Fantasy Fishing

Fantasy Fishing: Go deep or go home

While the record for the heaviest tournament weight while weighing in 100% smallmouth was just set by the amazing Jay Przekurat, we may be on the precipice of a new record – the deepest smallmouth caught in an Elite event. Lake Oahe is a genuine monster. It is an enormous lake with very few amenities. Anglers can run as far as they want, and for many, the amount of lake available will solely come down to how big their gas tanks are.

Back in 2018 — the one and only time B.A.S.S. has ventured to this fishery — it was Mark Daniels Jr. who found a sneaky school of bass on the inside of a deep river channel. Electronics have come a long way since 2018, and my expectation is that this time around, the bass will have a much harder time hiding from our anglers.

In August, the fish will mostly be offshore. Oahe is not known for the giant smallmouth bass that are the standard for our last stop at the St. Lawrence River, but there are plenty of 1- to 3-pound fish that should be relatively easy to catch. The make-or-break factor at St. Lawrence River was the size of your smallest fish. This derby will be won and lost by how many fish over 3-pounds you can catch per day.

The record was just broken last year at over 7 pounds, so it’s certainly to be expected that we will see a good handful of fish in the 4-pound class with a few over 5. Expect bottom draggers to prevail with typical smallmouth fodder like drop shots, small swimbaits, Carolina rigs, tubes and the like.

Check out this genius lineup.

BUCKET A: GUSTAFSON

Let’s kick it off by blowing right past the most obvious pick, whom we will discuss in a moment. Jeff Gustafson comes straight to mind for this one. In fact, I had him picked for this tournament since the season kicked off. My mind goes back to a tough Tennessee River event last season where he won dabbling for finicky smallmouth bass. Electronics and bait selection were the winning combo for the Great Canadian Snow Leopard. If the bite gets tough, expect him to find a way to coax a bite.

Don’t forget about: Brandon Palaniuk

With the birth of his little baby girl, Brandon Palaniuk should be back in action with his head on straight and ready to fish his brains out – as if he hasn’t been doing that all season anyway. Palaniuk has a solid lead in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race and is in perfect position to do well here too. Typically, I would say that deep water smallmouth events are his bread and butter, but it seems like this season he can do no wrong. The proof of that is in his nearly 50% player percentage. I recently, regrettably, fell behind my fellow pundits, and I have some ground to make up. Palaniuk may make a last second showing on my roster though if I wake up in a cold sweat between now and then. 

BUCKET B: PIRCH

Substantially underrated, Clifford Pirch is perfectly suited for this body of water. Spending much of his time fishing the deep, clean waters of Lake Havasu, he is no stranger to catching them in 30-plus feet of water. In 2018, he made a hearty run, ultimately finishing in third. In theory, he should have blown the event away because on Day 1, he only had a 7-pound limit, backing it up with three consecutive days over 18 pounds. He apparently found the juice on Day 2. Hopefully this time, he can build on what he learned and get on ‘em a little faster.

Don’t forget about: Jason Christie

If we learned anything from the Classic, it’s that Jason Christie is more than a shallow water hammer. The advantage that he may have is a light, aluminum boat that is much more fuel efficient than his competition in the fiberglass equivalent. That may allow him to go a little further to find under-pressured bass.

BUCKET C: WENDLANDT

Clark Wendlandt finds his home near Lake Travis, close to Austin, Texas. This long, riverine fishery is deep, clear and full of small bass. He has spent a ton of time learning the nuance of finding the bigger bites and that should make him a key player here. Light line, natural baits and patience will pay off huge. He is currently right around the cutline for the Classic, and a few good events to finish out the season will help secure his spot. That should kick his motivation into overdrive.

Don’t forget about: Chad Pipkens

Chad Pipkens has built his career primarily on the back of smallmouth bass. His wins and many of his high finishes have come on large, expansive smallmouth fisheries. He’s not afraid to make big runs and can break down large areas quickly which should give him an edge. He finished 28th back in 2018.

BUCKET D: MUELLER

There is no more frustrating pick in my most humble opinion than Paul Mueller. When he should do well, he struggles. When it’s completely out of his wheelhouse, he wins. When I get tired of picking him for shoe-in spots and pass him up, he knocks it out of the park. I’m praying the stars align at Oahe for his sake, and of course, mine. He is an electronics savant, so he’ll be looking at them on the screen long before they bite his bait. Selfishly, I want him to do well for my team, but also so that we can all get several hours of Bassmaster LIVE training on electronics.

Don’t forget about: Micah Frazier

Micah Frazier is another electronics wizard. Back in 2018, that helped him finish in the top half of the field. He was short of a limit two of those days. If he can get around the fish, he is certainly good enough to get them to bite. 

BUCKET E: REDWINE

Things are looking up for Alex Redwine after a fantastic finish at the St. Lawrence River. That goes to show that when this guy is confident, he’s leaves it all on the table. His freshman season has been consistently difficult, but there is no better time than now to turn it around. The Bassmaster Classic is unfortunately out of reach, but a win certainly isn’t. He is no slouch with light line and a “fairy wand.” Keep the train rolling, Alex.

Don’t forget about: Keith Combs

If you are looking for a more aggressive pick, Keith Combs is your guy. He probably will not be sporting a willow twig and 4-pound test. Expect him to come with a little heavier artillery. He won a smallmouth derby with 1-ounce jigs and 17-pound line. Also, if he can find a way to get them to bite a crankbait, he’ll be lethal.

Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge

I unfortunately called it perfectly for the last tournament. I was super confident, but I knew that confidence has typically bitten me on the hindquarters. I have been saving a few of these guys very intentionally for this event, but I’m hoping I can have a better showing than the last event.

• Bob Downey
• Jeff Gustafson
• Derek Hudnall
• Cody Huff
• Paul Mueller
• Jay Przekurat
• Alex Redwine
• David Williams