From a Rapala Fantasy Fishing standpoint, the 2023 season was an absolute disaster for myself and many others, I’m sure. The good news is that we’re leaving the 2023 season in the past and moving onto the 2024 season in which the Elites will be taking on new fisheries, and some of the same fisheries at different times of the year.
Rather than starting the season in the sunny state of Florida, the Elites will head to Louisiana and Texas to begin the season at Toledo Bend and Lake Fork. This throws an interesting twist into selecting anglers for both Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing as well as Falcon Rods Drain the Lake Challenge.
In most cases, my suggestion for selecting anglers in Fantasy Fishing is to do your research and leave no stone unturned. However, to begin the 2024 season, I’m going with my gut and selecting anglers based on their fishing strengths and history of success in similar tournaments. My logic behind this strategy is based solely on the fact that angler’s previous success (in most cases) on these bodies of water were in completely different times of the year. This time around, the bass will be in prespawn and winter areas.
All that being said, Toledo Bend is an extremely diverse fishery that will allow anglers to fish their strengths. Expect a healthy combination of anglers utilizing forward-facing sonar to target suspended bass in the timber, and anglers targeting shallow water prespawn fish.
Let’s get into it.
BUCKET A: WALTERS
As I pondered through the Elites in Bucket A, I simply couldn’t stop thinking about Patrick Walters history of success fishing a jerkbait around standing timber. Walters is one of the most well-rounded anglers on the Elite Series, but always seems to excel when fish are suspended around structure.
Solid secondary selection: As much as Walters seems to be a sure-fire pick in Bucket A, it was difficult to not select Joey Cifuentes. Not only is Cifuentes a master with his electronics, he also proved his ability to catch prespawn bass around standing timber last season when he won at Seminole.
BUCKET B: PALANIUK
I get the sense that Brandon Palaniuk is still a little angry at the way he finished his 2023 Elite Series campaign, and wants to get the 2024 season started the right way. If you’re looking for evidence as to why Palaniuk is a solid selection in Bucket B, look no further than his history of success on this famed fishery. In five Bassmaster events at Toledo Bend, Palaniuk has never finished lower than 34th.
Solid secondary selection: If you don’t mind the extremely high player percentage, Elite Series rookie Ben Milliken is a great choice in Bucket B. In addition to winning the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Toledo Bend last season, Milliken has proved to be an expert when targeting big bass with big baits.
BUCKET C: SANDS
While Cole Sands may not have the experience at Toledo Bend of some of the other anglers in Bucket C, stylistically, this body of water sets up extremely well for him. As a guide on Lake Chickamauga, Sands is no stranger to catching big bass on big baits. Also, the Tennessee pro is dialed in with electronics which could be a major advantage. At less than a 1% player percentage, Sands could be a home run pick to kick off the season.
Solid secondary selection: After his worst season as a Bassmaster Elite Series pro, Brandon Lester looks to get back on track with a solid event at Toledo Bend. If you’re looking for a much safer pick, the super consistent angler from Tennessee is a great choice.
BUCKET D: HANSELMAN
Bucket D is home to three anglers from Louisiana, but I’m going with the West Texan Ray Hanselman who has knack for catching big bass. Although Hanselman doesn’t have a history of success in major events at Toledo Bend, he does have a history of Top 10s at Sam Rayburn. The two fisheries have a lot in common, including the same general geographic locations. Much like Cole Sands in Bucket C, Hanselman has a low player percentage at just 2.5%.
Solid secondary selection: Sticking with the Texan theme, Keith Combs and Chris Zaldain eat up nearly 60% of the player percentage in Bucket D. Both Combs and Zaldain could be dangerous.
BUCKET E: PATRICK
As hinted throughout the article, I believe that anglers who excel with forward-facing sonar have a chance to really succeed at Toledo Bend and Kyle Patrick is near the top of the list of anglers who are dialed in with their electronics. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Patrick put his head down (literally) and grind it out off the bank.
Solid secondary selection: It wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if Rick Clunn began his 50th season with B.A.S.S. with a bang.
Falcon Rods Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge
• Stetson Blaylock
• Ray Hanselman
• Ben Milliken
• Brad Whatley
• John Soukup
• Derek Hudnall
• Pat Schlapper
• Keith Combs