Fantasy: Don’t overload on shallow-grass guys

UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. — Although largemouth will outnumber smallmouth this week, don’t overload on shallow grass guys on your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing team. Docks and deep weedlines will lead to Top 12 finishes, too, and you might need at least one roster pick to target smallmouth.

Because the Elite Series has never visited Cayuga (and only a few in the field competed in the 2012 Open there), we’ll consider angler history on three other New York fisheries — Oneida, Champlain and the St. Lawrence River.

We’re not going to factor in angler history on Lake Erie, however, because to win, place and show in those tournaments, you’ve got to target smallmouth. By all accounts, Cayuga will be won with largemouth — although you will see several mixed bags. Cayuga has smallies, but it does not feature the humps and reefs found in other New York fisheries, so the offshore brown bass here are much harder to find and pattern.

That being said, several smallmouth will be caught on deep weedlines that also hold largemouth. Green bass will come from grass shallower than a foot, from underneath docks and from the deep weedline edge out to 16 to 20 feet.

In each bucket, I’ve made a “Best Bet,” “Safe Bet” and “Bold Bet” pick, based on a combination of Fantasy Fishing ownership, momentum heading into the tournament and past history on Cayuga or other New York fisheries not dominated by smallmouth.

If you’re leading your Fantasy league, err toward the more conservative “Safe Bet” picks. Those anglers, while very likely to finish high, won’t help you as much against the field, because they have high ownership. If you’re in the middle of the pack, consider more of the “Best Bet” picks, which comprise anglers with similar histories in New York but lower ownership percentages.

If you’re in the back of the pack and really need make a move against the field, you’ll want to roll the dice on at least three “Bold Bet” picks, which mostly feature high-risk/high-reward anglers with very low ownership percentages.

Bucket A

Best Bet: Dean Rojas

Safe Bet: Skeet Reese

Bold Bet: Aaron Martens

Dean Rojas (4.3 percent ownership), has a great history in New York in the summer. When the shallow-grass frog bite is on, he’s hard to beat.

In five July/August Elite events on Oneida between 2006 and 2009, Rojas finished in the Top 5 three times (first, third and fourth), and only once out of the money. In five events on Champlain between 2002 and 2006, he notched a runner-up and a 12th-place finish, and only missed making a check once.

Coming off a sixth-place finish on the Delaware River, Skeet Reese (14.1 percent) also has a decent history in New York summer tournaments. In five Elite Series events between 2006 and 2012, he notched one Top 10, two additional Top 20s, and never finished out of the money. Additionally, he finished second on Champlain in a late July 2007 Elite Series event.

Despite his 23.3 percent ownership, Aaron Martens is my “Bold Bet” because he’s more likely than others to target offshore smallmouth with finesse tactics while the rest of the field power fishes for shallow largemouth. That’s a pretty big gamble here — especially when shallow-water specialist Greg Hackney (7.7 percent) is leading the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race over Martens by a mere ounce. But if he finds some giants, he’ll likely have them all to himself.

Note: In my Fantasy Fishing Insider podcast, Bassmaster TV co-host Mark Zona said Martens and Hackney will be factors this week. He said he’d give the nod to Hackney, but Martens will be “the X factor.”

Bucket B

Best Bet: Bernie Schultz

Safe Bet: Mike Iaconelli

Bold Bet: Steve Kennedy

In five Elite Series events on Oneida between 2006 and 2013, Bernie Schultz (0.4 percent) made the final-day 12-cut every time. Last August on the St. Lawrence River, Schultz took a chance on a shallow bite, when most other top contenders were fishing deep with drop shot rigs. The gamble paid off with a sixth-place finish, his best since Bassmaster launched the Elite Series tournament format in 2006.

Having already qualified for the Classic, Mike Iaconelli (28.1%) can fish to win, unlike many others in Bucket B, who must fish more conservatively to manage their AOY points. A bomb here could potentially drop them out of the Top 50, preventing them from fishing in the final tournament of the year.

In seven tournaments on Oneida, Iaconelli notched five Top 10s (two of them Top 5s) and only finished out of the Top 50 once. Of those events, five were Elite Series events and two were Opens. He’s also good friends with Pete Gluszek, who won the 2012 Open on Cayuga.

Zona said Ike won’t be “shy of ammo for this tournament.”

In five Elite Series events on Oneida between 2006 and 2012, Stephen Kennedy (1.1 percent) scored a runner-up and sixth-place finish, as well as another Top 20. In seven trips to Lake Champlain, Kennedy notched a third-place finish, a 15th and 20th. On the St. Lawrence River last August, he placed seventh.

Kennedy’s also got some momentum. Last week, he placed fifth, fishing shallow, in the Forrest Wood Cup. The week before, he placed 16th on the Delaware River.

Bucket C

Best Bet: Chad Pipkens

Safe Bet: Jeff Kriet

Bold Bet: Andy Montgomery

A Michigan native used to weighing mixed bags of largemouth and smallmouth, Chad Pipkens (10.4%) has a lot of history on New York waters. In 11 events between 2008 and 2013, he’s notched three Top 10s — an eighth and ninth in two FLW Everstart events and an impressive 10th last August in the Elite Series event on the St. Lawrence River. Also in the mix are a Top 20 and two Top 50s in New York. Consider that he’s coming off a 12th-place showing in the brutal Delaware River event, and Pipkens looks even better.

Zona told me Jeff Kriet “will be a headache in this tournament.” I agree; Kriet has both momentum and history on his side. In four summer Elite events on Oneida alone, he finished second and 11th. He also finished 24th on Champlain in Elite competition. Kriet is coming into Cayuga on the strength of a Top 20 finish on the Delaware River.

There’s a lot of fish-holding docks on Cayuga, and Andy Montgomery (3.8 percent) is one of the best dock-skipping aces in the game. He also fared well on the Delaware (27th) and has a Top 5 and a Top 20 in summer events on Champlain. Note: Gluszek’s winning Open game plan included fishing docks, in addition to deep, mid-lake weedlines.

Bucket D

Best Bet: Brent Chapman

Safe Bet: J. Todd Tucker

Bold Bet: Kotaro Kiriyama

Sitting at 68th in AOY points, Brent Chapman (11.8 percent) needs a great finish this week to keep alive hopes of qualifying for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. I think he’s up to the challenge. Although he’s coming off an 89th-place finish on the Delaware, the bright spots in his history in New York in the summer should encourage him — a second and 13th on Champlain, and a sixth on Oneida. He made the Top 50 in seven of 11 events on those two fisheries.

J Todd Tucker (0.3 percent) has some stellar finishes in summer New York tournaments. In eight events on Oneida and Champlain, he made the Top 50 in six. His best finishes are eighth (twice), 10th and 15th. Like Chapman, though, he bombed on the Delaware (91st), so he’ll need to rebound well and get his head right.

If big smallmouth live in the zip code, you can bet Kotaro Kiriyama (3.1%) will try to find ’em. And if he does, watch out! He’s dominated several smallie-centric derbies in New York and elsewhere. Few will target smallmouth, so he could potentially have some schools to himself. But smallie schools are much harder to find offshore in Cayuga than on Oneida and Champlain, where Top 12 anglers have targeted them. Kota’s history in New York indicate he can weigh a pretty heavy mixed bag. In 15 events on Oneida and Champlain between 2005 and 2013, he made 10 Top 50s. Two of those were Top 5s, one was a Top 10, and two were Top 20s.

Bucket E

Best Bet: Boyd Duckett

Safe Bet: Boyd Duckett

Bold Bet: Tracy Adams

Boyd Duckett (30.5 percent) has both momentum and history going for him. Coming off a Top 12 on the Delaware River, he’ll be fishing water similar to that found on Oneida and Champlain, where he’s finished first and 15th, and eighth, respectively.

In nine events on Oneida or Champlain between 2007 and 2013, Tracy Adams (1.8 percent) made the Top 50 five times, including an FLW Tour win on Champlain in summer 2006. Other highlights are a runner-up on Oneida in the 2013 Open, and a third-place on the 2010 Open on Champlain.