Despite the fact that the majority of the Elite anglers don’t love the fishing on the Sabine River because of the small weights and stacked leaderboard, this East Texas fishery always provides an entertaining event with an abundance of storylines. However, I kind of hate this event from a Fantasy Fishing standpoint. Sure, there are guys that stylistically match up well with the Sabine River, and you can also make picks based on history, but at the end of the day, the difference between a good day and a bad day is one big bite.
Trying to guess who will get that big bite is tricky business.
When it comes to making Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks, I tried to consider all the factors – history, fishing style, momentum and who needs to catch them the most.
BUCKET A: PALANIUK
Brandon Palaniuk is on fire right now. In his last three events, the reigning Angler of the Year has not finished outside of the Top 5. This includes back-to-back second-place finishes in the state of Alabama. When Palaniuk gets on a roll, he’s hard to stop. Honestly, I’m still kicking myself for not selecting him at Lay Lake.
Solid secondary selection: While we’re on the topic of kicking myself, it seems that I continue to wish I had Brandon Cobb on my roster as each event passes. The South Carolina pro has been on fire with five Top 10s in six events in 2023, which includes the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic. Also, Cobb had a solid 15th place finish at the Sabine back in 2021.
BUCKET B: HACKNEY
With two former Sabine River Elite champions in Bucket B, it’s one of the most difficult Buckets to choose from. However, given the time of the year, I like Greg Hackney this time around. The Louisiana pros victory here in 2018 was the same exact time of the year as this event. Look for Hackney to bounce back after a tough event at Lay Lake.
Solid secondary selection: Factoring in a mixture of history and momentum, Jason Christie would be the clear secondary pick. As the most recent champion at the Sabine River, I fully expect the Oklahoma pro to have a few more tricks up his sleeve.
BUCKET C: PALMER
It’s been an uncharacteristically up-and-down season for Luke Palmer. After notching his first Elite Series win at Santee Cooper, Palmer followed up with one of his worst career finishes at Lay Lake. As I noted before the Santee Cooper Elite, Palmer has never finished worse than 50th in consecutive events. I expect that streak to continue, and for the Oklahoma pro to bounce back at the Sabine River.
Solid secondary selection: After looking into his history at the Sabine River, it’s shocking that John Crews is only sitting at 3.2% player percentage. In four Elite events, Crews has never finished outside of the top 30. That includes two Top 10s.
BUCKET D: HERREN
After a rough start to the season, Matt Herren needed a good finish at Lay Lake and that’s exactly what he got. In addition to some positive momentum, the Elite Series veteran has a history of success at the Sabine River. In four Elite events, Herren has never finished outside of the 50-cut.
Solid secondary selection: At 2.2%, Jake Whitaker could be a sneaky good pick in Bucket D. In 2018, Whitaker notched a 5th-place finish at the Sabine River. The timing of this event should be in his favor as he is one of the best topwater fisherman on the Elites.
BUCKET E: QUEEN
KJ Queen is not having the season that he likely hoped for, but there’s still time to get things turned around. The North Carolina pro’s first Top 10 as an Elite Series angler came at the Sabine River, so this may be the perfect place to get back on track.
Solid secondary selection: All signs point to Caleb Sumrall having another good event at the Sabine River. The Louisiana pro notched a Top 10 finish the last time the Elites visited the Sabine.
Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge
• Lee Livesay
• Tyler Rivet
• Greg Hackney
• Logan Latuso
• Steve Kennedy
• Matt Herren
• Caleb Sumrall
• Darold Gleason