 50. After a solid finish at Toledo Bend, the Louisiana pro could already have some solid momentum built up heading into Lake Fork.


Is there really anything that needs to be said about Lee Livesay in Bucket C? The astounding 70% player percentage is completely justified considering Livesay has won the previous two Elite events at Lake Fork and finished seventh back in 2020. You are more than welcome to bet against the Texan in Bucket C, but I’m not doing it.

Solid secondary selection: If you’re willing to take a risk in Bucket C and not select Livesay, Brandon Palaniuk is an excellent choice. The five-time Elite Series Champion has turned in two excellent finishes at Lake Fork over the last few years with a second and 14th place finish.


Early on in the 2024 season, Bucket D seems to be the Bucket that I’m willing to take some risks. This time around, it’s big bait guru Clifford Pirch. The Arizona pro has two finishes in the 30s at Fork in 2021 and 2020, but this event being earlier in the year could play out in his favor. At just 0.5% player percentage, Pirch could be a steal in Bucket D.

Solid secondary selection: On the completely opposite side of the player percentage scale, Joey Cifuentes’ strengths seem to be matched perfectly with Lake Fork. The Arkansan is certainly proven when fishing standing timber with his electronics, and Lake Fork will offer plenty of opportunities at standing timber.


This is the rare time of the year where players have the choice at selecting anglers in Bucket E that are not used to being there. Of those anglers is the reigning Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kyle Welcher. Look for Welcher to get back on track at Lake Fork.

Solid secondary selection: Another angler that’s not used to being in Bucket E is Greg Hackney. It’s not a bad idea to take advantage of the opportunity to select the legendary pro in Bucket E while you can.

Falcon Rods Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge

• Lee Livesay
• Chris Zaldain
• Cody Huff
• Brandon Card
• Frank Talley
• Marc Frazier
• Brandon Lester
• JT Thompkins