Don't play it safe on Dardanelle

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Last week at Toledo Bend, I tried to play it safe in Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing and choose anglers I “knew” would garner me some key points — safe bets, such as Dean Rojas, Todd Faircloth, Edwin Evers and Dennis Tietje, all of whom had strong records on the Bend.

Expecting that it was going to be a big weight event, I also picked Ish Monroe, who has a strong track record in slugfests, but seems equally likely to score a bottom 20 finish as a Top 20 finish. Unfortunately, I got the Mr. Hyde version of Ish instead of the Dr. Jekyll iteration, as he finished a dismal 94th.

At least I still had my four “safe” picks to salvage the event, right? Well, Rojas and Faircloth did the heavy lifting, finishing sixth and ninth, respectively. Meanwhile, Evers turned in a very un-Evers-like performance, landing in 68th. Home crowd favorite Dennis Tietje didn’t help me, either, and ended up 92nd.

In short, my picks averaged a 54th-place finish, smack dab in the middle of the 108-man field. Actually it was slightly worse than that because two anglers sat the event out. In other words, I probably could’ve had a computer pick an angler from each bucket at random and do at least as well.

I recognize that picking a Fantasy Fishing team is far from an exact science. We don’t have the reams of information that analysts in other sports have in front of them to inform their picks. Still, it burns me up to get my butt kicked like I did at Toledo Bend, especially because I tried to play it close to the vest.

If I’d picked a group of no-names or has-beens and gotten killed, it wouldn’t be so galling. The best analogy I can come up with is an angler who “chases checks” rather than betting on a few big bites, and ends up with neither.

With that in mind, I’m going to do my best to take some risks this week — maybe not extreme risks, but enough that if all goes well, it’ll help me leapfrog a few people who have been more prescient up to this midway point of the season.

Here are my choices for Dardanelle.

Bucket A

Picked: Hackney

Almost picked: Rook

Reasoning: Tough not to pick Kevin VanDam here. In three B.A.S.S. events at Dardanelle dating back to 2004, he’s finished eighth, third and second, so if the upward trend continues there’s only one slot left to move.

Tough not to pick Mark Davis, Jared Lintner or Chad Morgenthaler, either, because all three are fishing out of their heads.

I’m going with Greg Hackney, though, whose ownership percentage is remarkably low. He’s a shallow-water stud and it’s close to home. He was second here in 2004 when Randy Howell won and eighth when Boyd Duckett won in 2008, so no one’s going to be surprised if he wins — except the thousands of people who failed to pick him.

Bucket B

Picked: Crochet

Almost picked: Lowen

Reasoning: Man, this one hurts. Bucket B is stacked. From what I’ve gathered informally, it’s going to be won shallow in the grass. Cliff Crochet doesn’t have B.A.S.S. experience here, but he’s rapidly becoming known as a premier level frogger. Matt Herren won here on the FLW Series, and Randy Howell won the 2004 Bassmaster E-50 here. Bill Lowen came in 17th in 2009 and he’s only gotten better since then.

I could pick any of the four and feel good about it, and all except Howell have low ownership percentages. Last week, I went with “conventional wisdom” and it hurt me, so this time I’m going with Crochet as the gut pick.

Bucket C

Picked: Browning

Almost picked: Kennedy

Reasoning: When in doubt, go with the home-state boy. That didn’t work last week with Tietje, and for some reason I’m consciously avoided the Mark Davis momentum train (which pulls into its home station this week), but Stephen Browning is fishing well and Dardanelle is his type of fishery.

I love picking Steve Kennedy, but he seems to burn me a lot, and I want Kelly Jordon’s career to rebound back to on-the-verge-of-superstardom again, but he’s in some kind of atypical funk and I’m not ready to take that much risk. If I have to make one high-ownership-percentage pick, let this be the one.

Bucket D

Picked: Biffle

Almost picked: Short

Reasoning: Man, Tommy Biffle is one of those Ish-type picks, not afraid to finish 90th if he feels there’s an equal chance he’ll win. Of his seven Bassmaster wins, four have come in the May-June-July time period. It’s when the jig works — not only flipping but also his crazy bottom-bugging deal — and that led me to pick him, despite a relatively high ownership rate.

For sentimental reasons as well as logical ones (he’s a Dardanelle fixture), I wanted to pick Kevin Short, but I don’t have a sense of where his head is after his family’s recent tragedy. Can he compartmentalize his life enough to put his head down and earn his first B.A.S.S. win (Tour or Open level) since 2011 and his first in his home state? This is one bucket where it wouldn’t hurt too bad to have buyer’s remorse.

Bucket E

Picked: Rowland

Almost picked: Duckett and Vinson

Reasoning: Boyd Duckett won here in 2008 during the white-hot stretch of his career, and his ownership percentage isn’t too high, certainly not as high as that of Ish Monroe, who burned me last week.

I really wanted to pick Greg Vinson because I have a feeling that swimming a jig will play a key role and he scored a Top 12 here in 2009, but his high ownership percentage scared me off.

I need to make a move and can’t do it by being conventional. I’m tempted to go with one of the old-school veterans like Pete Ponds and Matt Reed, but neither has done well here in past events.

My gut tells me to bet on Zell Rowland, who despite some struggles in recent years has had occasional flashes of success. He also had a Top 5 finish in the E-50 that Howell won. Gotta take a risk or two to get ahead, and there’s nothing less stable than a Pop-R bite.

Who are you picking for your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team?

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