Fantasy Fishing

Fantasy Fishing: Offshore or bust

If Lake Fork wasn’t enough of an offshore beatdown for you, let’s head about 10 hours north to another incredible fishery — Pickwick Lake. This will be the sixth stop in the 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series and will almost certainly be another deep-water slugfest. Giant bass live there, and the vast majority of the fish have left the banks after spawning and will set up on the ledges where they’ll spend the next few months gorging themselves on shad.

This time around, Pickwick will be completely different than what we saw back in 2021. Not only was it several months earlier than this year’s event, but the lake was flooded, causing substantial current throughout the system. The bulk of the big bags came near the tailwaters of the Wilson Dam where the ripping current positioned the fish perfectly for many of the top finishers.

Looking at the weather forecast, they are anticipating several days of rain over the next week and a half. However, I don’t anticipate seeing the same rise in the water level as 2021. It will mean that there will be plenty of current on the main ledges of the lake, and in turn that should get those big schools set up just right.

There are plenty of fish weighed in at over 7 pounds, but expect the bulk of the big fish to be between 4 and 6 pounds. Also, don’t be surprised if the cut weight is the same or more than it was at Fork, about 17 pounds per day.

There will still be a few guys who find some fish up shallow. However, if they put all their eggs in that basket, they’re unlikely to find themselves fishing all four days.

The last thing you’ll want to know is they are not going out of Florence, Ala. this time. Instead the Elites will be launching in Counce, Tenn., near the Pickwick dam. It will not be a race to the Wilson tailwaters, but a race to the schools of fish they find in practice. You will certainly see plenty of camera shots with multiple anglers fishing the same points and ledges which should make for some drama, aka, good TV.

BUCKET A: HACKNEY

Few anglers in the field have more tournament experience on Pickwick than Greg Hackney. He knows how to fish it when the fish are both shallow and deep. In 2011, he finished sixth and won an event with another tour in 2014. The year he came back to the Elites was a wild year for the fishery, and he finished in the 50s, which was his worst career finish there. The thing about Hackney is that he doesn’t like fishing around other people, so those offshore ledge crowds may be more than he can handle. If I get that tingly feeling, I may bump to my not-so-secret backup pick before the event begins.

Don’t forget about: Brandon Palaniuk

Since we have good rain coming, the dam should be moving quite a bit of water. That should position not just the bass but the baitfish too. If the bass are keyed in on shad, you can bet the deep-diving crankbait should play big time. Brandon Palaniuk has plenty of great finishes, and even wins, doing just that. He is the top-owned angler in the bucket and for good reason. On top of all of those reasons, when he gets close to tasting a victory, he usually finds one soon after. His second-place finish on Fork will have him hungry.

BUCKET B: GROSS

Buddy Gross is basically a local, living just two hours away from our home base of Counce, Tenn. He also loves a good offshore bite. Most of his wins and high finishes throughout his career have been fishing low and slow on offshore structure. Will he have a hometown advantage? Maybe not, but his learning curve should at least be shorter than most.

Don’t forget about: Kenta Kimura

I was kicking myself for not swapping out Caleb Sumrall for Kenta Kimura at Fork in my Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing roster. However, I did manage to add him to my Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake roster at the last second. Kenta went on to finish 14th, fishing primarily offshore, and that was a sweet boost to my Drain the Lake roster. Offshore is where he is most comfortable, and he certainly could be worth a look at Pickwick too.

BUCKET C: MARTIN

Scott Martin is another angler with some pretty extensive experience at Pickwick. He has five recorded tournaments here and several of them are top 20% finishes. He is no slouch fishing offshore and doesn’t mind fishing painfully slow when it’s called for. There are no slam dunk crankbait guys in this bucket, so I’m leaning on the jig, Carolina rig and drop shot fellas to get the most points here.

Don’t forget about: Matt Robertson

During his Elite career so far, Matt Robertson hasn’t gotten to do what he truly loves to do, that being offshore ledge fishing. He cut his teeth fishing ledges on Kentucky Lake. This will be a great opportunity for him to not only have a good event doing what he is best at, but it may even give him a shot at his first professional win. And you can guarantee he’ll be having a good ‘ole time while he does it.

BUCKET D: CARD

Don’t count Brandon Card out as a shallow water guy. Sure, he does like to wing around a walking style topwater, but if you ask him, he would tell you that he loves to throw big crankbaits as well. He had a pretty dismal event at Fork when that should have been one that fit his style. That should light a fire under him and make him work extra hard for this one.

Don’t forget about: Clark Wendlandt

Another low-and-slow guy that should have a good week is Clark Wendlandt. In his four professional attempts, his only good finish here was in the summertime when the fish were offshore. Carolina rigs and big worms will be on the menu, and he’ll definitely have a few variations of those on the deck.

BUCKET E: LOGAN

Honestly, I’m totally lost in this bucket. There are a few offshore guys, but I got burned picking the “obvious” guy in this bucket at the last one. So, I’m going a little off the wall and picking Wes Logan. If he chooses to fish his strengths, he will probably spend most of his time looking for a way to catch 4-plus pound bass up shallow. I’m just hoping for a little better Bucket E performance than Fork, and he feels like a safe pick.

Don’t forget about: Justin Atkins

The “obvious” pick for this tournament is Justin Atkins. With the amount of knowledge he has and being the most local angler, it should be a shoo-in event for him, but sometimes too much knowledge can hurt a guy. He should be able to fish his strengths and have plenty of spots to check. If I don’t pick him, he’ll probably crush them. I’m hoping my strategy of picking a safe angler doesn’t come back to bite me.

Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge

I’ve managed to maintain a slight lead over my fellow pundits and find myself in the blessed position of 111th place overall, good for the 99.4th percentile. I’m going to continue to play it as safely as I can, while still saving my smallmouth guys for the St. Lawrence River and Lake Oahe. I made a huge mistake and took the wrong Frazier brother off my Drain the Lake roster at Fork. Hopefully he can keep that momentum rolling for me.

• Justin Atkins
• Marc Frazier
• Micah Frazier
• Justin Hamner
• Michael Iaconelli
• Brock Mosley
• Matt Robertson
• Josh Stracner