When it comes to Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing, it’s been a painful year for the Robbins household. I’m getting killed by my fellow Fantasy pundits, and I keep betting on horses who are acting like it’s time to go out to pasture. I’m not condemning any of my old favorites to the glue factory quite yet, but let’s just say it’s time to take a different approach.
Fortunately, as the Elites head from South Dakota to Wisconsin, a lot of things are settled. Perhaps more importantly, this upcoming event is one of the few remaining win-and-you’re-in Classic golden tickets. That doesn’t apply to those of us who write for a living – the unforgiving truth is that absent a major miracle, I’m still going to get my butt kicked by Ronnie Moore – but it does slightly change the dynamic on the playing field. It enables many anglers to take a chance or three, especially if they’re locked into or completely outside of the Classic cut.
It’s time for my deep thinking to end. I’m betting on shallow water experts in La Crosse. In honor of our Badger State hosts, here are my picks:
BUCKET A: CHRIS JOHNSTON
The Spotted Cow Bracket
My pick: In third place in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, 46 points behind Brandon Palaniuk and 10 points behind Brandon Lester, it seems unlikely but not impossible that Chris Johnston will claim the AOY title. What the math hides, however, is his incredible hot streak (in both largemouth and smallmouth waters) over the last five Elite events, when he’s finished no worse than 20th. That includes three Top 10s in the last four. Expect him to stay hot.
Safe backup: How can you bet against a closer like Brandon Palaniuk at this point? Does anyone really expect him to stumble twice in a row? I certainly don’t. The main reason I didn’t pick him is because of his high player percentage.
BUCKET B: DOWNEY
The Brett Fav-ruh Bracket
My pick: This bucket is insane with cheesy goodness, including Caleb Kuphall and Pat Schlapper, plus Minnesotans Seth Feider and Austin Felix. I’m going with Old Bob Downey, who not only lives nearby, but who really needs a solid finish to cement his place in a second Classic.
Safe backup: Any of those northerners has a legit shot to win. Seth Feider’s high ownership percentage is a downer, so I’m looking at Pat Schlapper to make a move.
BUCKET C: LOWEN
The Giannis Antetokounmpo Bucket
My pick: Bill Lowen must be breathing a sigh of relief after leaving the deep water environs of Lake Oahe and the St. Lawrence River. Now he needs to make good on the promise of a trolling-motor-kicking-up-mud rodeo. At 47th in AOY points, he still has a route to the Classic that way, or alternatively by winning.
Safe backup: Ever since the pain of early season Florida fish losses, Scott Martin has had a quiet season, with three missed cuts in the last four events and four of the last six. He’s fished grass since he was old enough to hold a rod, and there are places on the Upper Mississippi that have the feel of Lake Okeechobee.
BUCKET D: LOGAN
The Richie Cunningham Bracket (because The Fonz would have to be in Bucket Ayyyy)
My pick: While the Wisconsinites may believe that this is the birthplace of the swim jig, our friends from Alabama would beg to differ. Either way, it’s known that it works well here, and expect Wes Logan to have a jig rod glued to his hand much of the time. Without a win he can’t make it two Classics in a row.
Safe backup: Ray Hanselman is a mystery to me, showing just enough of the gold that made him a repeat winner on other trails to let us know that he’s a couple of good decisions away from being a star. If you’re willing to gamble on his low ownership percentage, you could make up a lot of points against your groups.
BUCKET E: WELCHER
The Mars Cheese Castle Bracket
My pick: Like Logan, Kyle Welcher is another past Classic qualifier from swim jig country who seems to have gotten on a bad beat this year. He loves to flip and frog, and no one who follows the sport will be surprised if either or both are fishing on Day 4.
Safe backup: It would pain me not to pick Mike Iaconelli and then have him blow it away, but something about his season has gone seriously wrong. Then again, he seems to perform best on the biggest stages, under the most pressure. Don’t ever bet completely against him.
Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge
• Bob Downey
• Seth Feider
• Matt Herren
• Kenta Kimura
• Caleb Kuphall
• Bill Lowen
• Pat Schlapper
• Jake Whitaker