Fantasy Fishing: One bite will make the difference

John Cox

This year has been quite a display of big bass being caught on the biggest stage, and some of the biggest dreams being fulfilled after decades of hard work. With that in mind, hearty congrats to the newest Elite to host a blue trophy, Cliff Prince!

Our next venue, Lewis Smith Lake is a relative unknown fishery for the Bassmaster Elite Series, although, as you dig in, there may be anglers with more experience here than it would seem.

Lewis Smith Lake is a premier spotted bass fishery, with spotted bass that can get absolutely massive. In fact, this lake holds the Alabama state record spotted bass at a whopping 8-15! While we almost certainly won’t see a spot that big this week, it has a phenomenal population of two-and-a-half to four-pound spots. They will certainly be a main target for much of the field, but if you are looking to pick a winner here, you will definitely want to have some shallow water, power-fishing, largemouth monsters in your back pocket.

The key to a high finish will be getting one- to two largemouth bites over four-pounds and filling out your limit with quality spots. The winner, however, will need to find something special and be able to manage enough quality largemouth to make up the vast majority of his bags each day. Shallow water flipping around docks or bushes and fishing around shallow points will be the ticket.

You can absolutely bank on the forward-facing phenoms to chase the big spotted bass around on the main lake as well. The more opportunities that an angler has to cull, the higher the leaderboard he’ll climb, so picking your targets, i.e. grocery shopping with your electronics, helps. 

I’ve made quite a Fantasy Fishing comeback this season, climbing securely into the top 10%, but I am not stopping there. Rich Lindgren is laughing at me from the top of the pundit leaderboard, so I have some work to do. I am a manageable 340-points behind him, so I’ll be making a few calculated and slightly risky selections to try to close the gap.

Let’s jump into some picks.


Right off the bat, John Cox is a guy worth considering who might just show up and win the whole dang thing. Not only is he absolutely going to be targeting largemouth bass, but he has his finger on the pulse of this lake. In the past, he has fished several events here, racking up a first, second and tenth place finishes. Granted, they were around the spawn, but those largemouth live in shallow water year-round. Expect him to put his wacky worm to work.

Don’t Forget About: Trey McKinney

When I looked down the list, my gut went straight to Trey McKinney. In the last event on wheeler, after the first day, it looked like we were finally seeing a bit of adversity. However, he pulled his britches up and finished in a very respectable 22nd place, while his nearest AOY pursuers all but took themselves out of contention.

Moving forward, he needs to simply secure top 30 finishes and the rookie will join the “Greats” as the 2024 Angler of the Year. Smart money says that a top 30 is an easy bet and certainly a respectable finish for Bucket A.


Bucket B is full of versatile anglers. Matt Arey is comfortable both shallow and deep, fishing for either species. He is also great on his electronics. Of all the anglers in Bucket B, Arey has scored more points than anyone else.

In those same tournaments with John Cox, Arey posted fourth and 11th place finishes, so you can be sure he knows some areas of the lake to start looking.

Don’t Forget About: Jacob Powroznik

Another Lewis Smith Lake champion was crowned in the 2021 Bassmaster Open, held in the month of October. With a stingy three-day weight of 37-pounds, Jacob Powroznik added another trophy to his collection. October tends to be a tough month to catch bass in general due to the bait being constantly on the move, but if he can find them when it’s tough, he should be able to find them when it’s a bit more stable.


Full transparency, Bucket C was a difficult one for me. When it gets tough to make a selection, I will typically go with the most obvious choice, which in this case is Kyle Welcher. He is an Alabama native who has shown he can be versatile, although the chances of him seeing more than five feet of water are slim to none. He can wing a buzzbait and flip a jig as well as anyone and if he manages a few big largemouth a day, he’ll have a great event. If he tanks though, at least a third of the Fantasy Fishing field will tank right along with me.

Don’t Forget About: Shane Lehew

We all know that history isn’t everything, but when there is limited information, you have to consider what technique will play and the anglers’ momentum. Most of these guys are in Bucket C because there isn’t any momentum. Of the technique specific anglers, there aren’t a ton of guys that jump off the page. So I have to refer back to history. Shane Lehew has been fishing professional tournaments here since 2015 and has a few respectable finishes in the mid-40s. His specialty is shallow-water power fishing, so if he can locate a group of shallow fish, it could be a great chance to jump inside the Classic cut.


We haven’t seen very much from Joseph Webster since he joined the Elites in 2022, but if there are any trends with him, it’s that most of his better finishes have come from venues where he can catch them shallow. If you put that together with his local advantage, being from just an hour or two away, and his experience here, he’s the obvious choice. He finished in the teens in both Bassmaster Opens here, one of which was in April and the other in October, so he is clearly capable of adjusting.

Don’t Forget About: Kenta Kimura

I got burned a little at Wheeler Lake by picking Kenta Kimura, but that doesn’t take him off the table for this event. Like Wheeler, his strong finishes in the Opens on Lewis Smith Lake should be indicative of his ability to catch them here.


As the season winds down, there are always a few anglers in Bucket E who simply don’t belong. The most surprising this season is Scott Martin. Fortunately, he is already in the Classic due to his Open win, so that pressure is off his shoulders. He loves to throw a wacky rig around shallow bushes and can also chase them around with his forward-facing sonar. A solid mixed bag shouldn’t be tough for him. Getting it four days in a row might prove to be difficult, but I’m going for it.

Don’t Forget About: Paul Mueller

Paul Mueller was one of the earliest adopters of anglers relying heavily on their electronics. He has found himself successfully putting that into practice in years past. For whatever reason, Mueller can absolutely tank when he should do great, but he also pulls out a random win when it doesn’t make sense. He is sitting near the bottom of the AOY leaderboard at the moment, which counter-intuitively may mean he is poised for a victory. The technique lines up. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see him make a run at it.

Falcon Rods Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge

Wesley Gore
Ray Hanselman
Brock Mosley
Logan Parks
Cole Sands
Bryant Smith
Joseph Webster
Matty Wong