Fantasy Fishing: Classic projections

If long-range forecasts and historical weather data are accurate, this year’s Classic will be contested in cold weather on cold water. That would suggest that Grand Lake bass are more likely to be closer to their winter haunts than prespawn locations.

Because winter-pattern bass and prespawn bass require different techniques to find and catch, Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing players would be wise to learn which anglers in the Classic field have finished high previously on fisheries similar to Grand in similar weather and water conditions.

Judging from most reports, the favorites in this year’s Classic are Edwin Evers, Tommy Biffle, Jason Christie and Mike McClelland. The first three are Oklahomans. McClelland lives about an hour away, in Bella Vista, Ark. Each has enjoyed success on Grand, but the Classic, more than any other tournament, is cruel to locals. As Bassmaster’s Ken Duke reported here last month, only one angler living in the same state as the Classic waters has ever won – Boyd Duckett in 2007. Call it the Classic Curse.

But the Classic Curse concerns winning, not placing high. And Fantasy Fishing players don’t have to pick the winner to succeed (although it does help). Rather, our challenge is to pick the five highest-scoring anglers from as many handicapped buckets. So don’t concern yourself with the Classic Curse when making your roster picks.

Focus instead on the field’s history on fisheries similar to Grand Lake O' the Cherokees in similar weather and water conditions.

Grand Lake is a rocky upland reservoir with little to no grass. So before making my picks, I reviewed angler histories in tournaments contested in cold, late February/early March weather on fisheries with little grass. Most anglers in the top three buckets competed in most or all of the following four tournaments, which were held in on fisheries that contain little grass in weather similar to conditions forecast for the Tulsa area at the end of this February. For reference, the average low temp in Tulsa in late February is 32 degrees; the average high is 53; the average mean temp is 42.5 degrees.

One last thing – if it rains during the Classic practice period, you’ll likely want to reconsider all your picks!

  • Feb. 22-24, 2008, Lake Hartwell Classic: Average low, 35 degrees; average high, 63; mean, 44.
  • March 8-11, 2007, Lake Amistad Elite Series: Average low, 30 degrees; average high, 70; mean, 50.
  • March 6-9, 2003, Lake Eufaula: Average low, 48 degrees; average high, 60; mean, 52.
  • March 4-7 2004, Table Rock Lake Bassmaster Tour: Average low, 51 degrees; average high, 60; mean, 70.

If you'd rather listen than read, here's a podcast about Classic picks as well:

Based on that data, I determined the following picks:

Bucket A

Conservative Pick – Kevin VanDam

Popular Pick – Edwin Evers

Wild Card Pick – Jason Christie

Sentimental Pick – Mike McClelland

My Pick – Tommy Biffle

Christie (10.2 percent fantasy ownership) has certainly enjoyed success on Grand, much of in mid-March and in minor-level tournaments on another pro circuit. Still, he’s likely to know where the bass live and bite in February, when average temps are similar. Christie’s biggest challenge won’t be finding spots; it will be fishing clean under the added pressure of being followed by a flotilla of spectators and the hype generated because he’s a local and is crossing over from another pro circuit.

Evers, another Oklahoman, is the most popular pick at the time of this writing, at 30.7 percent ownership (only .02 percent more popular than KVD). Not only did he finish third and fourth on Grand in the past (in June 2006 and 2007), his average finish on rocky/non-grass lakes in February/early March tournaments – what we’ll call “similar conditions” for the rest of this column – is the best in Bucket A, at 10th place. Evers’ best finish in similar conditions is a win in the 2003 Eufaula tournament. He’s known to be great with a spinnerbait, the bait that BassGold data indicates is likely to win the 2013 Classic.

Not much more can be said about Kevin VanDam’s ridiculous success in recent Classics. Those events he dominated, however, were held on fisheries with grass, of which Grand has little to none. VanDam’s average finish in similar conditions is only fourth-best in Bucket A, at 36th. Still, that average includes a third in the 2008 Lake Hartwell Classic and a fifth in the 2007 Lake Amistad event. He won on Grand in June 2007 and placed 22nd there in June 2006, so he knows the lay of the lake. And although he didn’t win a tournament last season, his seventh-place showing in the 2012 Angler of the Year race proves he remains a force to be reckoned with. If the Classic Curse again rears its head, he’s the angler most likely to benefit.

I’m ignoring the curse, however, and picking Biffle. Another Oklahoman, he fares almost as well as Evers in similar conditions (13th-place average). Plus, he lives on Fort Gibson Lake, a similar fishery on which he won an Elite Series tournament in 2010. He’ll know what mood the bass will be in, making for a more efficient practice period, allowing more time to find the spot-on-the-spot, rather than spots. And, at 3.9 percent fantasy ownership, he offers more bang for the buck than Evers, Christie or VanDam.

Although Biffle finished 30th and 34th on Grand in the June 2006 and 2007 events, fishing it in winter plays better to his strengths (if only because he’s Mountain Man tough and won’t be as bothered by near-freezing temps as some others in the field.)

Although McClleland (5.1 percent ownership) is familiar with Grand, having won there in June 2006 and placing 11th there in June 2007, the renowned jerkbait technician doesn’t have a stellar record in cold-water tournaments on non-grass fisheries. He placed 42nd in the 2008 Classic, 74th in the chilly Amistad tournament and a respectable 18th in the 2004 Table Rock event, for an average finish of 54th.

Brent Chapman’s average finish of 32nd place in similar conditions is third-best in Bucket A, and Chris Lane has not excelled in similar conditions, averaging a 51st-place finish.

See Bucket B on the next page.

Bucket B

Conservative Pick – Alton Jones

Popular Pick – Mike Iaconelli

Wild Card Pick – Cliff Pace

Sentimental Pick – Greg Hackney

My Pick – Ott DeFoe

Alton Jones and Mike Iaconelli have fared best in similar conditions, with average finishes of 17th place. A popular angler picked often whether his strengths match a fishery or not, Iaconelli’s 22.8 percent ownership is more than justified, as he will be in his element on Grand.

Although Jones is more known for his sight fishing prowess, his win in the cold 2008 Classic is only one of four Top 20 or Top 30 finishes in similar conditions. Jones is perhaps the best value pick in the bucket, at 15.2 percent.

At 33.1 percent ownership, DeFoe is the most-picked angler in Bucket B, thanks mostly to his ability to make Top 12s seemingly wherever he goes, no matter where in the country or what the conditions. It’s not inconceivable that the 2011 Rookie of the Year and 2012 Angler of the Year runner-up begins his third season on the Elite Series with a Classic victory.

Although DeFoe did not fish in the same B.A.S.S. tournaments that I've talked about, he has finished high in four February tournaments, averaging 12th place.

Pace (2.2 percent ownership) might seem a dark-horse pick for this event, especially considering his 93rd-place bomb on Grand in June 2007. But I’ve got a gut feeling that the stars are aligning for the quiet Mississippian in this year’s Classic, which seems to be setting up to similarly to the cold 2008 Classic in which he finished runner-up to Jones.

After recovering from a rough start in Florida last season, Pace became one of the best Fantasy Fishing values, as he went on to finish way higher than most other anglers in his Fantasy bucket. Not only did he notch runner-up finishes in two events last season, he finished sixth and 15th place in two others, en route to an 18th-place showing in the Angler of the Year race. In the February 2011 and 2012 Classics, he finished 12th and 14th, respectively.

See Bucket C on the next page.

Bucket C

Conservative Pick – Mark Davis

Popular Pick – Brandon Palaniuk

Wild Card Pick – Bobby Lane

Sentimental Pick – Randy Howell

My Pick – Bobby Lane

After finishing 20th in AOY points last season, 1995 Classic champ and 15-time Classic qualifier Davis (11.1 percent ownership) appears to be returning to form. Consider his win in the 2004 Table Rock event and a 24th-place showing on Eufaula in 2003, and he seems like a pretty safe bet to finish high in Bucket C.

Although Howell (8.6 percent) is coming off a great 2012 season in which he finished fifth in the AOY race, he’s not fared well in Classics, having made only one final cut in 10 trips, placing 11th. He has not fared well on Grand in two previous tries (48th and 63rd) or in any of the similar-condition tournaments reviewed above, in which his average finish was 47th. Excepting an 18th on Eufaula in 2003, he’s never finished higher than 48th in any of the similar-condition tournaments.

Palaniuk's fourth-place finish in the 2011 Classic coming out of the B.A.S.S. Nation and his win last year on Table Rock indicate the greatness of which he’s capable, but his two-year record indicates a hero-or-zero pattern of inconsistency. Accustomed to fishing in cold water in his native Idaho, Palaniuk is capable of winning this Classic, but he is by no means a lock to even make the final cut, based on his history.

I’m picking as my dark horse Bobby Lane, whom I’ve got a gut feeling about. Review his record in similar conditions and you might be surprised that a Florida guy finishes as well as he has in cold tournaments – fourth in the 2008 Classic; ninth in the 2011 Classic; 15th in the 2010 Classic; and 16th in the 2009 Classic.

See Bucket D on the next page.

Bucket D

Conservative Pick – None!

Popular Pick – Russ Lane

Wild Card Pick – Pete Gluszek

Sentimental Pick – Marty Robinson

My Pick – Jared Lintner

The most popular pick in Bucket D, Russ Lane (30 percent ownership) finished 41st and 49th on Grand Lake in June 2006 and 2007, respectively. He doesn’t, however, have much experience fishing in cold weather in fisheries without grass. Tournament records indicate that most of his professional fishing experience in February has been in Classics on rivers and impoundments with grass, or tournaments on grass-laden Florida lakes.

Robinson might not be a good bet on Grand Lake in cold weather. While he did place seventh on Grand in 2007, that was in June. A cold Grand is a different animal; an animal that Robinson does not have much history taming. Outside of a February 2006 event on West Point Lake in which he placed 135th, he has little experience fishing in winter on fisheries without grass.

Lintner has experience on Grand, having placed 23rd and 82nd there in 2007 and 2006, respectively. More importantly, his resume includes two Top 20s in February/early March tournaments that will likely fish similar to Grand this year – 20th in the 2008 Classic and 13th in the 2007 Amistad event.

Want a Wild Card in Bucket D? Go with Gluszek, a former Bassmaster Tour pro (and running buddy/business partner of Iaconelli) who got back into the top competition ranks with an Open win last year.

Because he’s from New Jersey, fishing in the cold won’t likely affect him as much as it might some other anglers. In fact, he won a February 1999 Alabama Eastern Invitational on Alabama’s Lake Martin, which fishes similar to Grand, especially in the winter. Iaconelli finished fifth in that event. On the other hand, Gluszek finished 126th in the early March 2003 Eufaula tournament.

See Bucket E on the next page.

Bucket E

Conservative Pick – Gerry Jooste

Popular Pick – Matt Lee

Wild Card Pick – Matt Lee

Sentimental Pick – Gerry Jooste

My Pick – Gerry Jooste

Zimbabwe native Jooste (7.1 percent ownership) is both the conservative and sentimental pick in Bucket E, for the same reason – the 2013 Classic will be the fifth he’s qualified for out of the B.A.S.S. Nation. If he makes the cut, that makes for a great storyline.

Lee, an Auburn University bass fishing team angler, is the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series representative in this year’s Classic. And judging from his huge ownership percentage (44.9 percent), Fantasy Fishing is popular among college-age anglers, who are picking him as their representative in the Classic. But it would surprise most anglers over 18 if Lee makes the final cut.


So those are my picks! Who are you choosing?

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