Fantasy Fishing: Spots for days, spots for dough

If you thought it was hot at Wheeler, just wait until the Elites get to Smith. That slippery Alabama red clay will no longer be mud (any “My Cousin Vinny” fans out there?) and will have instead have been baked to a crusty, powdery, pumice-like substance. The Yeti Hot Seat is always a desirable place to be, just make sure you’re not wearing those Patrick Walters short shorts if you’re going to be perched there too long.

But as we saw once again, the best of the best can push aside the risk of overheating to claim a spot on Championship Sunday. That’ll happen at every event from here on out, and while Smith may not produce the hefty weights we’ll see at Champlain or the St. Lawrence, these boys are gonna catch ‘em up good.

Of course, the lake is chock full of spotted bass, so go with anglers who have momentum, something to fish for, and who get the big spot game. They may have to supplement it with largemouths to separate themselves, but the wolfpacks of spots will be the bread and butter. That also means that after one tournament where it didn’t seem to be a factor, forward-facing sonar should once again play a major role. You’ll make bank with guys who like to look at screens. Here’s who I’m picking:


Spotzilla Expert: He may have fallen off the wagon a bit at Wheeler, but don’t expect Jordan Lee to have two bad Alabama derbies in a row. This is his wheelhouse and others just pay rent there. He finished 21st at the 2021 Smith Open, but his roots run much deeper, and this is a perfect opportunity to jump back into the thick of the AOY race.

Solid Backup: At this point in the season it’s not a surprise to see so many rookies in Bucket A, and coming off his second Elite Top 10, semi-local Wesley Gore finds himself in 8th in the AOY race, just one spot behind Lee. He too could make a move up the ladder.


Spotzilla Expert: My friends in Alabama tell me that Logan Parks is a master of the FFS, and coming off of his first Elite Top 10, he has momentum. He’s just a few spots inside the Classic cut and needs to get things done before the relative unknown of the Northern Swing.

Solid Backup: Brandon Palaniuk is also a few spots inside the Classic cutline and after last year’s struggles in the north country he knows that every event is precious. He can’t rely on the smallmouth events to carry him. I don’t expect him to miss the Classic under any circumstances, but it’s no longer the gimme it once was for him.


Spotzilla Expert: In this bucket I’m going against my general rule of avoiding anglers who are on a bad run, and banking on the fact that Taku Ito will right his course before the season gets away from him. He’s exceptional with electronics and loves little fish, and the three 80th or worse finishes in his last four events are a false sign.

Solid Backup: Like Palaniuk, above, expect Jeff Gustafson’s years of tour-level travels and Smeltinator expertise to pay off on the deep water spots before he looks to close out the year closer to home. He’s not terribly far out of the Classic right now, but needs at least two very good finishes to make it happen.


Spotzilla Expert: Not many die hard notorious scopers in this group, so I’m betting on Bob Downey to earn his fourth straight Elite check. He’d likely be in Bucket C if he hadn’t missed a tournament to attend the birth of his son, and he was 34th in a 2019 Open here, so there’s a bit of method to my madness.

Solid Backup: Normally by this time in the year I’ve been burned by Steve Kennedy twice and rewarded by him twice (or burned when I failed to pick him and he notched a top finish). After disasters at Murray and Wheeler, he’s in position to go for broke with the big bait. High risk, high reward.


Spotzilla Expert: Gerald Swindle was fishing Smith before much of the field was born, and while this year has been a struggle, it feels like if he can just get out of his own way he could go on tear. Last week we saw one veteran get the Blue Trophy Monkey off his back. Why not the two-time AOY as well?

Solid Backup: There are lots of proven hammers who’ve somehow hit the skids in this bucket, from Joey Cifuentes to Scott Martin, but if you’re willing to ride the momentum train, at least Cliff Prince has proven he can succeed in the heat.

Falcon Rods Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge

• Scott Canterbury
• Will Davis Jr.
• Bob Downey
• David Gaston
• Steve Kennedy
• Wes Logan
• Logan Parks
• Gerald Swindle