Fantasy Fishing

Fantasy Fishing: Same Ol’ St. Lawrence

There are seemingly no secrets left to be had on the St. Lawrence River. With that said, taking off out of Clayton, N.Y., rather than Waddington, N.Y., will open up some opportunities as the Elites will have a significantly shorter run to Lake Ontario.

When it comes to Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks, it’s really difficult to not rely on history because the majority of the field has so much history on this special body of water. For the most part, I love picking anglers with low player percentages and taking a gamble here and there, but going with what you know is likely going to be the right move for this event.

A handful of anglers have an undeniable history of success at the St. Lawrence River, creating a scenario where high player percentages are present in every single bucket. If your team is in a solid position at this point in the season, it may be in your best interest to play it safe in this event – which is exactly what I will be doing.

Let’s get into my picks.

BUCKET A: JOHNSTON

Take your pick of a Johnston brother in Bucket A. Chris Johnston holds the highest player percentage in the Bucket, but he’ll get the nod for my roster. In three Elite Series trips to the St. Lawrence River, Chris has never finished outside of the top five. That’s by far the best average of any angler in the field on the St. Lawrence River. If you’re looking to go with a little lower player percentage, go with Cory Johnston.

Solid secondary selection: Bucket A is loaded with historically good smallmouth anglers with the likes of the Johnston brothers and Brandon Palaniuk, but don’t overlook David Mullins. Over the last few years, Mullins has made a statement on smallmouth fisheries and is currently having a great season. At 1.2% player percentage, Mullins could be a sneaky pick.

BUCKET B: ITO

I made a terrible mistake last season by thinking that Taku Ito’s immediate smallmouth fishing success was a bit of a fluke, but I won’t be making that mistake this season. Ito took home the title last season at the St. Lawrence River by making the long run to Lake Ontario, but having a shorter run and more fishing time could make Ito even more deadly this time around. At over a 40% player percentage, Ito is the safe bet it Bucket B.

Solid secondary selection: Despite having the second highest player percentage in Bucket B, Jeff Gustafson is another safe bet. In three Elite Series events on the St. Lawrence River, Gustafson has never finished outside of the top 20. Bucket B at large is full of a lot of uncertainty, which makes it difficult to stray away from the anglers with a higher percentage.

BUCKET C: WENDLANDT

While Seth Feider is eating up the majority of the player percentage in Bucket C, there’s several anglers, like Clark Wendlandt, with player percentages under 10% that have a history of success at the St. Lawrence River. The veteran Wendlandt has two Top 10 finishes in three Elite Series trips to the St. Lawrence along with a variety of good finishes here over the course of his career. The Texas pro likes to fish out in the lake, which will be much easier out of Clayton.

Solid secondary selection: It’s a little surprising to see Micah Frazier, a former champion on the St. Lawrence River, at a player percentage under 4%. Frazier’s win on the St. Lawrence River wasn’t just a one hit wonder either. The Georgia pro backed that up with a fifth-place finish in 2020 and a 34th in 2021.

BUCKET D: KELLEY

At just 26 years old, Jonathan Kelley has already made a name for himself as a terrific smallmouth fisherman. During the 2021 Opens season, Kelley dominated the Northern division including a ninth-place finish on the St. Lawrence River out of Clayton. At just a 3.8% player percentage, Kelley could be a solid under the radar pick in Bucket D.

Solid secondary selection: Although Bernie Schultz calls Florida home, Upstate New York is ultimately a home away from home as he spent a lot his early years fishing on the St. Lawrence River and his results would reflect just that. In six Elite Series events, he’s notched four finishes inside the top 15.

BUCKET E: ATKINS

Time and time again, we see how big momentum is on the Elite Series and that’s exactly what Justin Atkins has needed this season. After notching a Top 10 on his home lake of Pickwick, Atkins should be able to carry over that momentum to the St. Lawrence River, where he notched a second-place finish last season.

Solid secondary selection: If you’re looking for an angler with a lower player percentage, Alex Redwine may be the answer. Despite having a tough season to this point, the Ohio native is an excellent smallmouth fisherman and may surprise some people at the St. Lawrence River. During the 2021 Opens season, Redwine finished 12th at the St. Lawrence River.

Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge

• Chris Johnston
• Cory Johnston
• Bernie Schultz
• Brandon Palaniuk
• Taku Ito
• Jonathan Kelley
• Paul Mueller
• Greg DiPalma