Fantasy Fishing: Prepare for a slugfest

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Shane Durrance

A look at Drew Benton on Lake Fork in 2019 searching for spawning bass.

As the final day of the Sabine River Bassmaster Elite Series event dwindled down, I couldn’t help but think about how entirely opposite the Lake Fork event is going to be. Don’t get me wrong, I love a grinders' tournament where every single bite matters. Really, for the sake of entertainment, I might like that style tournament more than anything, but make no mistake about it, Lake Fork will not be that kind of tournament. At the Sabine River, a 2-pound bass was huge. At Lake Fork, a 2-pound bass will be almost irrelevant if an angler has any hopes of making the final day. 

The last two Bassmaster Elite Series trips to Lake Fork resulted in three anglers joining the Century Club. In 2019, Brandon Cobb and Garret Paquette both reached the 100-pound mark, and in 2020, Patrick Walters surpassed 100 pounds. Expect history to repeat itself this time around.

The 2019 Elite Series event at Fork was held the first weekend in May, and the fish were primarily postspawn with some fish still spawning. Given that we will be visiting Fork a couple weeks earlier, it should be dominated with spawning fish. With that being said, it’s likely that there will be fish in all three stages of the spawn.

When making my Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks, I focused on selecting anglers who are historically good at targeting spawning fish and anglers who typically do well in heavyweight events.

The Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork will be the first event in which fans can play the brand-new Fantasy Fishing game, Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge. Drain the Lake is considered an elimination pool game. Players will select any eight anglers from the Elite Series field per tournament, but once an angler is selected for a tournament, you can no longer select that angler for the remainder of the season. For more information about Drain the Lake, click here! Here are my Drain the Lake picks:

  • Stetson Blaylock 
  • Keith Combs 
  • Micah Frazier 
  • Darold Gleason 
  • Lee Livesay 
  • Brad Whatley 
  • Luke Palmer 
  • Hunter Shryock

Now for my Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing picks.

BUCKET A: HACKNEY

After missing the cut in back-to-back events, it appears that some are selling their stock in Greg Hackney, but I wouldn’t do that just yet. As it stands right now, the Louisiana pro’s player percentage is under 10% for the first time all season. Any time an event sets up to be a shallow water slugfest, you can bet that Greg Hackney will be a major player. Bucket A is loaded with anglers who set up extremely well for this event, so the percentages are pretty evenly distributed. Look for Hackney to get back on track at Fork. 

Solid secondary selection: If there are spawning fish to be caught, you can count on Drew Cook to catch them. In 2019, the former Bassmaster Rookie of the Year finished sixth at Lake Fork. At only 2.7%, Cook is a solid sleeper pick in Bucket A.

BUCKET B: BLAYLOCK

Although Stetson Blaylock isn’t from Texas, the central Arkansan has made the short trip down I-30 plenty of times to Lake Fork. Aside from his history of success on Lake Fork, Blaylock is another angler who is a very good sight fisherman. I wouldn’t be surprised if Blaylock has some sneaky offshore spots that early postspawn fish will head to right after they spawn. 

Solid secondary selection: Everyone remembers Brandon Cobb’s masterpiece of a tournament on Lake Fork in 2019. Odds seem pretty high that we could see a very similar scene this time around as well. Cobb is another one of those anglers who excels fishing the spawn. The event being a little earlier in the year could help Cobb out that much more in terms of finding more monster bass on bed.

BUCKET C: BENTON

Sticking with the theme of great sight fisherman, Drew Benton is a steal of a pick in Bucket C. The Georgia native is currently only at 3.3% ownership, which is a little surprising. In 2019, Benton finished 10th at Lake Fork primarily power fishing in shallow water. Look for Benton to duplicate that success this time around. 

Solid secondary selection: After watching Derek Hudnall lose key fish on Bassmaster LIVE during Day 1 of the Bassmaster Elite Series event at the Sabine River, I imagine he couldn’t be any more ready to get back out there. Hudnall is another angler who was successful in 2019 at Lake Fork with a 14th-place finish.

BUCKET D: FRAZIER

Bucket D is an unusual place to find Micah Frazier, but after a couple of tough events in a row that’s where he’s at — for now at least. The Georgia native historically does well in heavyweight events. In 2019, Frazier finished the Lake Fork event in third place and fell only a few pounds shy of reaching the 100-pound mark.

Solid secondary selection: Justin Atkins is an outstanding sight fisherman and could certainly be a solid pick in Bucket D. Look for Atkins to continue his climb up the AOY standings in the following events.

BUCKET E: GLEASON

I think this event sets up right in Darold Gleason’s wheelhouse. Most associate Gleason as being an offshore specialist, but more than anything he is a Toledo Bend hammer. To me, Lake Fork and Toledo Bend have a lot of similarities which will make Gleason feel right at home. I remember having a conversation with Derek Hudnall in 2019 about the similarities between the two lakes which makes me think Gleason could be a great pick in Bucket E.

Solid secondary selection: I have no doubt that Chris Zaldain will get back on track at Lake Fork after a tough start to the season so far. With that being said, the Texan has an extremely high player percentage at 63.7% which makes me a little hesitant to select him.