Fantasy Fishing: Pick your poison

And just like that, we are on the back half of the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series season. With just four events left to go, there are some secondary storylines starting to take form. As they unfold, they certainly can start to impact the anglers and how they will approach each event.

The biggest and most obvious story to watch closely is the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. Realistically, there are about a half dozen anglers in contention. Generally, what you see from veterans who are near the top of the standings is a tendency to lean towards playing it conservative. Avoiding blunders could very well be the key to an AOY victory. On the other hand, you have a rookie in the lead whose favorite angling technique is “caution to the wind”. He has found himself in this position by a combination of skill and instinct.

This event will be one to pay very close attention to for our AOY leader. If Trey McKinney does well here, he will be hard to catch. However, if his gut fails him, it’ll open the race to a few tornados known as the Johnston Brothers and the former back-to-back Classic Champ, Jordan Lee who are breathing down his neck. I’ll have some comments about all of them below.

The second narrative to watch is the Bassmaster Classic cut line. With only 40 anglers being guaranteed to make it, there are some big names outside the cut that will be making decisions based on that target and with that comes some serious pressure.

This fishery is a special one. Guys will have the option to fish their strengths and no matter how you target the fish, you could find the winning fish. There will be two schools of thought; fish shallow or fish offshore. Another divider will be those who choose to fish known productive areas verses finding something off the beaten path.

Backwaters and creeks will be loaded with brush, grass and trees. With that comes a population of bass. Alternatively, main lake will have steep bluff banks, deeper shoreline cover, offshore shell beds, rocks and ledges and possibly even some grass beds.

If neither of those fit your fancy, there are marinas and docks galore that will certainly give up a few good ones throughout the event.

Main techniques offshore will include crankbaits, swimbaits, jigs, jerkbaits, and dropshots. Forward-facing sonar will absolutely make a statement for guys who choose to fish on the main lake.

Up shallow, look for frogs, swimjigs, Texas rigs and wacky rigs to make a statement.


Jordan Lee is one of the best to ever play the game and despite his hiatus from the Elites over the last several years, it hasn’t slowed him down one bit. He is currently a manageable 30 points behind McKinney in the AOY race and is bent on closing the gap. He is an Alabama native and has more experience on this pond than many of the Elites. He loves to power fish, but can also slow down and finesse them with a spinning rod if he has to.

Don’t Forget About: Trey McKinney

Trey McKinney has made quite a debut this year and it doesn’t seem like it is slowing down at all. He will inevitably be one of the guys floating around the flats and ledges, looking at his graphs and targeting individual fish. That is certainly a way it could be won. The issue is that he will inevitably be sharing fish. He finished 7th here in the 2023 Bassmaster Open in May. It will be fishing very similarly to that event.

There are two other pursuers that will be worth talking about. The Johnston brothers are proficient at everything this lake offers whether that is throwing a frog up shallow or chasing them around offshore. They will also likely not be fishing all the community water which could prove to be a thorn in the AOY race for McKinney come Sunday.


Wheeler Lake has been labeled a favorite lake for angler Justin Atkins. Atkins has been on the Elites for a while now but has had intermittent success. However, nearly half of his top 20 finishes have been in Alabama or Tennessee. He knows this part of the country very well and that knowledge has served him well. There have also been tournaments where he was a clear favorite where he has tanked. Which Atkins will show up is yet to be seen.

Don’t Forget About: Will Davis Jr.

If you want a shallow water option, look no further than Will Davis Jr. Being an Alabama native, he is sure to have fished Wheeler plenty. You won’t find him outside of five feet of water and with the abundant cover in the water, he should be power fishing. That would be a blast to watch!


As you get down into Bucket C, you’ll start to find more guys who are under the gun to get into the Classic cut. Currently just two spots out is Greg Hackney. Given his experience in other tours that visited Wheeler regularly, he has logged eight trips to this pond and has an average finish 28th. That number includes three single-digit finishes. He will probably be up in the shallows, making 10,000 flips.  

Don’t Forget About: Kyle Welcher

If you want a shoo-in for a top-50, local Alabaman Kyle Welcher is your guy. This shallow water, river-rat showed us last year that he is flexible and willing to learn, locking up the AOY in impressive fashion up north, scoping smallies. My suspicion is that he will want to be where he is most comfortable, throwing a frog and flipping around shallow cover, but he can adjust if he feels like it gives him the best shot to make up ground.


Kenta Kimura is one of the busiest anglers on tour, fishing all of the Opens as well as the Elites. He, along with all of the 2024 rookie class fished here last May and most of them did exceptionally well. Kimura finished 15th and spent the bulk of his time out on the main lake.

Don’t Forget About: Keith Combs

Keith Combs has been quiet over the last few years, but has built a career out of fishing for offshore bass. He is outside the Classic cut and will need to make some serious moves to find himself fishing the 2025 Classic in his home state. He’s a phenomenal cranker and loves to drag a big jig, both techniques have the chance of smashing some big bags.


Wiley veteran Gerald Swindle will have a great opportunity to gain some much-needed confidence. He has been fishing this lake for decades and will know some sneaky spots where the fish like to set up shop. He’s an Alabama native and certainly has a ton of hours on current-driven fisheries. That will give him an important edge. 

Don’t Forget About: Cole Sands

Right across the Tennessee boarder, guiding on Chickamauga, you’ll find the likes of Cole Sands. He has spent the majority of his professional career guiding and competing on this system. He is in bucket E, which means he has not had a good year, but his best Elite finish to date came on Lay Lake, just a short drive south. Maybe he can best that 19th place finish.

Falcon Rods Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge

• Justin Atkins
• Scott Canterbury
• John Garrett
• Justin Hamner
• Kenta Kimura
• Jordan Lee
• Wes Logan
• Gerald Swindle