Fantasy Fishing: Adjustments will be essential

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<h4>Brandon Palaniuk</h4>Rathdrum,  Idaho<br>Qualified via 2020 Bassmaster Elite Series<br>2020 AOY Rank: 9 (639 points)
Dalton Tumblin

Brandon Palaniuk will be competing in his 10th Bassmaster Classic at Lake Ray Roberts.

Anticipation for the 51st Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk is off the charts for several reasons. First, I am pretty sure this has to be one of the longest breaks between Classic events due to Covid. Secondly, June is a very unique time for a Bassmaster Classic. Early Classics were always late summer events but more recently they've moved to February and March. Lastly, the venue is Lake Ray Roberts just outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Ray Robert’s proximity to Dallas, Texas, should really showcase the “Big Bass. Big Stage. Big Dreams."

If you love to do a lot of research for your fantasy fishing picks, you may find a lack of data points for this event from Lake Ray Roberts. There are definitely a lot of tournaments on Ray Roberts, but most of them are Texas-based team trails and events like that. You may recall that Matt Herren did win the 2016 Toyota Texas Bass Classic in May. This year’s Classic falls about three weeks later on the calendar.

There could be a few straggling spawning fish, but I would not expect that to be a factor in the tournament. Depending on the water level, there definitely could still be some good fish shallow around heavy cover. On top of that, I would expect there to be a bite for bass getting revenge against vulnerable prey set up on bream beds. Regardless, there will also be a good amount of fish offshore and getting positioned in their early summer haunts around creek channels, deep timber and other submerged structures. 

Anglers that did not pre-practice may find navigation around Ray Robert’s standing timber a hindrance. While I don’t expect this to be a wide-open slugfest, two things are for sure, big bass and big stringers will be weighed and one of these talented anglers will put it all together for three days. So my best advice is to arm your rosters with anglers that excel during that postspawn transition period.

BUCKET A: PALANIUK

Thinking back to 2017 when Brandon Palaniuk had an impressive Texas Fest win in late May on Lake Sam Rayburn, the 51st Bassmaster Classic feels like it could set up in a similar way. In that tournament, Palaniuk bounced back and forth between several shallow and offshore patterns to duel the field. Palaniuk seems to excel in postspawn events and at changing with the bass, which should play huge at Ray Roberts.

Backup plans: If suspending bass in standing timber is a strong pattern on Ray Roberts then it would be hard to bet against Patrick Walters. Walters’ expertise with his front-facing sonar is hard to ignore, but looking at fish on your electronics can also be a huge distraction. If you are new to bass fishing, you may not know the name Cody Bird, but this Texas angler has been around the block and is well-suited to represent the Opens anglers in a big way. Bird is probably the Texas angler with the biggest home-field advantage on Ray Roberts.

BUCKET B: ITO

Taku Ito has three Top 10s in the state of Texas, including a second place on Toledo Bend which helped to propel him into the Bassmaster Elite series. Japanese-born anglers seem to thrive on Texas reservoirs, and seeing what Taku did on Lake Fork earlier this year definitely has my gears turning and has me picking him this week.

Backup plan: In the Bassmaster Classic, an angler that is willing to commit to big fish and is not afraid to fail is what it takes to win. Fan-favorite Steve Kennedy feels like the epitome of that based on picking him in Fantasy Fishing before. Kennedy also made some noise at the last Texas-based classic on Conroe, so don’t be surprised for Kennedy to do the same at Ray Roberts.

BUCKET C: PALMER

Luke Palmer has been as solid as a rock since he started fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series. He lacks a win or a string of Top 10s to keep him from being center stage. Palmer feels like he is a win or two away from being the next Todd Faircloth from Oklahoma. How fun would it be for an Okie to infiltrate the Longhorn state and steal the most lucrative title in bass fishing?

Wild card: Brandon Card been a factor in the several offshore tournaments on Lake Fork but has run out of gas in a four-day event. Maybe he can find some deep water gold that will carry him in a three-day tournament.

BUCKET D: NEW

Bryan New won his very first Bassmaster Open, then he won his first Bassmaster Elite Series event, why not win his first Bassmaster Classic? Outside of that, I think New is likely the most naturally talented angler in this bucket, and it just feels right. 

Backup plan: It will likely take a special kind of wizardry to take home year’s Classic trophy, and who is more fit to pull of something magical than Austin Felix? Felix loves fishing offshore and has no problem spending his entire practice idling around staring at his electronics looking for the “juice.” If he finds a sneak hole or two, he could be a real threat.

BUCKET E: CARSON

John Cox touts Keith Carson as the most talented angler he has ever fished with, and Carson is a guy who works hard to master a handful of confidence techniques and baits. Being a specialist often is how tournaments get won. On top of that, Carson’s Crestliner should be well-suited for maneuvering the standing timber that the Classic anglers will face.

Backup plan: Masayuki Matsushita has been fishing the Bassmaster Opens for several seasons and punched his ticket to the 51st Bassmaster Classic via a win on Sam Rayburn. There is no doubt that Masayuki has put in his homework, and there is something about Texas lakes and Japanese anglers that just seem to mesh.

This week’s Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge is a little more interesting. With a smaller field and added anglers only fishing the Bassmaster Classic, it allows you to grab some anglers that are only eligible for this event and won’t impact your available picks for the last two regular season events. That being said, here are my Drain the Lake picks for Ray Roberts.

  • Stetson Blaylock 
  • Bryan New
  • Patrick Walters 
  • Jake Whitaker
  • Clark Wendlandt 
  • Chris Zaldain 
  • Cody Bird 
  • Keith Carson