Fantasy: Bet on pros with something to prove

Don’t be surprised if you start to see more Elite Series pros wearing those funny “five finger” shoes.

The word “dude” is going to be sprinkled around prolifically at all future weigh-ins.

A bunch of the pros may take a sledgehammer to their alarm clocks.

The way Aaron Martens has been fishing this year, the rest of the field would be wise to pay close attention to his fashion sense, his mannerisms and every utterance that comes out of his mouth. The dude (there’s that word again) has been on fire, and if you’ve bet against him then you’ve played a losing hand.

Heading into the AOY Championship, he’ll have little to fish for except pride and fun. The trophy is wrapped up and B.A.S.S. has probably already engraved his name on it. Of course, based on recent history, that means he’ll probably fish even better. I’m going to bet against him in Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing just to keep it sporting, but you should do so at your peril.

This is going to be a fun event to watch because we’re going to see some monster sacks of smallmouth, and I sense they’ll be caught a number of different ways. Had it been held a few months earlier, the all-time four-day smallmouth record might’ve been broken — and it still might — but no matter what, this is going to be like an end-of-summer swan song for the guys we’ve been watching since the beginning of the year. With no direct payout, it’ll be easy to slip into a veneer of nonchalance, so my strategy is going to be to bet on anglers who have something to prove or something tangible to gain.

With that in mind, here are my picks:

Bucket A: Ehrler

Wanted to Pick: A-Mart (duh)

It’s hard not to pick Martens here. He’s likely the best drop shotter in the world, can catch them at will on other baits (did you read the part from St. Clair about randomly picking up a swimbait on Day 4 and whacking ’em?), and he’s absolutely en fuego right now. At nearly 50 percent ownership (why isn’t it higher?), he’s not going to allow me to make up any points, even if he doesn’t sleep at all, so I need to look elsewhere.

Picked: Brent Ehrler

Brent Ehrler doesn’t have anything to prove in this sport, given his solid track record. Like Martens, he’s a Western native, deadly with finesse tactics and having a fantastic season. He bombed at the Sabine and struggled at St. Clair, but other than that, he’s been true to form. And if I was someone used to being on the Classic bubble, I’d be pretty upset that he made the switch from FLW to B.A.S.S. — that’s another Classic slot gone every year. If he can move up a few slots in the AOY race, that’ll pay some of his gas bill for the coast-to-coast hauls he’ll be making every year.

Bucket B: Christie

Wanted to Pick: Brandon Palaniuk

You should just pencil in Brandon Palaniuk for your team on every smallmouth tournament from here on out. He’s closed ’em out and come close in others, and he’s still improving. Nevertheless, at nearly 50 percent ownership, he’s a bad bet for points-challenged bettors like myself.

Picked: Jason Christie

Maybe it’s because he’s not from the North Country, but the quiet Oklahoman should be better known as a smallmouth-catching dynamo. He’s won at St. Clair before and made the final day cut this time around. Except for stumbles at Havasu and the St. Lawrence, he’s had an exceptional year, and his finishes are headed in the right direction now. He’s a definite value pick, and five years from now, we’ll be talking about him in the same breath as the other Top 10 hammers.

Bucket C: Lester

Wanted to Pick: KVD

Michigan. Smallmouth. Enough said. I don’t think Kevin VanDam’s psychological makeup has enough gaps in it that he’d ever feel pressured, but if it was ever going to happen, this would be the year. After hearing “What happened to you?” for two years, a good finish to end the season would put him back near the top of the AOY standings to shut up the naysayers.

Picked: Brandon Lester

Why don’t we know more about talented Mr. Lester? He’s in 30th place overall, just about where he ended up last year. With a recent string of tough finishes, his Classic berth and his status as a guy likely to make it every year are on the line. Where was his best finish last year? Bay de Noc, where he ended up ninth. Look for history to repeat itself in a good way.

Bucket D: Faircloth

Wanted to Pick: Josh Bertrand

Josh Bertrand’s another guy who’s around the bubble and has something to prove after missing the 2015 Classic. Unlike most of these guys, he genuinely likes to drop shot. I don’t know if that’ll be enough this week.

Picked: Todd Faircloth

Normally it’s difficult for me to convince myself to pick an angler with more than 30 percent ownership, but Faircloth is a special case. He’s on fire now, and it always makes sense to ride an angler’s momentum. He’s been fishing well since the second day at the Chesapeake Bay, when my wife was his Marshal. She’s trying to take credit for the Faircloth-renaissance (“Fairclothaissance”?). More importantly, he hasn’t missed a Classic since 2006. After seeing KVD’s Classic streak end last season, I’m not sure that the fishing world could handle it if Faircloth failed to make the big dance.

Bucket E: DeFoe

Wanted to Pick: Ike

This bucket is full of talented anglers used to making the Classic but not currently in line to do so. The last time that happened to Mike Iaconelli, he won an Open (in smallmouth country) to get back in, but I’m not sure that lightning will strike twice.

Picked: Ott DeFoe

Like Faircloth, Ott DeFoe is an angler who simply doesn’t miss championships. He’s fished four straight Classics on the heels of four consecutive Forrest Wood Cups. He was in prime position to keep the streak alive until he had uncharacteristically difficult tournaments at both St. Lawrence and St. Clair (guessing he’s not a fan of the New Orleans Saints), sandwiched around a low check at the Chesapeake. I know that I said above that momentum is a powerful thing, but occasionally so is desperation. While I can’t imagine the even-tempered DeFoe ever getting truly desperate, I’m sure that this one means a lot to him and he has a week to get his head in order and get the job done.