The Bassmaster Elite Series is headed back to South Dakota for only the second time ever, and the last visit was in 2018. In 2018, the venue was also Lake Oahe, but this year the field is launching more than a gas tank away from the previous site. To give you some perspective, if this year’s field runs as far south as they can on half a tank of gas, that is about as far north as the 2018 field could fish. But what Oahe lacks in places to get gas, it makes up for in smallmouth bass.
As you make picks, just keep in mind, largemouth bass are an absolute nonfactor here, and any that get weighed in will almost certainly be an accidental catch. There are two styles of smallmouth fisheries — one where the smallmouth are super tight to the bottom and structure is not hard to find with electronics and one where front facing sonar will dominate. I truly believe this event will be the latter. Make sure your roster this week is strong and confident with their electronics.
The Northern Swing is always an exciting time as it becomes crunch time for all of the point races. Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year, Falcon Rods Bassmaster Rookie of the Year, Bassmaster Classic berths and Elite Series requalification are all bundled up with big numbers of fish catches.
As I mentioned above, don’t put too much stock in past results from 2018. Pick based on the matchup and playing field. Picture Oahe as a western desert lake. It’s like fishing the surface of the moon under water.
BUCKET A: ZALDAIN
Hovering at just under 96% overall for Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing, it’s time to take some strategic chances. Palaniuk and Taku seem like the most obvious choices here, but Chris Zaldain got to see this fishery in 2018. While he didn’t have a great finish, that should help him break things down quicker this year. Also, after back-to-back top five finishes, I think Zaldain makes his third consecutive Day 4 appearance at Oahe.
Short shorts: If Patrick Walters can see them, he can usually catch them. He should be a strong contender as long as a dust storm doesn’t cause any chaffing with his apparel choices.
BUCKET B: PRZEKURAT
In most of Jay Przekurat’s post-win interviews, he seemed awful giddy about Oahe. So I am going to ride that confidence and chance it that he is a smallmouth whisperer outside of the Great Lakes.
History pick: The only angler that fished Day 4 in 2018 that is in this year’s field is Cliff Pirch. Now that the Golden Ram is armed with all the new Scentsation plastics from Big Bite Baits, you might want to give him a strong look at Oahe.
BUCKET C: FELIX
The Sleepy Assassin seems to have woken up after a brutal Lake Fork event. Austin Felix is a great matchup and was able to get some pre-practice in on Oahe last year at this time of year. Felix has been the first angler out of the Day 4 cut in the last two events, and I think we find him fishing on Sunday at Oahe.
Sonar pick: I cannot tell you exactly why, but I feel like Oahe is going to be a strong match up for Cody Huff. If you are looking for a low percentage dark horse in Bucket C, I think Huff is your angler. He has some major wins scoping bass in places most people don’t tend to look.
BUCKET D: MUELLER
After four rough tournaments, Paul Mueller is finding his groove, and Oahe fits him to a T. Combine that with a top 20 here in 2018, and he seems like a solid, safe pick. Mueller is very good at catching suspended fish, and that could be key this event.
He still needs it: Former FLW Cup winner Justin Atkins needs to keep stringing together top 20 finishes to give himself a shot to requalify for the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series. Recently, Atkins has been flourishing up north at smallie events, so let’s see if he can keep that mojo going at Oahe.
BUCKET E: REDWINE
Alex Redwine served my roster well fishing for smallies in New York, so I am going to ride that momentum into Oahe. I’ll take him as a calculated value pick to hopefully sneak some value points this week before we head to La Crosse, Wis.
Last shot at a Top 10?: In 2018, David Fritts had a very stout 14th-place finish, and if it wasn’t for some unfortunate fish losses, he very well was on the fish to win. Not sure how many more favorable matchups we will see for Fritts on tour, so if you are looking for a sentimental fun pick, this would be a great week to go with the “Crankbait King.”
Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge
Now onto Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge. This additional fantasy fishing game not only offers a fresh way to play the game, but a separate prize pool. Drain the Lake is an elimination or survivor-style game where you can only use an angler once all season.
• Austin Felix
• Clifford Pirch
• Josh Douglas
• Cody Huff
• Paul Mueller
• Micah Frazier
• Matty Wong
• Greg Dipalma