Another year, another transducer or two, another Fantasy Fishing campaign. We’re back at it on one of the all-time greatest Bassmaster playing fields – Toledo Bend – a fishery so epic that not even Texas could contain it.
Of course, early February may be one of the toughest times of year to select anglers. There are regional hammers, of course, but the rate of change will put a lot of different techniques and perhaps different sections of the 180,000 acre impoundment in play. It’s not like going to a place where you know that flipping shallow grass or whiling away the hours with a Damiki Rig is going to be the only game in town. Everything from vegetation to offshore structure to shallow spawning bays could produce the winning bag, and depending on how you look at it, forward-facing sonar could be the great equalizer or the great separator.
Then comes the matter of wind and weather. With the former, there are days that you simply cannot get to distant fish and back with your boat and all of your vertebrae intact.
What does all of this mean? The only thing we know at this point is how much we don’t know. Accordingly, I’m hedging my bets not on one particular type of angler, but on all of the major categories – everything from FFS experts to spawn gurus to local legends to those riding a wave of momentum. If I pick them correctly, it could be epic. Even if I don’t the tournament itself will likely be a big weight affair.
Here are my pics:
BUCKET A: The AOY in Waiting
MY PICK: Patrick Walters has been in the top five in AOY the last four years, but has never finished better than 3rd. If he’s going to make the title leap, he’ll need to start strong, and if forward-facing sonar is in play that works to his advantage. It surely helped the first time he cracked the Century Mark just 180 miles away at Lake Fork. He’s no stranger to big waters, having cut his angling teeth on the massive Santee Cooper system.
BACKUP HUNCH: He clearly doesn’t need the help, but no doubt Joey Cifuentes at some point picked the brain of mentor Larry Nixon – an original member of the Toledo Bend “Hemphill Gang” – for a little bit of inside info. He’s proven that he can win and belongs in Bucket A.
BUCKET B: The All-Arounder
MY PICK: Now that he has a Classic trophy displayed in his new house, Jason Christie is playing with house money, and perhaps looking to avenge a runner-up finish in the 2017 Elite event on Toledo. He’s also done well on Rayburn, and on the Sabine River, which although it’s close is not really a similar fishery. Still, despite the fact that he’s from Oklahoma, Christie has a Texas-sized resume and is fully capable of adding to it. After last year’s 99th place finish in the season-opener, he’ll guard against disaster.
BACKUP HUNCH: Jacob Powroznik won at Toledo in 2014, and then subsequently came in 22nd and 18th. If the fish are in or close to the spawn, which they should be, no one should be surprised if he finds himself fishing on Day Four.
BUCKET C: Big Mo
MY PICK: Fresh off a record-setting Open win on his home waters, Scott Martin already has a 2025 Classic berth in hand, which means that he can truly go big. Momentum often snowballs into multiple victories (remember his dad Roland winning three Bassmaster events in a row before many of the current Elites were born?),and now that Martin has his first at B.A.S.S. he could very well go on a big fish tear.
BACKUP HUNCH: After making six Bassmaster Classics in a row, Brandon Lester will not be competing in the 2024 event on Grand Lake. In order to avoid that fate again, he’ll have to avoid starting as he did last year, 46th and then 70th. Toledo has not been kind to him in past Elite events, but he’s too talented to stay down any more.
BUCKET D: Hometown Heroes
MY PICK: Like many other fans and pundits, Keith Combs is hard to resist in Bucket D when he’s almost close enough to sleep in his own bed. There are other Texas pros who have more years on Toledo and Rayburn, but few who have more hardware. In 2016, he finished a disappointing (for him) 46th, but expect his performance to be more in the range of his 4th place finish from 2016.
BACKUP HUNCH: Ray Hanselman may live over 8 hours away, but for a pro who’s used to driving that far just to get out of his home state, this is effectively a home game. During 2015, he won three Toyota Series events in Texas, including one on Rayburn.
BUCKET E: Getting Back in the Saddle
MY PICK: Jason Williamson’s first B.A.S.S. win came not in his home state of South Carolina, but rather at Lake Amistad in Texas. The big man can catch big bags, and while his Toledo Bend results over the years have been mixed, at a super-low player percentage, this is one Bucket where I’ll let the hunch rule the choice.
BACKUP HUNCH: Rookie Kyle Patrick is another FFS expert. I watched his Opens campaign carefully last year, and every time it seemed as if an obstacle was going to get in his way and derail him, he just got stronger. Few anglers care more, express more humility or put in more time to get the job done.
Falcon Rods Drain the Lake Challenge
• Stetson Blaylock
• Keith Combs
• Greg Hackney
• Ray Hanselman
• Jacob Powroznik
• Hunter Shryock
• Clark Wendlandt
• Jason Williamson