Fantasy Fishing: Oddly enough, not all about the win

Patrick Walters

As a general rule, Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing follows the goals of the sport itself – you want your chosen anglers to finish as high as possible. Your interests are aligned with theirs. When it comes to Bassmaster Classic week, however, the math changes. The guy who ends up 50th may have taken a risk that put him closer to the win than the competitor who finished 15th or 20th. The anglers may be living by the maxim that “there’s first place and everything else,” but those of us in the cheap seats will take numbers two through six all day long and twice on Championship Sunday.

There’s also the matter of the field itself – which includes a handful of relatively unknown qualifiers who made it through the Opens, B.A.S.S. Nation or Team Championship. Invariably, one or more of them have a great showing before going back to their regular, non-Elite lives for the rest of the year.

So how do you pick? Besides calling up Ronnie Moore and asking for hot tips learned over games of Call of Duty, it’s a lot of playing hunches. Here are mine for this upcoming rodeo at Grand Lake:


Gut check pick: Patrick Walters has been nibbling around the edges of the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year title the past several years, and while his track record speaks for itself, somehow that’s yet to morph into Classic contention. His best two finishes were 10th and 12th. At some point, he’s going to break through and win one or more of these. He’s a closer who can scope and “regular fish,” and he won’t be intimidated by anything the lake or the experience throw at him.

High percentage backup: I was surprised that Jason Christie’s ownership percentage wasn’t over 40% at the time of this writing. No one in this field knows Grand Lake better, and he twice contended for the crown here before ultimately winning at Lake Hartwell, a lake that compares to it in many ways.


Gut check pick: Last year we saw the first Canadian Classic winner, and the first international winner since Takahiro Omori in 2004. I wouldn’t be surprised if another Canadian were to win – after all, there are four of them in the field this time – and my gut pick is Chris Johnston, who has finished in the top eight in two of his four Classics.

High percentage backup: The internet may explode if Ben Milliken wins – and everything about his performance at the highest levels so far shows that he’s capable of it. In the old days both his home state of Nebraska and his adopted state of Texas had major rivalries with the Sooners, so there may be some bad blood getting the trophy across the border, but he’d likely handle that with flair.


Gut check pick: Brandon Card is the rare bird in this field who has fished a Grand Lake Classic. In fact, he’s fished two of them, and while his finishes weren’t exemplary, he’s just one of those guys who quietly catches fish every year. Indeed, this will be his fifth Classic in a row. Last year at this time he was just getting over being hospitalized and finished 16th, so a worry-free, under-the-radar Card could be dangerous.

High percentage backup: Kyoya Fujita hasn’t fished a Classic, but he’s a check-cashing machine who wins or contends for the win at an incredible rate, albeit in a small sample size. If the fish are roaming offshore or eating fuzzy dice, look for him to be in the hunt on Sunday.


Gut check pick: As a result of all of the hubbub over Fujita’s emergence, Taku Ito hasn’t quite been “forgotten,” but the impact of his recent dominance and bubbly personality have been diminished. I don’t know why I’d forgotten it, but he’s already fished three straight Classics, so he knows the ropes. He’s become a veteran seemingly overnight and is due to experience “Taku Time” again in the near future.

High percentage backup: Cody Huff is just turning 27 during Classic week, but his youthfulness and extreme talent has been overshadowed by the rookies’ ascent. What does he have that many of them don’t? Two past Classic experiences. No one should be surprised if he brings the number of Classic trophies in Ava, Mo., to five.


Gut check pick: As I wrote in my Lake Fork pre-game, I keep expecting Kyle Patrick to stumble at least a little and he never does. I picked him there and was rewarded with a Century Club belt performance. Momentum is everything, and while the kid seemingly has energy to spare, he also seems able to channel it into exceptional performances.

High percentage backup: Patrick’s fellow shoeless rookie Tyler Williams is also a past Opens winner and a contender seemingly everywhere he goes. If he wins, it’ll be the giggle that shook the world.

Falcon Rods Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge

• Brandon Card
• Jason Christie
• Justin Hamner
• Cody Huff
• Taku Ito
• Luke Palmer
• Kyle Patrick
• Tyler Williams